January 31, 2015

Feast of Blessed Maria Cristina, Queen of the Two Sicilies

Blessed Queen Maria Cristina 
of the Two Sicilies
January 31st is the Feast Day of Blessed Maria Cristina di Savoia, Queen of the Two Sicilies. Daughter of King Vittorio Emanuele I and Maria Theresa of Austria, she married King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies in 1832. Immensely pious, “Reginella Santa” as she was popularly called, performed numerous acts of charity and important social works for the poor people of Naples. On January 31, 1836, at the age of 23, she died after giving birth to her first son Francesco II, the last King of the Two Sicilies. Queen Maria Cristina was Beatified on January 25, 2014 by Pope Francis at the Basilica Santa Chiara, in Naples, where she is interred. In celebration I'm posting a Prayer to the Blessed Maria Cristina.
Preghiera
O Dio, che hai posto nei tuoi santi una grande luce e un provvido sostegno per il tuo popolo in cammino, ascolta con bontà la nostra preghiera, e glorifica la sua Serva la Ven. Maria Cristina di Savoia, nella cui vita di sposa e di regina ci hai offerto un modello fulgido di carità sapiente e coraggiosa, e concedi a noi, per sua intercessione, la grazia ..... che da te, con fiducia, invochiamo. Per Cristo nostro Signore. Amen.

Feast of San Ciro di Alessandria

Viva San Ciro!
January 31st is the Feast Day of San Ciro di Alessandria (Saint Cyrus of Alexandria), doctor, hermit and martyr. Widely venerated across southern Italy, he is the principal patron of Portici (NA), Vico Equense (NA), Nocera Superiore (SA), Grottaglie (TA) and Marineo (PA), among others. To commemorate the occasion I'm posting a Prayer to Saint Cyrus. The accompanying photo is a devotional card from Marineo, Palermo.
Prayer to Saint Cyrus
O Glorious St. Cyrus, Doctor, Martyr and our merciful Patron, I implore your intercession with confidence. Watch with equally pitiful eye my spiritual and physical infirmities. Do not forsake me, listen to the voice of my heart, and give me your help and your protection. Amen. 

First Tuesdays Presents Maria Terrone

Award winning poet Maria Terrone
Tuesday, February 3rd (6:30PM)
Terraza 7 Café
40-19 Gleane Street
Elmhurst, New York 11373
(718) 803–9602


Maria Terrone is the author of the poetry collections Eye to Eye (Bordighera Press, 2014); A Secret Room in Fall (McGovern Award, Ashland Poetry Press) and The Bodies We Were Loaned (The Word Works), as well as a chapbook American Gothic, Take 2 (Finishing Line Press). Her work, which has been published in French and Farsi and nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize, has appeared in magazines including Poetry, Ploughshares, Hudson Review, and Poetry International and in more than 20 anthologies. She was one of 10 Queens-based authors commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum to write an essay for its performance project, “stillspotting nyc.”

For more info visit www.mariaterrone.com

The Great Cocozza

The Tragically Short Life of Mario Lanza
Mario Lanza
By Niccolò Graffio
“My candle burns at both ends;It will not last the night;But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-It gives a lovely light!”—Edna St. Vincent Millay: First Fig, (1920)
My clearest memories growing up of my father was of him being a workaholic.  He had spent the first 17 years of his life living in Italy helping his mother and older brothers try to eke out a living on the family farm.  His father immigrated to America and found work with the railroads. As happened to many of our people, he spent most of his time here while sending money back to help the family. In addition, he saved up his money to help pay for the passage of his sons to follow him.  
You see, while all this was going on, Benito Mussolini was busy pursuing his dreams of building a “fourth shore” (i.e. establish a second Roman Empire under his command).  Towards this end he allied himself with Adolf Hitler, another winner, and together they ignited another European conflagration. Continue reading

January 30, 2015

Raimondo di Sangro

Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero
The Prince of Alchemists
By Niccoló Graffio
“All scientific men were formerly accused of practicing magic. And no wonder, for each said to himself: ‘I have carried human intelligence as far as it will go, and yet so-and-so has gone further than I. Ergo, he has taken to Sorcery.’” – C.L. de Montesquieu: Persian Letters, CXLV, 1721
In Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s epic play Faust, the protagonist, Heinrich Faust, sells his soul to the Devil (Mephistopheles) in exchange for infinite knowledge and worldly pleasures. Faust, a scholar who was a member of the aristocracy, made the infernal deal due to his despairing belief in the vanity of scientific, humanitarian and religious learning.
Goethe’s character was fictional, though many believe he was an aggregate of several historical personages. The play, considered to be one of the greatest works of German literature, is taken by many to be an allegory for man’s insatiable and never ending quest for knowledge. Continue reading

