Giglio Feast draws crowds to Williamsburg

July 16, 2014 Heather Chin
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The Giglio Feast is a Catholic and Italian tradition that has been celebrated in Brooklyn for over a century, with the past 56 celebrations being held every July at The Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Williamsburg—featuring 12 to 15 days of festivities leading up to July 16, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

The celebrations have been a constant throughout Jerrilyn Lobello’s life, bringing her family together every year around a “very long family tradition [that] is unlike any other feast.

“It’s the last one that I can really say has all the Italian culture still in it,” said Lobello, who grew up in Marine Park and has been attending the annual two-week festival ever since she was a baby 25 years ago.

“I know this is something my mother’s been doing with her family and has been carried down the generations. I can’t wait to bring my own kids,” she said. “You feel closer to God and with your people. To share the experience, it warms my heart.”

Thousands of people from across Brooklyn, New York and even the country gather every July to celebrate Saint Paulinus, the former bishop of Nola, an Italian city where, in around 410 AD, children were kidnapped and sold into slavery by pirates. St. Paulinus is said to have offered his freedom in exchange for the children’s safety and this act of selflessness and self-sacrifice garnered him the admiration of the Nolani and a Turkish sultan, who had him freed, as well.

Thus, the Giglio Feast is the Nolani immigrants’ continued celebration of the man who protected their people. Displays of devotion include the carrying of 50-foot tall, lily-laden steeples of wood—the gigli—and a boat, symbolizing St. Paulinus’ return home.

“The Giglio boys and men carry the statue throughout the street, play music and dance with the statue as they carry it. It’s unbelievable,” described Lobello. “There’s also time to pray to the Blessed Mother and the church is absolutely beautiful. So it’s not only a good time, but it’s also spiritual.”

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