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East Harlem Giglio Society to Hoist New 5 1/2 Ton Tower in Annual Catholic Religious Festival

New Yorkers visited relatives in Brusciano, Italy, the Neapolitan village where the tradition originated, and the Italians sent back the parts for a brand new statue.

By Shannon E. Ayala / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: August 8, 2013

East Harlem Giglio Society

Hundreds gathered on Pleasant Ave. in East Harlem last August to lift and walk Giglio along Pleasant Ave. to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on E. 115th. St. The Giglio Society of East Harlem is a group of men who have dedicated their lives to honor San Antonio, their beloved saint. Their love and devotion is on display each year during the Annual Italian Festival held in East Harlem.

Revisiting your heritage can make for a pretty heavy experience.

Especially for members of the East Harlem Giglio Society, who journeyed to the small Neapolitan village from which their forebears migrated to New York more than a century back, and returned with a new centerpiece for their historic religious festival.

This Sunday, 125 men and women will hoist a 51/2 ton statue and carry it — along with more than a dozen musicians — through the streets of East Harlem, honoring an annual tradition that their ancestors brought over from Brusciano, Italy, in 1901.

For the first time, the 82-foot-tall tower’s outer parts were made in the Naples suburb from which the Giglio celebration originated.

“The Bruscianos actually sent us a Giglio that we’re lifting this year,” said Mitchell Farbman, 66, one of the lifters for Sunday’s event.

The annual parade marks the centerpiece of a weekend-long festival that’s rooted in the story of a miracle, which Catholics believe to have been performed by St. Anthony of Padua.

East Harlem Giglio

More than 125 men and women will carry the 5.5 ton, 82 foot Giglio down 115th St. and Pleasant Ave. on Sunday. The statue has been updated this year with papier mache parts donated and shipped from Brusciano, Italy, origin of the tradiition of ‘Daning the Saint Anthony Giglio.”

The dance-like celebration was first choreographed in 1875. It is similar to a separate dance that originated in Nola, Italy, which is now performed annualy in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The dance entails carrying the towering statue, which is meant to symbolize a lily.

“Originally, when they danced it they carried lilies,” said Bob Maida, the webmaster for the Giglio Society of East Harlem. “It’s supposed to represent one big lily, actually, because Giglio means ‘lily’ in Italian.”

The lifters will carry the Giglio from Pleasant Ave. and turn down E. 115th St., walking it to the front of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish while thousands follow.

The group’s captains dictate the direction and choose the music played by a band that sits on the giglio and includes drums, brass and electric guitar. The parade and dance should last about two hours.

The giglio, made of wood, foam and papier mache, is generally re-used from one year to the next, and parts were last shipped over from Nola, Italy, in 2010.

East Harlem Giglio

The previous Giglio (here, being carried last year) was decorated with parts from Nola, Italy, the home of a separate dance that is also performed each year in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

But some members of the Giglio Society made a visit to Brusciano earlier this year, and the bonds they rekindled were so powerful that the community responded by pledging a really tall gift: a new Giglio.

“We knew their families and things like that, and we felt a very close kinship,” said Farbman. “They wanted to come over and build it for us.”

Instead, one of Brusciano’s giglio societies sent the statue’s outer parts by ship, and its spine and base were built here.

The giglio’s “face” arrived in six pieces, on July 3, and was held in customs until last weekend.

Members of the Giglio Society of East Harlem assembled it in front of Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics High School on Plesant Ave., where now it awaits the big day.

“It’s all built and ready to go,” said Farbman.

The Dancing of Saint Anthony Giglio, festival on Pleasant Ave. between 114th and 116th Sts. in East Harlem, Aug 8-11, 6 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, noon-9 p.m. Saturday. Mass will be celebrated at noon on Sunday, followed by the dance, which gets underway at 2 p.m. For more information, visit EastHarlemGiglio.com.


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