January 29, 2015

Celebrate Carnevale with New York City's Sicilian Food, Wine & Travel Group

For more info visit New York City's Sicilian Food, Wine & Travel Group on Facebook

January 28, 2015

Feast of San Tommaso D'Aquino

Viva San Tommaso!
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
January 28th is the Feast Day of San Tommaso D'Aquino (St. Thomas Aquinas), Doctor of the Church. Considered one of the Church's greatest theologians, he is the patron saint of students, academics, scholars and philosophers. Widely venerated across southern Italy, he is the principal patron of Aquino (FR), Belcastro (CZ), San Mango d'Aquino (CZ), Falerna (CZ) and Grottaminarda (AV), among others. To commemorate the occasion I'm posting a Prayer to Saint Thomas Aquinas. The accompanying photo was taken at Saint Thomas Aquinas Church in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Prayer to St. Thomas Aquinas
Father of wisdom, You inspired Saint Thomas Aquinas with an ardent desire for holiness and study of sacred doctrine. Help us, we pray, to understand what he taught and to imitate what he lived. Amen.

January 26, 2015

Arturo DiModica and His Charging Bull

Bronze Cavallo, currently on display
at Casa Belvedere, Staten Island
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
Since beginning this exercise in ethnic self-awareness I've intermittently written about New York City's public monuments by Sicilian Americans, specifically the works of Anthony de Francisci and Pietro Montana. However, no discussion of Sicilian-American sculptors would be complete without mentioning Arturo DiModica and his world famous Charging Bull
Arturo DiModica was born on January 26, 1941 in Vittoria, a small city in the province of Ragusa, Sicily. Showing signs of artistic ability at an early age, his parents Giuseppe and Angela supported his creative endeavors. When he was 19, DiModica left for Florence to study and refine his skills at the Academia Del Nudo Libero. After just two years he opened his own studio, quickly making a name for himself among critics and collectors alike. He worked primarily in bronze, but also with the highly valued Carrara marble, prized for its use in sculpture since antiquity.
In 1973 DiModica came to America to broaden his artistic horizons. He opened a workshop on Grand Street in SoHo, meeting with almost immediate success. Winning awards and accolades from the New York art community, his works are highly prized. He purchased property on Crosby Street in 1978 and built his current studio, where some of his most beloved pieces, including Cavallo, a feisty bronze horse, were created. Continue reading

January 25, 2015

Photo of the Week: “The First Pearl of the Amalfi”

A view of the Amalfi Coast from Vietri sul Mare, the “First Pearl of the Amalfi.” Photo by New York Scugnizzo

