History and meaning of an ancient religious festivity.
On February 2nd, 40 days after Christmas, is the feast known with the popular name of "Candlemas", which celebrates two evangelical episodes, two devotional acts performed by the Holy Family in the Temple of Jerusalem forty days after the birth of Christ according to the Mosaic law: the Presentation of Jesus at the priest and the ritual Purification of the Virgin Mary. What does this word mean in relation to these sacred histories?
The word "Candlemas", widespread with some variations throughout Italy, derives from "candle" and alludes to the fact that on the occasion of this feast the people receive blessed candles in the church, which are lit and carried out in procession and then kept in the homes. The flames of those candles have a symbolic meaning related to the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, told in the Gospel of Luke (2,22-39) and in particular to the words of the elderly priest Simeon when he recognized Baby Jesus was the Savior: " a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel”. The idea of Christ as "light" also recurs at the beginning of John's Gospel" through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it "(1, 4-5). this concept of the "light" of Christian salvation is symbolizes by the ceremony of lighted candles: as the elderly Simeon was the first to "recognize" it in the Temple, so in the churches it was the priests who delivered those lights to the faithful, who then spread them, to illuminate every family and every corner of the city.
But the ritual form of this feast have more ancient origins: partly, it is the transposition of the pagan ritual ceremonies called "Lupercals", which similarly took place in mid-February with great torchlight processions and, according to others, also of the Jewish popular festival known as "Lucernario ”, also celebrated with torches and lamps. Then, in the Christian era, the feast of Candlemas spread from the east, where particular emphasis was conferred to the meeting of the Baby Jesus with Simeon and then, around the 7th century, it was also welcomed in the west, where however the commemoration of the Purification of Mary was prevalent. In the last century, with the Second Vatican Council, the two components were re-established with equal dignity.
The historical success of this liturgical feast in Italy is proven by the spread in all regions of a famous saying related to the rural wisdom of the seasonal calendar:
“On the day of Candlemas winter is over; but if it rains or it is windy, it’s still winter ”.
In Florence this feast is always been celebrated with particular participation. Since the mid-15th century Candlemas has been choosen as the feast of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, and there are many works of art in our complex depicting the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple: we can see it represented in the mosaics of the vault of the Baptistery, in the 14th-century diptych in Byzantine micromosaic (now in the Museum), in a window of the drum of the Dome designed by Ghiberti in 1445, in one of the Ghibertian reliefs of the so-called “Maestro di Castel di Sangro”(1425-49ca. also in the Museum) and in one of the perspective wooden inlays of the Sacristy of the Masses of the Cathedral, made by Giuliano da Maiano, in 1468. Perhaps, allude to the Candlemas light festival also the beautiful marble inlays depicting candelabra in perspective in the frame of the tympanum of the Porta della Mandorla, by Nanni di Banco in 1414-21. Again, what about the of the Brunelleschi's Dome? Isn't it also an architecture placed in the highest place of the city that alludes to a light source? Doesn't that marble lighthouse look like a real “light for revelation”?