Colorful Mount Carmel Feast canceled for first time since World War II

May 7, 2020 Raanan Geberer
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One of the most spectacular and colorful Italian street festivals, not only in Brooklyn but in the whole country, has been canceled for the first time since World War II because of concerns that the coronavirus pandemic might last several more months.

The feast in question, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast in Williamsburg, is traditionally held in July. It is remarkable because of the “Lifting of the Giglio,” in which 130 well-trained men lift an 80-foot-tall statue known as the “Giglio,” or “Lily” in Italian. On top of the Giglio are a brass band, a singer and the parish priest.

The statue is topped by a representation of St. Paulinus, an early Christian martyr who was taken prisoner by the Turks. When he was finally released, St. Paulinus returned to Nola in a boat and the people all ran to shore to greet him with lilies.

On social media, Pastor Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, wrote, “It is with a heavy heart that I share that the annual Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in July has been cancelled. I, along with the Feast Executive Committee, reached this painful decision recognizing that the safety of our Parishioners and Feast Family is our number one priority.

The Giglio towers over Williamsburg at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast, which has been canceled this year. Photo courtesy of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

“It has been over 75 years, going back to the time of World War II, since the lifting of the Giglio was cancelled. We are in unprecedented and uncertain times as we were back then. We await word from the city on what we may plan in the future and will revisit our options closer to the fall.” He added that the parish sustains itself mainly from proceeds from the feast, and asked parishioners and supporters to consider donating to the parish.

The festival originated with Italian immigrants from area of Nola. When it has been held, it has featured live entertainment nightly, vendors selling Italian specialties, parades, a bazaar with game, children’s rides, a children’s Giglio Lifting Contest and more.

At the same time that the well-trained men carry the Giglio, another crew of 120 men carry a life-size boat carrying a statue of St. Paulinus and actors portraying the Turks and the pirates.

The feast is at North 8th and Havemeyer streets. In a nod to the multicultural nature of today’s Williamsburg, Masses at the church have been held not only in Italian but in Spanish, Polish and Haitian Creole.

The feast was captured in the 2001 documentary, “Heaven Touches Brooklyn in July,” by Bensonhurst filmmaker Tony de Nonno, with narration by John Turturro and Michael Badalucco.

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