January 23, 2015

Hellenic Dawn

The Coming of the Greeks to Southern Italy
The Nike of Giardini Naxos by Carmelo Mendola
Located at the tip of Cape Schisò, in the Province of Messina, the monument was erected on November 27, 1965 to commemorate the twinning of Giardini Naxos with the Greek town of Halkida Evia. Dating back to 735 BC, Giardini Naxos was the site of the first Greek colony in Sicily (Photo by Niccolò Graffio)
By Niccolò Graffio
“Greek customs such as wine drinking were regarded as worthy of imitation by other cultures. So the ships that carried Greek wine were carrying Greek civilization, distributing it around the Mediterranean and beyond, one amphora at a time. Wine displaced beer to become the most civilized and sophisticated of drinks—a status it has maintained ever since, thanks to its association with the intellectual achievements of Ancient Greece.” – Tom Standage: “A History of the World in 6 Glasses”
Southern Italy from the dim past has been inhabited by Man. The fossil evidence for this fact is abundantly clear.  The earliest humans enjoyed the treasures of the Mediterranean when they weren’t helping themselves to flora and fauna that lived around the Apennines. 
Yet these early humans lacked something. Even when they began to live within the communities we today call town and villages there was something missing from their lives.  It was the high level of culture, science, government and industry that we call ‘civilization’.  Given enough time, one or more of the peoples’ native to the region would have undoubtedly initiated the spark that would later give rise to the polities known as city-states, but history dictated that spark would be introduced by another. These people, racial cousins of the natives, came from the land of the Peloponnesus and surrounding islands. Their arrival would have a most profound effect on the future of the region.
Civilization began many centuries earlier in the Aegean with the rise of the culture of the Minoans, a people who spoke a non-Indo-European language. The Minoan civilization was a thassalocracy centered on the islands of Crete and Thera. The Minoans were traders and artisans par excellence who established contacts with peoples as far flung as the Egyptians and the Canaanites. There is even evidence they influenced these cultures (and vice versa).
Terracotta statuette of a seated goddess
Sicilian, 2nd half of the 6th century B.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
By the 17th century BC they had also greatly influenced the culture of the Mycenaeans, the first Hellenic-speaking people to settle the Peloponnesus. Archaeological evidence from this time shows a great increase in the material culture of the Mycenaeans along with unmistakably Minoan artifacts.
Unfortunately for the sedentary Minoans, the Mycenaeans were a healthy semi-barbaric people who were looking to expand their holdings.  Sometimes around the middle of the 15th century BC there was a tremendous natural catastrophe (what exactly remains controversial) which greatly damaged Minoan civilization.  The Minoans might have recovered but for the fact their Mycenaean neighbors took advantage of this fact to invade the island of Crete.  Shortly after this the famed Minoan palaces on the island clearly show Mycenaean character.
The Mycenaeans were not as civilized as the people they conquered but they weren’t dumb brutes, either.  They appreciated the cultural and technological accomplishments of the Minoans and sought to perpetuate them wherever possible.  In addition, they adopted and adapted the political and economic infrastructures of the Minoans.  The Minoans themselves were ultimately merged with their Mycenaean conquerors.
For reasons that are still murky, a couple of centuries after this Mycenaean civilization itself collapsed.  Of all the hypotheses that have been advanced to explain this event the two that have gained the most widespread acceptance among archaeologists are a) internal discord brought about by wars between Mycenaean city-states and b) the arrival into the lower Peloponnesus of another Hellenic-speaking people from the north – the Dorians.
Asteas krater, mid-fourth century B.C.
Archaelogical Museum of Paestum
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
Whatever the truth, by the end of the 11th century BC Mycenaean culture had fragmented.  The following three centuries (1,100 – 800 BC) are remembered by archaeologists and historians as the Geometric or Homeric Age.  Some still call it the Greek Dark Ages.
During this time period the Peloponnesus and surrounding areas saw a marked reduction in material culture.  Cities, towns and even many villages were abandoned. The population of the region as a whole declined considerably.  Monumental stone buildings ceased to be built. Linear B, the script of the Mycenaeans, vanished.  Trade with the outside world effectively ceased.
This is not to say all aspects of higher culture vanished.  The smelting of iron, learned from Cypriots and Levantines, slowly became commonplace.  By the year 900 BC virtually all weapons found in grave goods were made of iron.  What did vanish were higher forms of government.  Monarchies were gone, probably replaced by independent areas ruled by kinship groups.  These kinship groups were led by chieftains who, according to archaeologists, enjoyed a standard of living not much higher than the people they ruled over.
Recovery was slow and uneven, with some areas (like Attica and central Crete) springing back faster than others.  What is known for certain is that by the beginning of the 8th century BC grave goods indicated the economic recovery of the Peloponnesus was well along. The number of graves and ruins also indicates the population was recovering as well.
Greek colonies of Magna Graecia (Map courtesy of napoliunplugged.com)
Even before the end of the 8th century BC Greeks began to expand outward into surrounding regions.  Overpopulation is considered too simplistic an explanation for this phenomenon. As the economy of the region recovered, many adventurous and entrepreneurial types ventured beyond the Aegean to find their fortune or simply to explore the unknown.  The Greeks did not limit themselves to one direction.  Greek settlers fanned out in numerous directions, and the fact many of the new areas were already inhabited did nothing to stop the settlers, either.
Neck amphora found in Capua depicting Europa
on the Bull. Attributed to the Edinburgh Painter,
ca. 500-490 B.C., Museum of Fine Arts Boston
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
For obvious reasons, I shall concentrate on those who chose to travel in a westward direction.  According to all ancient writers, the first Greek settlement on the island of Sicily was the town of Naxos.  It was founded in 735 BC by settlers from the town of Chalcis on the Greek island of Euboea.  It was founded a year before settlers from the Greek cities Corinth and Tenea founded the colony of Syracuse, also in Sicily.  Residents of the modern commune of Giardini-Naxos, built over the site of the ancient city, have erected a monument on the lava beach outside the town to commemorate the arrival of the Hellenes.
The first Greek settlements on the mainland were in the area of modern Naples. These settlements were established sometime in the latter part of the 2nd millennium BC. The first bona fide colony was established in the 9th century BC and called Parthenope.   
The colonization of Southern Italy in earnest by Greek settlers occurred in two great waves.  The first occurred in the 8th century BC and was marked by the establishment of the previously named settlements plus other colonies at sites like Cumae (the first Greek colony on the Tyrrhenian Sea), Rhegion (modern Reggio), Kroton (Crotone), Taras (Taranto) and Zancie (Messina) et al.  In 720 BC Achaean and Troezenian settlers would found the city of Sybaris in the Gulf of Taranto.
Descendants of the original settlers in the Naples area plus new arrivals would eventually found another Greek town (Neapolis) on the plain near the Bay of Naples during the second wave of Greek settlement in the 6th century BC.
Bronze fragment of an inscription, Greek, Sicilian, ca. 490-480 B.C.
This is a rare example of Doric script found in Sicily. It concerns a grant of citizenship. Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
The second wave of Greek colonization brought with it the establishment of new centers of Greek life at Elea in what is now Campania, Italy.  Southern Italy saw a flourish of Greek settlement during this time, with new colonies being established at Poseidonia (Paestum) c. 600 BC by Achaean Greeks from Sybaris.  There were also colonies established at Lipara (modern Lipari), Akragas (Agrigento) and Kamarina, to name a few.
Due to the warm climate, volcanic fertility of the soil, the abundance of game animals and the mineral richness of the region, many of the new arrivals quickly established wealthy municipalities, especially at places like Sybaris and Syracuse.  The lushness of the region and the wealth of many of its Hellenic inhabitants spread throughout the Mediterranean world, including the Peloponnesus, whose inhabitants took to calling the area “Megale Hellas” (Gr: “Great Greece”)  
This wealth would later serve the nascent Greek city-states in the wars they would inevitably fight amongst themselves and the polities back in Hellas.  They would also soon find themselves fighting off other peoples who coveted that wealth, most notably the Etruscans and new arrivals from the coasts of North Africa – the Carthaginians.
Coming soon:  “War and Dominion: The Rise of Magna Graecia”
Further reading: L. Cerchiai, L. Janelli, F. Longo: The Greek Cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily; Getty Trust Publications, 2004

