Celebrated in Piazza del Duomo at noon on the day of Pentecost, the 50th day following Easter, the feast of the Palombella commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Madonna and the apostles in the cenacle. This secular tradition has been celebrated annually here since the end of the fourteenth century.
The Palombella was originally held inside the Cathedral until the Lateran Roman Council forbade the use of fireworks inside churches and places of worship, and the ceremony was transferred to the piazza outside the Duomo in 1846. A tabernacle in Gothic style with the figures of Mary and the Apostles was placed on the steps in front of the central portal of the Duomo, representing the cenacle.
At 12 p.m. the Bishop of Orvieto waves a piece of white linen from his palace in front of the Cathedral. At this sign, the Master Mason lights torches placed around a sound proof cage that protects a dove from the noise of the fireworks and is tied with red ribbons. This cage slides rapidly along a wire toward the Cenacle erected in front of the main door of the Cathedral.
When the dove arrives at the Cenacle, a round of fireworks explodes and the red flames, of which the Scriptures speak, light up on the heads of the Madonna and the Apostles. People draw good or bad omens for the agricultural year from the outcome of the ceremony…and, according to the ancient tradition, the Bishop gives the dove to the latest bride in the town as a sign of peace and fertility.