As is customary, the Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square unfolded against the backdrop of a massive floral display which, since 1986, has been provided every year by the Netherlands, the world’s largest flowers exporter. The pope generally thanks the Dutch florists from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the end of his Urbi et Orbi address, and also greets them personally.
The custom of relying on the Dutch was a result of St. Pope John Paul II’s testy 1985 visit to Holland, one of the world’s most progressive Catholic cultures, which was marred by protests. The pope’s warmest welcome, however, came in the form of flowers assembled by the “Bloemenbureau”, the Dutch national flower society, and the Vatican later agreed that from that point forward, Dutch florists would be in charge of the Easter display.
This year, the square was converted into a sprawling garden featuring 26 trees, including ten birch trees ranging from 13 to 22 feet tall; 8,400 flowers, including 3,500 roses and 1,000 delphiniums; and 20,000 tulip bulbs, 13,500 daffodils and 6,000 hyacinths, for a grand total of 49,900 separate elements.
Vatican press materials explaining the arrangement said that orchids, the best-selling Dutch flower in the world, were selected to symbolize “friendship and pure love.” The use of yellow flowers, the Vatican said, represents “light and joy for the resurrection of Christ,” while green flowers decorated the altar because green is the color of “hope, strength, calm and peace.”
Paul Deckers, who coordinates the team of Dutch florists, said that trucks carrying the approximately 30 tons of flowers from Holland arrive in Rome on Holy Thursday, and that every year getting the arrangement set up by Sunday is a “race against time.” Prior to their arrival at the Vatican, the bulbs are kept in greenhouses at specific temperatures beginning in February so they come into bloom on Easter Sunday.