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Annual Giglio feast puts Italian pride on display in Williamsburg

This year’s Capo Paranza Number One with his decorated and ribbon-wrapped cane, stood at the helm of the towering giglio, to make sure everyone was in place.

Even though not all of the lifters could see his direction, they listened intently to the music and awaited careful instructions. They danced the heavy structure, weighing about 8,000 pounds and standing 72 feet in height, into the night in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Giglio Feast — an annual tradition in Williamsburg.

The festivities kicked off at the Our Lady Of Mount Carmel Church, 275 North Eighth Street, on July 5, and will span through July 15, encompassing the Questua, Giglio Sunday Mass, Children’s Giglio Lift, Giglio Night Lift, Turk Night, and Old Timers Day Giglio Lift events.

“It’s a little of an addiction,” said John Perrone of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. “The Williamsburg Italian community has always been close-knit and the feast has kept people together, even though we don’t all live in Brooklyn. It’s our reason to go home.”

The ancient Nolani Italian Giglio feast has been celebrated in the neighborhood since 1903.

The feast became an Italian male tradition, when Bishop Paolino traded his freedom to pirates for the release of the son of a local widow in 410 AD. His story reached a Turkish ruler, who was so moved by his sacrifice that he arranged for the Bishop’s freedom. The Bishop was greeted by the townspeople carrying lilies.

Gigli, Italian for lily, traditionally represented love and purity and came to symbolize the Bishop’s selflessness. The tower, that’s hoisted by over 100 men, is handmade with aluminum, wood, styrofoam, and paper-mache by the community members and kept for about six to eight years before another one is built.  

The patroness of the Carmelite Order monastery for Mount Carmel in Israel is considered a holy mountain with a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary.

In 1954, despite the controversy it caused in the community, the Church took over the reins of this important festival combining it with the Our Lady of Saint Carmel 12-day long religious ceremonies, a street fair, games, food and fundraising for the church.

The passing of Apprentice Capo Louis Franco and the oldest honorary Capo, Joe Benevetin, were significant this year. The subcommittees of capos, apprentice capos, lieutenants, committee chairmen and lifters create an unbreakable camaraderie in the community. Dedications were made throughout the weekend to honor their memories. New appointments this year include Capo’s Number One Gerard Langone and the costumed “Turk” ruler Neil Dellamonica.

On July 15 celebration masses and celebrants orated in English, Italian, Polish, Spanish, and Creole during processions. The Our Lady’s Statue, which is the likeness of the patroness Virgin Mary and child, returned to the church that night for closing ceremonies and drawing off of raffles on the church steps.

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