May 25, 2011

Remember Bitonto!

Charles of Bourbon, Palazzo Reale, Napoli 
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli

May 25th marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bitonto (1734), the key engagement between the Spanish Bourbons and Austrian Hapsburgs over the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies during the War of the Polish Succession (1733-1738).  The battle and its aftermath (the Treaty of Vienna) brought Austrian rule in Southern Italy to an end and won "the most beautiful crown in Italy" for Charles of Bourbon, the eldest child of King Philip V of Spain and his second wife, Elizabeth Farnese.

The Duke of Montemar, 
José Carrillo de Albornoz
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Under the command of Captain General José Carrillo de Albornoz, the Count of Montemar, the Bourbon forces defeated the Austrians (who had ruled Naples since 1707 and Sicily from 1720) on the field of battle near Bitonto in Puglia. For his part, Count José Carrillo de Albornoz was made a Duke. A towering obelisk was constructed in the town square in his honor and to commemorate the victory. 

After 230 years of provincial servitude to Spain and Austria, Charles of Bourbon, "The great restorer of the kingdom," made the Regno an independent and sovereign state once again. The Bourbon dynasty ruled the Southern Kingdom for 126 years until 1860, when Victor Emanuel II of Savoy conquered and annexed it to the nascent Kingdom of Italy.

Amended on May 25, 2012

For more see: 

May 20, 2011

Sacred Art From Abruzzo at the Cloisters


Kneeling Virgin (detail) by Paolo Aquilano

While reading Lucia Arbace's very informative essay, "Values and Symbols Dreamed in Clay," in the commemorative La Madonna di Pietranico compendium, I was curious to learn that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a Renaissance statue from the Abruzzo in their collection. A frequent guest at the museum, I thought it was a bit strange that I was unfamiliar with the work. Thanks to the Internet, I soon discovered that the statue is housed in The Cloisters, a branch of the MET "devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe," located in beautiful Fort Tryon Park in Northern Manhattan.

As you can imagine, after seeing the recently restored Madonna di Pietranico at the Italian American Museum I was very excited with the prospect of viewing another devotional statue from the Abruzzo. So I packed my camera and headed to The Cloisters.

Located in the Late Gothic Hall, among an incredible array of European religious statuary from the Middle Ages, is the Kneeling Virgin (ca. 1475), attributed to Paolo Aquilano. The polychromed wood sculpture, carved in willow, stands almost 47 inches tall and, some believe, may have been part of a presepio (Nativity) ensemble. The elegant figure, with "Ave Maria" inscribed in gold along the neckline, represents the Virgin Mary adoring the (now lost) Christ Child. Her hands, probably clasped in prayer, are also missing.


Kneeling Virgin by Paolo Aquilano

The statue's striking resemblance to the enthroned Madonna and Child (Staatliche Museen, Berlin) and the fictile Levapene Madonna and Child from Civitaquana (Museo Nazionale Abruzzese, Aquila) has been remarked upon by scholars and is the primary reason for its attribution to Aquilano.

It has also been suggested that the Kneeling Virgin's crèche may have influenced the Fontecchio presepio (Museo Nazionale Abruzzese), loosely attributed to the prestigious painter-sculptor Saturnino Gatti (L'Aquila 1463–1518 L'Aquila). Gatti is generally considered to be one of the finest Renaissance sculptors from the Abruzzo. Also a painter, Gatti's wonderful painting, The Translation of the Holy House of Loreto (ca. 1510), can be seen at Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The Translation of the Holy House of Loreto by Saturnino Gatti

Making my way through the galleries, admiring the collection, I stumbled across a tall, heavily damaged statue of Saint Nicholas of Bari from the parish church of San Nicola di Bari in Monticchio, L'Aquila. Carved from poplar, the Blessing Bishop stands 73 1/2 inches tall and is a rare example of Gothic wood sculpture from Italy. Prominently displayed, the idol dominates the Early Gothic Hall. An employee explained to me that it was recently moved to its current location so patrons can get a better view of its hollow backside. Artist unknown, the statue dates from the late fourteenth Century and originates from the Abruzzo or nearby Umbria.


Blessing Bishop (Saint Nicholas of Bari)

Among the late twelfth- and thirteenth-century sculptures on display in the cloister from Saint-Guilhem-le-Déésert, is a wonderful limestone relief from the pulpit of the Church of San Michele Archangelo at San Vittorino, Abruzzo. Dedicated to Saint Luke, a winged ox (the saint's symbol), framed with an elaborately carved border, holds a book with an inscription from the Gospel. A second epigraph makes reference to the otherwise unknown sculptor, Master Stephanus and his atelier.