January 22, 2015

Feast of San Domenico di Sora

Viva San Domenico!
January 22nd is the Feast Day of San Domenico di Sora, Benedictine abbot and founder of several hermitages and monasteries in the Kingdom of Naples. Renowned for his healing miracles, San Domenico is invoked against poisonous snakebites, rabid dogs, fever and toothaches. Widely venerated across Southern Italy, the great healer is the principal patron of Sora (Terra di Lavoro), Colcullo (AQ), Pizzoferrato (CH), Villalago (AQ) and Fornelli (IS), among others. 
Each May in Colcullo, the town celebrates the Festa dei Serpari, or Feast of the Snake Handlers, in honor of their beloved patron. The event draws thousands of pilgrims each year.
During the festivities, San Domenico’s statue is covered with live snakes and paraded through the streets with great fanfare. Among the saint’s relics on display at the local church are his molar and his mule’s iron horse shoe. The tooth is reputed to heal snake bites, while the horse shoe (a common symbol for good luck) is said to protect the town’s animals from danger. 
Popular custom says if you pull the chain of the church doorbell with your teeth you will be protected from toothaches. It’s common to see people wrap a handkerchief around the chain links, bite down, and ring the bell.
Some believe the snake ritual dates back to pagan times when the local Marsi tribes worshiped the telluric snake-goddess Angitia, daughter of Aeëtes, who taught the art of medicine to her devotees. The snake, among other things, is an ancient symbol of healing. Consider the serpent entwined Rod of Asclepius, the staff of the ancient Greek god of medicine and healing still used today by medical institutions.
To commemorate the occasion I’m posting a Prayer to San Domenico Abate. The accompanying photo comes courtesy of Made in South Italy Today.
Prayer to San Domenico Abate
O glorious San Domenico, beloved patron and miracle worker, you served God in humility and confidence on earth. Now you enjoy His beatific vision in heaven. You persevered till death and gained the crown of eternal life. With your strength protect us, your devotees, from the venom of wild animals and the torment of toothaches. Amen.

The Most Glorious Voice

Rosa Ponselle
Rosa Ponselle – La Magnifica
By Niccolò Graffio
“In my lifetime there have been three vocal miracles: Caruso, Ruffo and Ponselle. Apart from these there have been several wonderful singers.” – Tullio Serafin
As documented in previous articles, our people, the children the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, have left their mark on the history of mankind in a number of ways.  We have produced prominent political figures, artists, doctors and even famous scientists.  
Of all the endeavors of mankind, however, perhaps none has felt our mark as greatly as the realm of music!  Books, TV shows and movies have been made about eminent singers and songwriters whose roots lie in Southern Italy.  We have not only produced people considered noteworthy in this regard, we have produced those who can be considered truly great!
Opera is that noble art form that combines singing, songwriting, acting and drama.  Our unmistakable fingerprint lies upon it!  Whether it is the brilliant musical score of Bellini or the beautiful tenor of Caruso, we can say with no small measure of pride that we have contributed to the betterment and perpetuation of this hallmark of classic Western Civilization. Continue reading

