Sunday, July 18, marked the last day of The Feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel and San Paolino, an annual street festival brought to Williamsburg, Brooklyn by the neighborhood’s Italian immigrants from Nola, Italy (near Naples). From July 7 – 18, North Williamsburg was home this festival and ritual, which dates back to fifth-century Italy.

Festival streets

For two weeks during the summer, the festival brings together religious processions, carnival rides, concessions and parades on Havemeyer and North 8th Streets, surrounding Our Lady of Mount Carmel church. The event is also a fundraiser for the church, which has sponsored the feast since 1903.

The statute that gets carried

The Dancing of the Giglio refers to the lifting of a massive four-ton, five-story, hand-sculptured tower, boat and 12- piece brass band on the shoulders of one hundred men, who carry this structure on a large wooden platform, through the streets. There is traditional music and the way the structures are carried creates the impression of ‘dancing.’ The tower honors a Roman Catholic Saint, San Paolino di Nola, and his act of sacrifice and bravery in the ancient Italian city of Nola in 409 AD.

The boat

According to the story, around 410 AD, North African pirates overran the town of Nola. Bishop Paolino, who had not even been a Catholic until the age of thirty-seven,  offered himself in exchange for one of the many boys abducted into slavery. He was taken to North Africa, where the tale of his courage and self-sacrifice spread. A Turkish sultan heard about this act of generosity and negotiated for Paolino’s freedom. When he returned to Nola, the town greeted him with lilies, symbolic of love and purity.

The lilies (gigli) are featured on the elaborate wooden towers and the boat (la barca), which are carried through the streets in remembrance of Paolino.

Hae-In at Giglio

Dozens of street vendors sell a variety of fried foods, including clams, pork sausages, zeppoles (fried donuts), calzones and Oreos!

Tasty street food

The Feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel and San Paolino has been taking place in Williamsburg for over 100 years, celebrating religion, culture and community and bringing a bit of southern Italian history to Brooklyn.

Havemeyer Street and North 8th Street, Brooklyn, NY
Get subway directions via HopStop

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