WILLIAMSBURG — The Giglio will not rise this summer.
The world-famous Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel has been canceled. The Italian-American summertime tradition dates back to 1903 and features hundreds of able-bodied people carrying a 72-foot-tall, 4-ton “Giglio” statue on their shoulders as they dance down the street to joyous music.
The glorious 12-day feast, which had been scheduled to take place in mid-July, was canceled due to the pandemic, according to Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of the Shrine Church Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
“We have to keep in mind people’s health and well-being,” he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York States PAUSE order prohibiting large gatherings of people is still in effect until at least May 15.
The feast has never before been canceled in its 117-year history, although the Giglio statue procession was scrapped in 1945 due to a shortage of volunteers to carry the statue, according to Msgr. Gigantiello, who said many young men were still serving overseas in World War II.
In an open letter on the feast’s website, Msgr. Gigantiello wrote that the decision to call the event off was unavoidable.
“It has been over 75 years, going back to the time of World War II, since the lifting of the Giglio was canceled. We are in unprecedented and uncertain times as we were back then,” he wrote.
The feast pays tribute to Saint Paulinus, the patron saint of Nola, Italy. The centerpiece of the event is the carrying of the giant statue of the saint, which is adorned with lilies, known in Italian as “Giglio.” The feast originated with Italian immigrants who came to America, settled in Williamsburg, and wanted to celebrate their heritage.
Ironically, the cancelation comes one year after the feast saw major success.
After seeing the number of volunteers willing to carry the Giglio dwindle over the past few years, the committee put out a call for help in 2019. As a result, scores of people came forward and offered to help carry on the tradition.
The search for volunteers, which attracted widespread media attention, caused interest in the feast to skyrocket.
Longtime volunteers like John Durante were handing down the tradition of carrying the Giglio statue to their children, just as their parents did for them.
“My father’s been coming here, his father was coming here. Over 111 years, Durantes have been coming here and lifting this Giglio,” he told The Tablet last year. Durante said his 8-year-old son, Joseph, already understands the tradition.
Williamsburg residents look forward to the feast each year, as do the hundreds of thousands of visitors who descend on the North Brooklyn neighborhood to enjoy the sights, sounds, and mouth-watering food.
The feast also serves as an important fundraiser for Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. Not having the event “is a major problem for us,” Msgr. Gigantiello admitted as the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel struggles to raise cash.
“Our collections are very, very low,” Msgr. Gigantiello said. “We rely on the profits from the feast.”
Msgr. Gigantiello, who has been the pastor for three years and is vicar for development for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said he has started alternative fundraising efforts including a “Century Club,” where donors can purchase a plaque with their name on it. The church is also holding a raffle. “We’re hoping people step up to the plate,” Msgr. Gigantiello added.
The feast committee is exploring alternative options, including the idea of holding the event in the fall. But even that would be a scaled-down feast.
“We can never duplicate the 12 days that we have,” Msgr. Gigantiello noted. “If things change, maybe we can have a weekend.”
To read the latest updates regarding coronavirus concerns in the Brooklyn Diocese, go to https://thetablet.org/coronavirus.