The Heretical Radical

Antonio Gramsci
Antonio Gramsci of Sardinia
By Niccoló Graffio
“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” – Antonio Gramsci: Letter from Prison (December 19th, 1929)
Prior to the epiphany that launched me on my journey down the road of ethnic consciousness, I, like so many others, had been inculcated by the American public and private school systems (as well as the mass media) into believing that almost everything great that had ever been done under the sun was done by people with light hair, eyes and skin. Beginning in kindergarten, a long procession of these people from Christopher Columbus to Neil Armstrong and from George Washington to George S. Patton, Jr, was paraded before me. Great minds from the likes of Isaac Newton to Carl Friedrich Gauss and from Thomas Jefferson to Woodrow Wilson were, as well.
Even back then I wondered what, if anything, people from my area of the world, the Mediterranean, had done to compare with the accomplishments of these people. Though Columbus was originally from Genoa my educators were quick to point out his ancestors had come from farther north in Europe. In fact, the people who wrote my textbooks in school (and directed the movies I watched) would have had me believing all the greats of the ancient Mediterranean world bore a striking resemblance to Northern Europeans. Who reading this, for example, hasn’t seen a Hollywood epic showing ancient Greeks and Romans with British looks and accents (at least among the upper classes, anyway)? Continue reading

January 21, 2015

Research Project: "Furore D'una Banda"

The Tradition of the Italian Wind Band (Feast Band) in the US
The late Michael "Red Mike" Acampora, leader of the Red Mike Festival Band
Photo courtesy of www.redmikefestivalband.com
Many of us who grew up in Italian American enclaves have an attachment to certain types of music; such as the Neapolitan songs of Jimmy Roselli and Phil Brito, Lou Monte's novelty songs such as "Peppino the Italian Mouse," the tenor voice of Mario Lanza, the jazz great Mr. Louie Prima and many others.
Another type of music for which we have a great affection is the Italian wind band, or in Italian American laymen's terms "The Feast Band.” This music represents the heart and soul of our Italo American feast day celebrations.
Using brass and woodwind instruments, this type of band does not play and march as if in a football game halftime show or a Memorial Day parade. This type of band strolls slowly in processions behind the images of the Madonna and our beloved patron saints. They also play symphonic and operatic pieces on stage at evening concerts. So I can say the Italian feast band is also traditionally known as a concert band.
The Italian concert band has a long history in the United States going back to the turn of the twentieth century. Those were the days of the great "Creatore.” Contemporary and rival to the renowned John Philip Sousa, the celebrated Neapolitan band conductor Giuseppe Creatore wowed the American public across the country with his brilliance and flamboyant style.
The Saint Cono Bande of Inwood, Long Island
When playing at Italian religious Feast processions, the Italian concert bands would dress in their dignified military or nautical type uniforms and perform the type of music, which distinguishes them from the bands of other ethnic groups. They play what is called the Symphonic March (in Italiano "La Marcia Sinfonica"). This type of march bridges elements of popular march music with classical symphony. These "Marce Sinfoniche" belong to a lovely, melodic yet triumphant sounding genre of music. Many of the grander symphonic marches are also concert pieces. One called "Inglesina" or "Little English Girl," was written by Davide Delle Cese (a native of Pontecorvo, Italy), and is considered one of the top ten internationally known marches in the world.
In America the US Marine Corps and US Army bands play these types of marches when they perform, but only about twenty of this particular type of Italian band still exist in the United States today. They are concentrated mainly in the Northeast, from Boston to Chicago and about as far south as Maryland.
Researcher Mark Pezzano labels himself a “fanatic affectionato” of the feast band, and has done much research on the tradition as well as maintains a collection of recordings of historic bands such as Giuseppe Creatore’s band and Salvatore Minichini's Italian Royal Marine Band. Mr. Pezzano also has recordings on CD and cassette of some of the existing bands, such as the Caliendo Banda Napoletana from Chicago and the Banda Rossa from Utica, NY.
The P. Cosentino Italian Band of Omaha, Nebraska
Pezzano explains why it is important to collect information such as histories, photographs, live recordings and other types of memorabilia of past and existing bands. We want to make sure the legacy of this music is not lost. We also want it to be documented in the annals of Italian American history. He states that the greatest thing would be to bring about a renewed interest. Mr. Pezzano is trying to document as much as he can. He says, “At the close of this labor of love I would like to donate all info to respected academic institutions and libraries so this information will be available to present and future generations.”
Mr. Pezzano also plans on putting together a program consisting of a lecture and audio- visual presentation to be scheduled for academic institutions and Italian American organizations. We want to help in any way we can so we are reaching out to the community for material as well as any information that is available. If you have knowledge of Italian band music, have a story of an old feast band, had any relatives involved, or have memorabilia you would like to share (recordings, old programs, photos etc.), Mr. Pezzano ask that you contact him. He also needs information on existing bands, so if you lead or belong to an existing band please contact Mr. Pezzano so your band can be documented and known to future generations.
You can contact Mark Pezzano by Telephone at (516) 931–2016, or e-mail him at italo61@aol.com

