Last Sunday, as Festival Capo Phil Manna shouted a series of commands in Italian, 120 men braced themselves and lifted the three-ton, 65-foot Giglio tower off the ground to the roaring approval of a crowd of 12,000 people assembled in Williamsburg’s streets.
The Dance of the Giglio and the Feast of San Paolino are one of Williamsburg’s oldest traditions. Tens of thousands of Brooklyn and former Brooklyn residents flock to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church (North 8th and Havemeyer) for the Feast of the Giglio, a week-long street festival celebrating the return of the Bishop of Nola from captivity in 400 AD.
“It’s a big honor, especially because I’m from the town of Nola,” said Phil Manna. As Capo, Manna designs the Giglio tower and recites the Giglio’s lift commands, directing scores of lifters underneath the tower. “I still live in the neighborhood, so when I walk though the streets, everybody says, ‘There’s the Capo!’”
Throughout the week, parishioners and community members come to Havemeyer Street to participate in feast events, including masses at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, concerts, rides and dinners from dozens of festival vendors. The feast features three Giglio dances, on July 13, 17 and 20, when the strongest men in the community lift two large wooden structures symbolizing the hills of Nola adorned with lilies and the boat containing the Bishop who was released home after being taken prisoner by the Moors.
“I’ve been coming to the feast since I was a baby,” said Jimmy Alleva, who was given the honor of singing on the Giglio with a 10-piece orchestra that entertained the crowd. “My grandfather ran a butcher shop on Humboldt. He paid us five dollars a song to learn songs for the feast.”
Father Joseph Fonti, who would be leading mass for parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Carmel during his last Giglio Feast, hoped that everyone would enjoy themselves during the feast and that their spirits would be lifted when the Giglio itself would be raised into the air. He will be leaving the parish in September for a post at the Seminary of Immaculate Conception on Long Island.
“Please let this time be for each of us a time of grace, renewal, and happiness,” Father Fonti said mass this past Sunday. “Each of us makes his or her own mark on life, sometimes with greatness and other times unnoticed. Whether you are a Capo, or a Turk, a lifter or someone handing out water, you are loved and cherished in God’s eyes.”
As mass finished just after 1 p.m., the crowd began to swarm around the Giglio and the boat structures. Father Fonti led the assembled parishioners in devotion and the emcee thanked him for his service to the parish.
One hundred twenty lifters in green shirts and white caps assembled three or four deep in seven rows of beams around the Giglio structure. Manna dedicated the first lift of the day to his children as members of the 94th Precinct moved the crowd back half a block to make room for the structure. As the men lifted the beams with their knees, the wooden-aluminum structure bounced up and rotated counterclockwise according to the Capo’s commands.
“We just feel the spirit of it. We don’t think of how heavy it is or anything else,” said Anthony Paragone, one of the lifters and a Williamsburg resident.
Participating in the Giglio dance is a great honor, as several lifters spoke of how their strength in lifting embodied the strength of the Italian community in Williamsburg
“You put the weight of the world on your shoulders and lift, and give everybody a little lift along the way,” said lifter Chris DiStefano.
The festivities continue in Williamsburg until July 20 at the intersection of Havemeyer and North 8th Street. For more information visit www.olmcfeast.com.
©2008 Community News Group
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