Relief from the Pulpit with the Symbol of Saint Luke

Another item in the Cloisters collection that may be of special interest to our readers is an exquisite ivory Liturgical Comb from Southern Italy. Dating from the late eleventh- to early twelfth-century, the double sided comb was used for ritual preparation by priests before Mass. Measuring 3 3/4 x 4 1/2 x 11/16 inches, the delicate carvings on the spine show two sparring warriors riding fantastic creatures from Greek mythology. For more on ivory carvings from Southern Italy, the MET has several magnificent examples on display, including an ornately carved casket and oliphants (hunting horns).


Liturgical Comb

In addition to the museum's renowned gardens and cloisters, other highlights include the Gothic Chapel, the incredible Unicorn Tapestries and, of course, the famous Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) in the Campin Room. The institution's enviable collection boasts plenty of examples of sacred Medieval and Byzantine painting, sculpture, stained glass and much, much more.

If you haven't done so already, time is running out to see La Madonna di Pietranico at the Italian American Museum. The exhibit ends on June 2, 2011. Afterward the statue will be returned to the Chiesa di San Michele e Santa Giusta in Pietranico, Abruzzo.


La Madonna di Pietranico
Photos by New York Scugnizzo

Bibliography:

• "Three Madonnas in Search of an Author" by Carmen Gómez-Moreno, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, June 1967 [I was amused at the title's allusion to Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author.]

• "Values and Symbols Dreamed in Clay" by Lucia Arbace, La Madonna di Pietranico, Edizioni ZiP, 2011

May 17, 2011

An Evening of Cantu With Michela Musolino

[I apologize for not posting this review sooner, but my busy schedule would not allow it.]

Michela Musolino

It's hard not being impressed by Michela Musolino. As I sat listening to her sing at Recoup Lounge last Thursday night (May 12, 2011), I couldn't help but be overcome by a feeling of serenity as her hauntingly melodic voice filled the small, but intimate venue. She is truly a gifted singer deserving of great praise, not just for keeping our folk traditions alive, but because she presents them in a positive and attractive manner that can only inspire others to do the same. More than one person in the audience commented they could not believe such a talented singer was not more famous.

Billed as a "Sicilian Roots Concert," the artist's oeuvre consisted of an impressive medley of traditional and contemporary folk music influenced by the island's long, complex history. Her repertoire includes songs about love, lamentation and emigration. It also included topics more specific to Sicily, like Bonagia, a heart-rending dirge about the abduction of loved ones by Saracen pirates.

Michela Musolino and Gabriel Hermida

Musolino, also an accomplished percussionist, was accompanied by the fantastic Argentine guitarist, Gabriel Hermida. Together they formed an impressive synergy, brilliantly complementing one another and breathing new life into the music. The musicians needed no gimmicks or stunts to captivate their audience, just one guitar, one tamburello, her incredible voice and lots of passion and soul.

The musical journey began with a masterful rendition of Vinutu Sugnu, a slow, morose prison song in the cantu di sdegnu (songs of scorn) style. In it a lovelorn prisoner proclaims that he would have been better off dead than having fallen in love. The regret and heartache were captured perfectly.

She then performed the beautiful lullaby, La Vò, in honor of her friends (Matt and Desiree) who are expecting a child.

Sicily's rich musical tradition also includes passionate work-songs evoking the hardships of peasant life, so naturally they were featured in the set as well. The heartfelt Tira Murrieddu (Pull Little Mule), a carter’s serenade about enticing his love, was a perfect example of the genre. All that was missing was the beating of a mule's hooves on the ancient cobblestone.

The duo also included the modern classic, La Mafia Nun Esiste (The mafia don't exist), a sardonic anti-Mafia tune, which mocks apologists who deny the existence of la Cosa Nostra even in the wake of bombings and assassinations.

In all, they played about ten songs, ending the show with one of my all-time-favorites, Mi Votu e Mi Rivotu, a stirring ballad about agonizing love:
"Mi votu e mi rivotu sosspirannu, passu li notti'nteri senza sonnu...Lu sai quannu ca jù t' av'a lassari, quannu la vita mia finisci e mori."

[I toss and I turn, sighing; I pass the whole night without sleep...You know I'll only leave you when I die.] *
It was a wonderful performance; one I am glad I did not miss.

Speaking to Ms. Musolino after the show, I learned she would be performing again on June 1st at 8 PM at the Shrine World Music Venue at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., NYC. Joining her on stage for a couple of songs will be the very talented Laura Campisi from Palermo. Mark the date!

Photos by New York Scugnizzo

(*) Quoted from Michela Musolino's Songs of Trinacria featuring Wilson Montuori on guitar.

May 11, 2011

Brooklyn's Third Annual Battle of Bitonto Commemoration


You are cordially invited to join us at Brooklyn's Third Annual Battle of Bitonto Celebration. Due to the general neglect and poor state of our local neighborhood bocce courts we are pushing back our celebration a week. This year's event will be held at Union Hall (702 Union Street @ 5th Avenue), a bustling bar-restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 8:00 PM.