Feast of Sant'Agnese, Vergine e Martire

Evviva Sant'Agnese!
January 21st is the Feast Day of Sant'Agnese (Saint Agnes), Virgin and Martyr. Patron saint of young girls and chastity, she is the principal protectress of Pineto (TE), Corropoli (TE), and Sava (SA). To commemorate the occasion I’m posting a prayer in her honor. The accompanying photo was taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. Dating from the third quarter of the 17th century, the bronze statuette was modeled after a work by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (b. Dec. 7, 1598, Naples—d. Nov. 28, 1680, Rome).
Prayer to St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr
O Little St. Agnes, so young and yet made so strong and wise by the power of God, protect by your prayers all the young people of every place whose goodness and purity are threatened by the evils and impurities of this world. Give them strength in temptation and a true repentance when they fail.  Help them to find true Christian friends to accompany them in following the Lamb of God and finding safe pastures in His Church and in her holy sacraments. May you lead us to the wedding banquet of heaven to rejoice with you and all the holy martyrs in Christ who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

January 20, 2015

Feast of San Sebastiano Martire

Viva San Sebastiano!
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
January 20th is the Feast Day of San Sebastiano (Saint Sebastian), martyr and patron saint of soldiers and athletes. Widely venerated across southern Italy, he is the principal patron of Melilli (SR), Cerami (EN), Tortorici (ME), Maniace (CT), Acireale (CT), San Sebastiano al Vesuvio (NA), Caserta (CE), Conca della Campania (CE), Aiello del Sabato (AV) and Martirano (CZ), among others. To commemorate the occasion I'm posting a Prayer to Saint Sebastian. The accompanying photo was taken at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Montclair, New Jersey.  
Prayer to Saint Sebastian
Dear Commander at the Roman Emperor's court, you chose to be a soldier of Christ and dared to spread faith in the King of Kings, for which you were condemned to die. Your body, however, proved athletically strong and the executing arrows extremely weak. So another means to kill you was chosen and you gave your life to the Lord. May soldiers be always as strong in their faith as their Patron Saint so clearly has been. Amen.

The Great Restorer: Charles of Bourbon

Charles of Bourbon, Napoli
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
"Go forth and win: the most beautiful crown in Italy awaits you." – Elizabeth Farnese to her son Charles of Bourbon
Charles of Bourbon was born on January 20, 1716 in Madrid. He was the eldest child of King Philip V of Spain and his second wife, Elizabeth Farnese. Through conquest and diplomacy the monarchs acquired the ducal crowns of Tuscany and Parma for the young Prince. Not content with these titles, the ambitious royals believed the Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies to be a more fitting prize for their son and plotted to wrest the Regno from the Austrian Empire.
At the age of eighteen Charles descended from his ducal dominions to invade the viceroyalty and conquer the "the most beautiful crown in Italy" for his own. At the helm of his army, which was composed of sixteen thousand infantry and five thousand cavalry, was the illustrious General Captain José Carrillo de Albornoz, the Count of Montemar. They had the support of the Spanish navy. 
When the Bourbon forces crossed the frontier they met with minimal resistance as the Austrians yielded in rapid succession. Charles entered Naples on May 10, 1734. Awaiting reinforcements from Austria, the imperial viceroy, Giulio Visconti, retreated with the bulk of his forces to Puglia. However, because the Austrians were tied up in Lombardy fighting against the French and Sardinians in the War of Polish Succession (1733-1735) the expected help never arrived. Upon hearing the news of the advancing Bourbons the viceroy wasted no time and set sail for Vienna. Continue reading

January 19, 2015

Feast of San Catello Vescovo

Evviva San Catello!
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
January 19th is the Feast Day of San Catello (Saint Catellus), Bishop and protector of Castellammare di Stabia, a commune in the province of Naples. To commemorate the occasion I'm posting a Prayer to San Catello. The accompanying photo was taken at Saint Michael's Church in New Haven, Connecticut.
Prayer to San Catello
Glorious San Catello, beloved patron of Castellammare di Stabia, you served God in humility and confidence on earth. Now you enjoy His beatific vision in heaven. You persevered till death and gained the crown of eternal life. Remember now the dangers and confusion and anguish that surround me and intercede for me in my needs and troubles. Enlighten, protect and guide me towards eternal salvation. Amen.

