Forgotten Roman Customs of Pentecost

Many are well familiar by now with the custom of the shower of red rose petals sent down from the oculus of the Pantheon on the feast of Pentecost, a custom that is frequently dated back to around the beginning of the seventh century. What many not know is that there were also other similar types of customs associated with the Feast of Pentecost found within the Eternal City, especially in relation to the pope. Some of these are described an interesting work, The Handbook to Christian and Ecclesiastical Rome published in 1900. Here follows their description of some of these now defunct customs:
A mediaeval custom at custom in S. Peter's was the letting loose of 30 doves, during Mass; a live cock also was shown, presumably to remind us of Peter's denial. As we learn from an old receipted bill pro spaco pro liganda gallum (expenses of the Chapter of S. Peter's for the year 1403), the cock was tied up. As the pope moved in procession on this day, lighted tow was dropped on his head, and at the Kyrie eleison flowers and little pieces of wool called nebulae were thrown into the Church "ad declarandam adventum Spiritus Sancti;" to announce the advent of the Holy Spirit. At the "Gloria in excelsis " tiny little birds were made to fly towards the choir with nebulae tied to their legs. During the singing of the Veni Creator, oak leaves, nebulae, and lighted tow in magna quantitate [in great quantity] were set flying towards the choir in other Roman churches. From the opening in the roof of the Pantheon "roses in the form of the Holy Spirit " were thrown; while the little red sweets, still called Piacenza nevole, were commonly employed."

If you are wondering what "tow" is, it is a natural, coarse fibre which comes from the production of flax or jute. One can see an example of it here below. So one can imagine these being set aflame and they would no doubt burn quickly and thus give the impression of 'tongues of fire' coming down from above. 

For those of you looking to add a tasty treat to your Pentecost, here is Piacenza nevole (if you click on the source of the image, you will get a recipe for making it if you're so inclined):


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