The North End section of Boston was one of the early arrival points for Southern Italian and Sicilian immigrants. Many Italian-American families can trace their American roots back to this small warren of narrow streets and alleyways. These pioneers brought with them local traditions and beliefs, including the festivals they knew from home. After all, being strangers in a strange land, these people could use all the help they could get from their patron saints. Since 1911, this neighborhood holds a celebration to honor the patron saint of Sciacca, Sicily; the Madonna del Soccorso.
Madonna del Soccorso
Our Lady of Help has been protecting the citizens of Sciacca since at least the 14th century. She has been credited with curing broken necks, eradicating a plague and stopping an earthquake. Sciacca had a large marble statue commissioned that is still part of the traditional procession in Sicily. Fishermen of Sciacca have a special relationship with the saint, since it was the fishermen that struggled to bring her heavy marble statue into port in the early 16th century. Therefore it was natural for the newly arrived fishermen to want to honor the Madonna del Soccorso just like they did back home, every August 15th.
The North End’s version of Sciacca’s feast includes food, games, gifts, lots of music and of course, the processions. The statue of the Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca is carried to Boston Harbor where she blesses the fishing grounds, before spending the rest of the feast in a street side chapel. During Sunday of the festival, the statue is paraded through Boston’s North End for seven hours before the highlight of the festival - the famous ‘flight of the angel’
The Flight of the Angel
The end of the Fishermen’s Feast, is the most spectacular, featuring a religious spectacle called the flight of the angel. At the end of the day-long procession on Sunday, the statue of the Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca is returned to North Street and the crowds gather under the lights to await the angels. Every year three young girls are chosen to play the roles of the main angel and two supporting angels. From the balconies above the crowd the two supporting angels recite prayers in Italian before the main angel emerges from a window and “flies” above the crowd, landing in front of the stature to pray. As she begins her return flight to the upper windows, the crowd roars and confetti streams down from the rooftops. As the night winds down the statue of the Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca is returned to her shrine, to await next year’s festival.
The Fishermen’s Feast is just one of several festivals held at the end of summer in the North End. Besides the heat of August, this is great time to visit the North End, which is still full of traditional bakeries, wine vendors and shops. The food options during the festivals range from street vendors to classic Italian-American restaurants to modern takes on Italian cuisine.
Although the fishing fleets of Boston and Gloucester can no longer sponsor the festival, corporate sponsorship will allow the Fishermen’s Feast to continue every August, for years to come.
By Justin Demetri
For More Information:
Official Website: http://www.fishermansfeast.com/