One of the borough’s more colorful and festive ethnic and religious celebrations opens this coming week in the city’s “real Little Italy.”
The annual Feast of St. Anthony will run from Wednesday, June 11 through Sunday, June 15, with live music, carnival games, rides, and food.
It comes at a time when the neighborhood’s historic church faces some major changes.
The highlight of the feast will be on Saturday afternoon, with a unique Italian tradition called “dancing the giglio.”
The tradition of the giglio hails from Nola, Italy, where ornate towers are carried through the streets each year in honor of St. Paulinus.
Belmont first added the giglio to the Feast of St. Anthony in 2012, although sites in Brooklyn and Harlem have been carrying on the tradition for years, said Frank Franz, chair of the Belmont Business Improvement District, which is hosting the festival.
In Belmont, the 70-foot tower, which also acts as a stage for a band, will take about 120 men to lift and carry up and down Belmont Ave and 187th Street. The movement the tower while it is walked down the street is why it’s called “dancing” the giglio.
“Everyone has such a good time that day,” he said. “You get caught up in it all.”
Even though the area is no longer predominately Italian, Franz said Belmont neighbors come together to celebrate the history and traditions of the neighborhood.
“It gives people a sense of unity and pride.”
Saturday’s event will start around 2 p.m. in front of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel church on 187th Street at Belmont Avenue, which is also playing host to another special event.
Relics of St. Anthony of Padua, whom the feast honors, will be at the church on Thursday, June 12. A Franciscan Friar from the Brotherhood of St. Anthony will give Mass in Italian.
Father Eric Rapaglia, Mt. Carmel’s pastor, said that St. Anthony is known as a great advocate for the poor and historically was important to the parishioners.Transition
This year’s feast comes at a time when change is on the horizon for the 108-year-old church.
The Archdiocese of New York has recommend the church, which is in a significant amount of debt, merge with Our Savior parish, at Washington Avenue and 183rd Street. A final decision will be made sometime in December.
“Nothing is set in stone,” said Rapaglia.
He said the Mt. Carmel building would remain open, but there could be a name change and a loss of the “Italian National Parish” distinction.
While a handful of vocal parishioners oppose any change, he said he feels the majority of people are okay with changes that could strengthen the church.
“There are a good number of people that are just happy we are not closing.”