Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dancing the Giglio

I skipped church today (well, my own church anyway) to watch an old Brooklyn tradition that I've heard about for years, the Dancing of the Giglio. It's part of a 2 week celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, combined with the Feast of San Paolino de Nola (a local saint of the southern Italian town of Nola; most of the Italians in Williamsburg are originally from Nola). It takes place on the first Sunday of the feast. A contingent of about a hundred very beefy Italian guys carry a 4 ton 60 foot high tower, together with a brass band, a singer, and the parish priest, down Havemeyer street in front of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn where I live.

San Paolino's Boat with the Giglio

Another contingent of big Italian guys carries The Boat, a big model boat with another effigy of San Paolino with another brass band and a man dressed in costume known as "The Turk." This commemorates San Paolino's rescue from Turkish pirates by the men of Nola. The two huge floats meet in front of the church, the two crews join hands, and "dance" the two giant effigies.
Watching San Paolino sway on top of his tower was very exciting.

The whole thing was a hoot and a half. I had a great time. The weather was perfect. I went to the 11AM Mass which started at noon (things apparently ran very late this year for some reason). The church was packed, SRO. The entrance procession was a brass band playing "Giglio e Paradiso" followed by a statue of San Paolino, not so much carried as danced up the center aisle. How many times do you get to pump your fist in the air and yell HEY! at the top of your lungs to the tune of an Italian brass band in church (at least in Episcopal church)? I loved it! The sermon was surprisingly good. A monsignor in a thick Brooklyn accent reminded the carriers that what they were doing was the work of the Gospel by making such a festival for everyone. He noted the inclusive nature of the feast, that everyone was invited to participate. I noted a number of African Americans and Hispanics among the parade staff, and an Asian saxophonist in the band. Even Sicilians were welcome, he reminded the amused Campagnan congregation.

My back hurts just watching this.

Here is the tune "Giglio e Paradiso" with stills of the carriers.

A wonderful piece of old New York that (so far) has survived gentrification. I hope I have a camera next year.

Buona Festa a Tutti!

The locals explain that the feast commemorates the 5th century local bishop of Nola, San Paolino, who exchanged himself for a young boy, an only son, who had been captured and sold into slavery by North African pirates.  When he returned to Nola with the boy, the townspeople greeted him with towers of lillies, hence the name "giglio" (lilly) for the tower.  The annual ceremony recreates San Paolino's return to Nola with the captured boy. 


MaryO said...

The parish priest REALLY has to trust the guys carrying one wants to hear "Oops, sorry Father!"

Counterlight said...

I would pay money to see our "ever so proper" rector ride this thing.

Counterlight said...

The priest riding the Giglio looked like he was having a great time. Since he is Irish, the band played "Irish Eyes" in his honor.