A Most Illustrious Corpse

Judge Paolo Borsellino Remembered
Judge Paolo Borsellino
By Niccoló Graffio
“Times of heroism are generally times of terror.” – R.W. Emerson: Heroism, 1841
Paolo Borsellino was born in Piazza Magione, a middle-class neighborhood in the heart of the city of Palermo, Sicily on January 19, 1940. His parents, both pharmacists, were supporters of the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini and its exploits in Africa. This was a factor in his decision to study recent history as well as his later political orientation.
Growing up, he befriended a fellow soul who, like himself, would one day become a legend in the Italian judiciary: Giovanni Falcone. Years later, Falcone would once recall how he and Borsellino would spend their youth in Palermo’s popular Albergheria quarter playing ping-pong with other young men who grew up to become Mafia capos.
While studying law at the University of Palermo, Borsellino joined the Fronte Universitario d'Azione Nazionale (FUAN), a right-wing student organization affiliated with the neo-Fascist Movimento Italiano Sociale (Italian Social Movement). The soft-spoken Borsellino never tried to hide his political affiliations. Unlike many other magistrates around the world, he never allowed his ideas to get in the way of his work, and his honesty and integrity won him the trust and admiration of all his colleagues, including those on the other side of the political spectrum. Falcone (whose own politics were slightly left of center) once said of him: ‘One can trust Borsellino and he is a tireless worker.’ Continue reading

January 18, 2015

Photo of the Week: Gamberale

Grazie mille Roberto di Nardo for sharing your wonderful photo of Gamberale, a beautiful village in the Province of Chieti, Abruzzo

January 17, 2015

Feast of Sant'Antonio Abate

Viva Sant'Antuono!
Photo by Niccolò Graffio, Savoca, Sicily
By Giovanni di Napoli
January 17th is the Feast Day of Sant'Antonio Abate, also known as Saint Anthony the Great, one of the founders of Christian monasticism. He is regarded as the patron Saint of livestock, fire and contagious diseases, particularly skin maladies (e.g. shingles) and ergotism, a toxic condition caused by eating grains contaminated with ergot fungus. Also known as St. Anthony's Fire, ergotism causes gangrene in the extremities and drives its victims mad, symptoms previously associated with demonic possession.
In Southern Italy huge wooden pyres called the Bonfires of Saint Anthony (not to be confused with St. Anthony's Fire) are burned on the eve of his festival in public squares throughout the night. The purification ritual, which is meant to ward off evil spirits, also signifies the coming end of winter and the anticipation of spring. Local wines and delicacies are enjoyed, as well as fireworks, processions, music and other festivities. Continue reading

