Brooklyn Boro

PHOTOS: Giglio Feast, an Italian-American tradition, returns to Williamsburg

It takes a lot of effort to lift the four-ton tower

July 12, 2021 Raanan Geberer
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After a one-year absence due to the pandemic, the historic Feast of the Giglio returned to Williamsburg and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Sunday, attracting thousands to the neighborhood streets.

The venerable Italian-American festival actually lasts for 12 days, but Sunday’s celebration was the highlight — the lifting of the Giglio, a wooden platform holding a four-ton seven-story tower that bears a brass band, a singer and the parish priest. Several hundred strong men lift the Giglio several times (known as “dancing of the Giglio”) and carry it through the streets. 

Until recently, the lifters all came from the local Italian-American community, but due to demographic changes in the neighborhood, starting in 2019 the parish advertised for any able-bodied men who wished to lift the Giglio. The response was enthusiastic. 

The Giglio Feast, which originated in Nola, Italy, originally celebrated the return of Saint Paulinus after he was captured by North African pirates in 410 A.D. He let himself be enslaved so the pirates could return other captives, who were young boys, to their families in Nola. 

Paulinus, also known as Paolino, was freed by a Turkish sultan (a local man with a turban addressed as “The Turk” is a much-beloved figure in the annual Brooklyn celebration). When he returned, the residents of Nola feted him with lilies (“Gigli” in Italian, thus the name of the festival).

Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church (left) with Bishop James Massa, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

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 as well as actors portraying the Turk and the pirates.

Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of Our Lady of Carmel Church, said in a statement, “Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast, the best feast in Brooklyn, is back bigger and better than ever.” 

Curtis Sliwa, leader of the Guardian Angels and current Republican candidate for mayor, helped to lift up the Giglio.

Other events that are part of the 12-day festival include a Children’s Giglio, an Old-Timers Giglio Lift, and, of course, performances by several bands and a DJ. Vendors sell Italian food, a bazaar features games, and children’s rides entertain the young ones. 

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

The church is located at 275 North 8th St., North Williamsburg.


Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello and this year’s “Turk” (in the green turban), portrayed by Carmine Caggiano.

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