Italian feast draws crowds to Williamsburg

The 128th Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Paulinus of Nola, the second largest Italian-American Giglio feast in New York City that features the lifting of an 80-foot-tall, four-ton statue by 125 well-trained men, kicked off on Wednesday, July 8 in Williamsburg with opening night mass and a candlelight procession.

The 12-day festival honoring San Paolino, which originated with Brooklyn immigrants from the Italian region of Nola, takes place at North Eighth and Havemeyer Streets. During the celebration, Italiophiles from around the U.S, Williamsburg hipsters, and other New York City residents join Italian American community members for live nightly entertainment, Italian specialties and international delicacies, parades, children’s rides and amusements, a bazaar with souvenirs, and the atmosphere and excitement of Italy.

“A lot of the people that participate now have been doing it since they were children, and their parents did it, and their grandparents did it,” said Carolyn Stone, a spokesperson for Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the church that hosts the event.

One of the festival’s most unusual traditions is the lifting of the statue known as the Giglio, which means “lily” in Italian. The statue is topped by a representation of St. Paulinus, an early Christian martyr who was imprisoned by the Turks. After being released by the Turks, St. Paulinus returned to Nola on a boat. He was greeted with lilies by all of the people who ran to the shore for his arrival. The tower also holds an Italian brass band, a singer and the parish priest.

“The men are actually carrying on their backs a platform, a band, people and a tower,” Stone said. “At the base of the tower you have a band and they play music.”

A “capo,” usually an honored gentleman of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, directs the 125 men carrying the Giglio by using a megaphone to call out motions, causing the immense tower to appear as if it is dancing. This year’s Capo is Paul “Bo” Pennolino. While the Giglio is being lifted, a crew of 120 men carries a life-sized boat with a statue of St. Paulinus and parishioners acting as Turks and pirates.

“The adults today started as children participating in things like a rope gang, where they had a safety rope so the spectators wouldn’t come in contact with the moving of the tower,” Stone said. “They would work their way up. They come along from a young age and do it all throughout their lives.”

In addition to the reenactment of St. Paulinus’ release from captivity, the festival also features a children’s Giglio lift, the distribution of Blessed Bread throughout the parish neighborhood, an Old Timers’ Giglio lift, a parade, mass in six different languages, and a raffle drawing.

The festival ends on Sunday, July 19 at 10 p.m.


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