WILLIAMSBURG — On a day when the weather was breathtakingly beautiful, the most stunning sight people saw when they looked up toward the blue sky wasn’t the sun or the clouds, but the Giglio.
Giglio Sunday made an inflation-weary public feel a lot better on Sunday, July 10, as the four-story-tall Giglio tower was carried through the streets of Williamsburg.
The Giglio, which pays tribute to St. Paulinus (also known as Saint Paulino) — the patron saint of Nola, Italy — is the highlight of the 12-day-long Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The feast is a neighborhood tradition stretching back over 100 years to the days when Williamsburg was populated by large numbers of Italian immigrants who brought their customs and strong religious beliefs with them from the old country.
Thousands of people lined Havemeyer Street in front of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel — the epicenter of the festivities — to see the Giglio. Many folks stood in awe as the tower made its appearance.
“I think it’s breathtaking. It’s such a beautiful representation of our Catholic faith,” said Anna DiGiallonardo, who came to the feast from Glendale, Queens.
It took more than 100 “lifters” to carry the giant the Giglio and dance down the street. And it’s not just the St. Paulinus statue that they carried on their shoulders.
Anthony Desio was marking his 25th year as a lifter on this Giglio Sunday. He has been at it since he was 14 years old. “I don’t think there’s any secret to it, other than getting your shoulders and your legs ready for a lot of pain!” he joked prior to the start of the event.
He loves the sense of brotherhood he feels toward his fellow lifters. “You’ll see after each individual lift, the lifters will be hugging and jumping and giving each other high-fives,” he said.
The Giglio’s base supports a platform on which a 12-piece brass band sits. At several points along the route, the “lifters” stop and dance as the band plays the official song of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, “O Giglio e Paradiso.” The song has been part of Giglio Sunday since 1959.
Giglio is Italian for “lillies” and the tower is made of aluminum, paper-mâché, and plastic and is decorated with flowers.
The magnificent Giglio was met on the street by another amazing sight, La Barca. Italian for “The Boat,” La Barca is a 10-foot by 10-foot replica of the vessel that, as legend has it, carried St. Paulinus on his return to his native Italy following captivity in Turkey.
The Dancing of the Giglio was the big event of the day, but wrapped around it was the feast where thousands of people — both folks living in Williamsburg and those who came to the neighborhood from elsewhere — enjoyed carnival games, munched on sausage and pepper heroes, and went on rides.
Forty members of the Ulster County Italian American Foundation took a bus down to Brooklyn for the feast.
For Joseph LoSchiavo, a member of the foundation, it was a chance to revisit his younger days. He was a lifter in 1968 when he was 26 years old. “I wanted to come back today to celebrate in my heart what I did back in 1968. It was a lot of years ago. But the memories are there,” he said.
“This is our first time here. Friends of ours grew up in Brooklyn and they told us, ‘You have to see this. It’s phenomenal. And it’s disappearing from other parishes in the area.’ So we wanted to come here to support it,” said foundation member Anthony Tampone, who came with his wife Debra from Kingston, New York
The day began with a Mass at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at 275 North 8th St. in honor of St. Paulinus. The main celebrant was Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, the church’s pastor.
Aside from the fun aspect of the day, Msgr. Gigantiello sees Giglio Sunday as a way of spreading the Catholic faith.
“This used to be an Italian-American neighborhood and it has changed over the years,” he explained. “The feast keeps the faith and tradition of the Italian community alive here. It’s a chance to show how proud we are of our faith and to share it with everyone.”