January 16, 2015

The Farchie Festival of Fara Filiorum Petri, A Light Against the Darkness

The Farchie Festival of Fara Filiorum Petri, Chieti, Abruzzo 
Photo courtesy of Made in South Italy Today
By Lucian
Every year the various districts of Fara Filiorum Petri, a town in the Province of Chieti in the Region of Abruzzo, participate in the Farchie Festival, a famous fire ritual in honor of Saint Anthony the Abbot. The event commemorates the miracle that delivered the town from subjugation by the French army in 1799. At the time the town was surrounded by an oak forest. As the foreign soldiers advanced, the locals prayed to their patron Saint Anthony for deliverance. In answer to their prayers the saint appeared, and the oak trees that circled the town burst into flames and drove back the soldiers. In some versions the soldiers were trapped by the fire and consumed, in others the flaming trees actually fought back against the invading army, which fled in terror. 
On January 12th, each district begins their preparations for the festival. A heavy bundle of reeds called a farchia is construct-ed to venerate the Saint. The farchie (plural) can be up to 1 meter thick and 10 meters long, and are secured by flexible willow branches. The main procession takes place on January 16th, and after each neighborhood's religious service, they are all carried to the center town piazza near the Church of Sant'Antonio Abate. A few generations ago the torches were all carried on men’s shoulders. It was, in times past, considered a rite of passage for young men to carry their district’s farchia. Now many are carried by tractor, but a procession of singing devotees and live music still follows each. The farchie are later erected with ropes and long wooden sticks, and each is designed to be beautiful as well as engineered for a controlled burn.  There is a competitive spirit among the neighborhoods. I have heard that part of the festivities include the praising of their farchia by each respective group, and the pointing out of the slightest imperfections in the others. However, all are gathered to respect the Saint and celebrate together, and it should come as no surprise that food is an important part of the feast. Ritual bread and traditional fare is served, including zeppole, serpentone, crispelle and cancellate. Wine flows and people dance. The farchie are set alight at sunset and there are fireworks. On January 17th there is a solemn mass at the Church of Saint Anthony the Abbot, during which the spent farchie, domestic animals and the bread are blessed.
Chiesa di Sant'Antonio Abate, Fara Filiorum Petri
Photo courtesy of Made in South Italy Today 
Saint Anthony the Abbot has been patron of Fara Filiorum Petri for approximately a thousand years. The Benedictines, who controlled the area, supported the Saint’s veneration but he is said to have become the town’s patron after Antonian monks assisted the area’s sick during an epidemic around the year 1000 A.D.  There are many who believe that the Farchie Festival has its roots in local pre-Christian fertility and purification rituals, and in addition to its continuing Christian function of driving away evil spirits, also represented the natural cycle of death and rebirth. I’ve always found such connections to be fascinating and I try to be objective when they are debated. Each case is different; in some the evidence is strong, in others it is not.
There are many stories about Saint Anthony the Abbot  and some specifically deal with his rejection of the Old Religion. In one story he is confronted by two demons in the form of a centaur and a satyr, figures specifically borrowed from pre-Christian beliefs; the two demons try to test Anthony’s faith but end up respecting him instead. In another story he refuses to debate two Greek philosophers, simply stating that if they wanted to understand Christianity then they should try to live as he did. Yet my favorite story of Saint Anthony, while very popular, is not sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church. It deals with the gift of fire to mankind, and parallels the pagan tale of the titan Prometheus.
Prometheus Bound by Peter Paul Rubens 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
The tale has Saint Anthony and his pet pig traveling to hell in an attempt to rescue souls entrapped there. When confronted by the devil and his demons, his pet pig became unruly and causes havoc. During the distraction Saint Anthony stole fire from hell and brought it back as a gift to mankind. In some versions it is Anthony that causes the distraction and the pig that actually steals the fire. Needless to say, since overwhelming evidence and the Holy Scriptures themselves tell us that the use of fire significantly predated the New Testament, it is clearly obvious that this motif was recycled from a much earlier age. Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to mortals, but was punished severely by Zeus for his act. He was chained to a rock for eternity. An eagle tore out his liver every day, only to have his immortality heal it overnight for his cycle of suffering to begin anew. In another story the hero/demigod Hercules, in a later age, slays the eagle and frees the titan. Saint Anthony sought martyrdom but it was denied to him. It could also be said that Prometheus was to be martyred for his gift of fire to mankind.
It is possible that the Farchie Festival was developed without the influence of similar pagan rites, but if so then it highlights our predisposition toward such ritual and symbolism. Either way it could easily be considered an extension of what the secular might describe as our collective unconscious, or more importantly, what the spiritual call our souls. Some might wonder why we care so much about a fire ritual in a small town in Europe and what it has to do with modern people. In response I say turn out all the lights, engines, and electricity in your town during the new moon. Anyone who has experienced a blackout in a major city will comprehend the connection I speak of. We have an instinctual reaction to the darkness, and for very good reasons. The light of the torches does more than drive away evil spirits; it illuminates our territory, exposes predators and enemies, and empowers us to defend ourselves and those we love. The torches symbolize our resistance to the darkness, and our refusal to submit to any threats within it.

January 15, 2015

2015 South Italy Folk Dance Lab

This January 22nd, 24th and 29th, put on your dancing shoes and join Ornella Luorio at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a fun and lively evening of southern Italian folk music and dancing.

Learn the dances of Campania, Calabria and Puglia, and become a great dancer of tammurriate, pizziche and tarantelle.

Classes will be held at 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM in Room: 36-112 @ MIT (77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139)

Classes are free, but I expect everyone to attend the big event that will close the lab on January 31st!!!

The Final event will be:
Southern Italian Folk Dance Night
Saturday, January 31, 2015 (6:00 PM — 8:00 PM)
Dante Alighieri Italian Cultural Center
41 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
Fee: $15.00

Great live music with Fabio Pirozzolo (percussion & vocalist) and Roberto Cassan (accordion)

Contact Ornella Luorio ASAP to be in the lab!
Contact: oiuorio@mit.edu

For more information visit Southern Italian Folk Dances Lab on Facebook