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NYC's East Harlem Celebrates Sant'Antonio!

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The Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel East Harlem, New York, will be having a traditional Latin High Mass at 10 a.m. on Giglio Sunday, August 12, 2012. The Giglio is a multi-storied tower carrying a band and statue of St. Anthony of Padua that is "danced" by around 120 men through the streets of East Harlem. (video below). There will  be a traditional feast in the street with food and amusements. St. Anthony's relics will be venerated after mass and the Dance of the Giglio begins at 1 p.m. Many people have exclaimed, “ It is one of the most amazing things you will ever see.”

Once the largest Italian community in New York City, East Harlem is a pleasant memory for countless former inhabitants. To renew that memory, thousands of former residents along with their children and grandchildren return to renew that bond and meet up with friends in the old neighborhood for the Feast of Giglio di Sant’Antonio sponsored by the Giglio Society of East Harlem.


The Giglio Society of East Harlem is a group of men who have dedicated their lives to honor Sant’ Antonio, their beloved saint. Their love and devotion is on display each year during their Annual Festival held in East Harlem. They honor their Patron Saint in very much the same fashion as their ancestry did and still do annually today by building a Giglio and dancing it in the streets of East Harlem.

For those unfamiliar with the Giglio (pronounced JEEL-YO), it is a 75 to 85 foot tall wooden structure weighing approximately 8,000 pounds with a paper-mache  face adorned with beloved saints and colorful flowers. On the platform just above the base of the Giglio sits a multi-piece band along with several singers. The music is an instrumental part of the dancing of the Giglio as it inspires the “Lifters” (also known as the ‘”Paranza” in Italian) to take on the burdening weight of the Giglio and band and dance it in harmony to the music being played.

The origins of the Giglio Society trace their heritage back to the town of Brusciano, approximately 20 miles outside of Naples, Italy. Here an annual Feast called the “Dance of the Giglio” takes place yearly in honor of Sant’ Antonio. The feast originally began back in the 1880s when Francisco Vivolo prayed to Sant’ Antonio to help cure his deathly ill child. In exchange for this cure, Francisco vowed to honor Sant’ Antonio in the same manner as the town’s people of Nola, Italy, a nearby town honoring San Paolino di Nola, by constructing Gigli in honor of Sant’ Antonio and dancing them in the streets of Brusciano. Francisco’s prayers were answered and the dancing of the Gigli in Brusciano was born. It continues today where six Gigli are built for the Annual Festival during the latter part of August and danced on the shoulders of hundreds of men.

Around the turn of 1900s, Italian immigrants left in search of a better life for their families. Many families from the town of Brusciano migrated to East Harlem to start anew with other families and friends that came before them. Although these immigrants brought little with them on their 30-day long voyage across the in the tight confines of the boat, what they did carry with them were their beloved traditions. For the people of Brusciano, this included the yearly Dance of the Giglio Festival in honor of Sant’Antonio.

Upon their arrival, the Italian immigrants of Brusciano in East Harlem decided to initiate their beloved traditions by building a Giglio and dancing it in the ‘New World’. (From bobbymaidasgigliopictures's website)