St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of Florence and the life of the San Giovanni party on June 24.
Known as San Giovanni in Italian, St. John has been the patron saint of Florence since the Middle Ages. And once a year, on June 24, Florence holds a festival in his honor. This age old festival, condensed from a three day party into one day, is full of traditions.
St. John the Baptist became Florence’s patron saint during Florence’s conversion to Christianity. The Roman Florentines selected the patron saint that mirrored their pagan patron, the god of Mars aka the god of war. I guess John the Baptist with his camel skin cloak and life in the woods were the closest thing they could get to the rugged life of war.
The job of a patron saint protects his city and acts as a go-between God and the citizens of Florence. John the Baptist must be a busy man then because he is the patron saint of many other places, including French Canada, Newfoundland, Perth and Porto. The Freemasons also claim him as their patron saint.
Party and Prayer
The day begins like any other. Citizens get dressed. Except instead of their fashionable designer wear women put on their medieval inspired dresses while the men pull on their bright tights and feathered hats and head to the streets. The parade starts at Piazza Signoria and continues to the Baptistery of the Cathedral (by the Duomo) with an offering of candles for the Saint. The Archbishop of Florence meets the crowds and accepts the offering. A holy mass is then celebrated around 10:30 am which includes a public showing of the Saint’s relics (an event that only occurs on June 24 so it is a pretty big deal).
Events by the River
The area around the Arno is also hopping all day. Generally, just for the celebration, Renaioli offers boat rides on the Arno river, on their special boats, throughout the entire day. The day also marks the opening of San Niccolò Tower by the Arno river. This is one of the oldest towers that line the ancient walls that surrounded Florence. The tower is open until September 30, every day from 5 to 8 pm. For more details and to book contact the Museum of Palazzo Vecchio.
Calcio Storico Fiorentino
After all that quiet time, it is time to get rowdy. Around 4 pm another parade begins. This is one starts in Piazza Santa Maria Novella and winds its way to Piazza Santa Croce, the playing field for the Calcio Storico finals.
Starting around 5 pm, the two teams left after semi-finals battle it out in this 16 century game. Actually it is more like a death match. The sport is a mix of football, soccer, rugby and wrestling all done by players wearing bright colored pantaloons. More information about Calcio Storico can be found here. Tickets can be bought online at Boxol.it, though this is one of the most popular events linked to the Feast of San Giovanni so buy your tickets ASAP.
The day ends with a boom as fireworks pop and sparkle over the city. A traditional firework display in Piazzale Michelangelo begins around 10 pm. The best view is along the Arno river, arrive early though if you want any chance of getting a good spot.