Monday, April 5, 2010

More Religious Spectacles: Dancing the Giglio in Brooklyn

This is a religious spectacle close to home, well, to my home anyway. It takes place every summer just blocks away from where I live.

The local Italian community carries 2 big floats in the street in front of Our Lady of Mount Carmel here in Williamsburg. It is a New World transplant of an ancient spectacle from the town of Nola east of Naples, the town where the Emperor Augustus died and the hometown of Giordano Bruno.

The Giglio commemorates a legendary act of rescue by a 5th century bishop of Nola, Saint Paulinus of Nola. According to the story, pirates raided the town and abducted many of the town's children for the slave trade. Saint Paulinus went to the pirates and offered himself in exchange for the children. The pirates were so impressed with the saint's bravery and selflessness that they converted to Christianity and returned the saint and the children to the town. The people of the town greeted Saint Paulinus and the returning children with a tower of lillies (the Giglio).

There are 2 floats in the spectacle, the Giglio and the "Boat" that carries the saint's statue and a character known as the "Turk" to stand for the pirates (never mind that there were no Turks in the Mediterranean in the 5th century). Crews carry the floats which each have bands riding on them. The parish priest always rides the Giglio float (the current priest is Irish so the band always plays "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" in his honor. The floats approach each other, then meet, and the crews join hands and "dance" in front of the church.

Here are scenes from last year's Giglio. I was there on the steps of the church watching.

It was loads of fun, though I stayed away from the sausage and funnel cakes. Not everyone involved in the spectacle is descended from Nola or Italian. I saw some Asian and Hispanic faces in the bands, and some African American faces in the crowds. The locals joke that everyone is welcome to join them, even Sicilians. Everyone was very friendly, and very chatty. I fully intend to go again this summer.


MadPriest said...

That top photo has given me an idea of what we could do with the pope when he visits us in the Autumn. And everybody would get to see him!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

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