Williamsburg gears up for 128th annual Giglio Festival

July 7, 2015 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Credit: OLMC

Italians in Williamsburg hold three major feasts especially close to their hearts —Easter, Christmas and the annual Giglio Festival at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish.

The Feast of San Paolino Di Nola and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which opens on Wednesday, July 8, celebrates both the return of a fourth-century Italian bishop from captivity and the Blessed Virgin Mary’s patronage of Mount Carmel. The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel falls on July 16. The festival runs until Sunday, July 19, with closing benediction that night.

The liberation and return to Italy of St. Paulinus (San Paolino) following captivity gave rise to great jubilation as the townspeople of Nola, carrying lilies, greeted their bishop. Thus, an Italian festival was born.

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The festival, brought to America almost 128 years ago, celebrates Italian heritage and community. Some 40 years older than the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, the Mount Carmel/Saint Paulinus Festival is very “Brooklyn.”

This festival is a major fundraiser for Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish. Even with other attractions, such as the specialty foods and games, the festival is religious in nature.

The same celebration has been celebrated and re-enacted here in Brooklyn for the past 128 years at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Moorish Galleon is reproduced and built in the streets of Brooklyn. The Lily, or Giglio as it is called in Italian, has been transformed into a giant, 72-foot, four-ton tower, colorfully adorned with flowers and angels and topped with a statue of San Paolino. Both structures are staffed with full orchestra and singers providing entertainment, while 350 Italian-American men lift these structures through the streets of the parish under the direction of a single man, called in Italian the “Capo Paranza,” or “Capo.”

The 12-day festival will offer a continuous celebration of religious activities in the church (daily Masses, novenas and processions) and secular activities in the streets (social events, food concessions and games of chance).

Opening night is Wednesday, July 8, starting with a 6 p.m. coronation Mass in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The celebrant will be the Most Rev. Paul Sanchez, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn. A candlelight procession follows.


The highlight is Giglio Sunday and its follow-up, Old Timers’ Day. This year, Giglio Sunday is July 12, featuring the dancing of the Giglio and boat. The celebration begins at 9 a.m. with the Capo Parade. Related to this is the dancing of the children’s Giglio, on Thursday, July 9, at 6 p.m. (The rain date is Friday, July 17). Blending a love of adventure and creativity, Our Lady of Mount Carmel produced a YouTube trailer on this year’s much-anticipated Giglio lift. It’s viewable on the website at www.olmcfeast.com.

Another tradition is the Questua — the tradition of distribution of blessed bread throughout the parish neighborhood. People customarily give donations in return to the church. Questua takes place on Saturday, July 11, which is also the Feast of St. Benedict, another Italian saint from a century later, who is considered to be the father of monasticism. Benedict is also the patron saint of hospitality.


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