The light festivals

Franz Theodor Aerni, La girandola a Castel Sant'Angelo, 1874-80, particolare

From the mid-sixteenth century, fireworks, which had become part of Italian popular festivals from the XIV century, became the concluding event of any official ceremony, whether tornaments, put on for illustrious guests, military victories, coronations of princes, or canonisations.
On the evening before the festival of the Saint’s day, the church of S. Peter’s would be covered with lanterns and torches, arranged so as to heighten its beauty and form.
It was a vision which, in a world in which the darkness of night had not yet been nullified by powerful public lighting (it was only in 1856 that the city acquired a gas plant), no Roman or any of the numerous foreigners present in the city would have been able to forget.
The secular counterpart to the atmospheric lighting of St Peter’s was the Catherine wheel at Castel S. Angelo. The first Catherine wheel was probably put to use as early as 1481, for the anniversary of Pope Sextus IV’s accession to the throne.
It was subsequently used for the coronations of popes, for their birthdays, for the arrival of princes in the city and for the festivals of Saints Peter and Paul.
In 1851 the Catherine wheel was transferred to the Pincio Piazza.