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If you're wondering what to do in Florence this Autumn, a significant date to remember is Sunday, 8th October. This is the feast day of St Reparata, one of the city's patron saints.
Although adopted by Florence, Santa Reparata wasn't actually a native of the city. A virgin martyr living in Palestine in the 3rd century, she is said to have been beheaded after miraculously surviving various attempts by her Roman captors to burn her to death.
Her feast day commemorates a fierce battle in the year 406 when the Florentines repelled a gruelling siege by Ostrogoth barbarians. Legend has it that the spirit of Saint Reparata floated protectively over the city during the siege, inspiring the troops. The victory helped to cement the place of Christianity in the city, leading to the construction of Florence's first cathedral in the saint's honour. This stood on what is now the site of the Duomo, the city's famous Gothic cathedral complex - but remains of the original 7th century basilica can be seen in a crypt under the nave.
In ancient Florence Santa Reparata feast days were celebrated with a round of festivities both in the cathedral and around the city. A version of these has survived into modern times. At 3:45 p.m. there is a colourful procession in period costume which leads from the Piazza di Parte Guelfa to the Piazza San Giovanni, and this is followed by a lively footrace featuring twenty participants from the city’s four football clubs. In addition, there is an atmospheric ceremony in St Reparata's crypt. Accessible to all, the procession and footrace can easily be enjoyed by anyone visiting Florence on the day, and guided tours of the crypt are also available. Reopened in 2014 after a lavish refurbishment, this features a state of the art exhibition site taking you through 1,400 years of history from the 1st century AD up to the Middle Ages.
If you wish to come back at a quieter time, the crypt is open six days a week, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. on Thursdays). Tickets cost 15 € (3 € for children aged 6 to 11, free for younger children), but these also give you access to other cathedral monuments such as Brunelleschi's dome, Giotto's bell tower and the Baptistery of San Giovanni.