Unfortunately, the bocce courts at Union Hall cannot be reserved so we will not be holding our highly competitive tournament. Instead, the games will be played on a first come, first serve basis. Obviously, you have to be 21 years or older to enter the bar, so another drawback will be that we can't teach the kids how to play. On the upside, the bar is noted for its good food and friendly atmosphere. Also, we won't have to worry about Mother Nature raining on our parade.

The informal gathering will be an excellent opportunity for members of the Southern Italian diaspora community (and friends) to shoot-the-breeze, play some bocce and remember the triumph of Charles of Bourbon over the Austrian Hapsburgs on May 25, 1734 at Bitonto. The Bourbon victory led to the restoration of the independent and sovereign Southern Italian nation, The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Photos by New York Scugnizzo

May 10, 2011

The Crocodile of Castelnuovo

Sewer Alligator by Tom Otterness
By Giovanni di Napoli

While on my way to Metrotech Center today I came across a quirky little statue of a crocodile dragging a man down a manhole. It appears to be a spoof of the popular urban legend about a predatory reptile stalking New York City's serpentine sewer system.

Peaking my interest, I discovered that the work is called Sewer Alligator. It was crafted by Tom Otterness as part of his Life Underground installation, a series of sculptures designed for public display in the NYC subway system. I'm not sure what the bag of money is in reference to, but I like to think it represents the fat cat globalists who sacrifice traditional cultures for the global economy.

Anyway, the statue reminded me of my visit to the Maschio Angioino (also called Castel Nuovo, or New Castle) in Naples, where I first heard the ancient folk tale about the Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo.

Maschio Angioino
Legend has it that a crocodile mysteriously made its way from the Nile delta to the bowels of the Castel Nuovo. Through a hidden hole in the castle's moat the ravenous reptile would prey on helpless captives, dragging their mangled corpses back to its lair. Concerned about the number of prisoners "escaping," the guards tried to figure out how they were getting away in order to better secure the dungeon, a former granary beneath the Palatine Chapel called the Mile Pit.


One day, to their surprise, they discovered the creature feeding on one of its victims. Instead of getting rid of the crocodile, the jailers decided to put the animal to good use. "From that day on," wrote Benedetto Croce in his Storie e leggende napoletane, "the crocodile...was used as a means and executor of justice; prisoners sentenced to death were sent down to the moats and were regularly swallowed by the crocodile." *

Other versions of the story include the notorious Queen Joan II of Naples (1371-1435), who, it's said, delighted in feeding her spent lovers alive to the beast. The insatiable Queen allegedly discarded her playthings, one after another, into the creature's gaping maw. Her reputation, it is said, was so bad that no infamy was beyond her, including (unfounded) rumors that she had sex with a horse. Such accusations were not unknown against female monarchs. I remember reading nearly identical propaganda promoted by the enemies of Catherine the Great.

Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo by unknown artist 
Courtesy of Comune di Napoli
Eventually the crocodile was killed; a horse leg was used as bait. Its body was stuffed and mounted over the castle's gateway as a warning. The legend doesn't state which stallion the murderess used to snare her prey; one can only guess.

Construction of the Maschio Angioino began in 1279 under Charles I of Anjou. It was used as a royal residency when he moved the capital of the Regno from Palermo to Naples. Despite its age, the castle is still called "new" because the city's other imposing fortresses, Castel dell'Ovo and Castel Capuano, are much older. The Aragonese triumphal arch and cenotaph, added in the fifteenth century by Alfonso I, is considered one of the great architectural masterpieces of the Renaissance. In 1503 the kingdom was annexed to Spain and the castle was used to garrison its forces. Today the landmark houses the Museo Civico and is a popular tourist destination.

Castle highlights include:

The Chapel of the Souls in Purgatory
The Portal of the Palatine Chapel by Andrea dell'Aquila
Bronze doors (1474-75) by Guglielmo Lo Monaco
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
(*) Quoted from Legends and ghost stories in Naples between two centuries: Matilde Serao, Roberto Bracco and Benedetto Croce by Armando Rotondi. A PDF file is available online.

May 9, 2011

Giovanni Paisiello

Giovanni Paisiello painted by
Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun
By Giovanni di Napoli
Giovanni Paisiello was born on May 9th, 1740 in Roccaforzata, a small town near Taranto in the Apulian region of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The son of a veterinarian, he received his first instruction in music at the local Jesuit school, which he attended for eight years. The boy's musical talent soon attracted the attention of Don Girolamo Carducci, who, in 1754, succeeded in having the youth attend the Conservatorio di S. Onofrio, Naples' preeminent institution for musical training.
During his first year at the conservatorio the young Paisiello studied under the celebrated Neapolitan composer, Francesco Durante (1684-1755). Focusing mostly on sacred music (psalms, etc.), Paisiello eventually composed a successful comic intermezzo, which led to commissions from the Teatro Marsigli-Rossi di Bologna. In 1764 he wrote the opera Il Ciarlone, then I francesi brillanti, establishing his reputation in Northern Italy as a major composer in the operatic genre known as opera buffa. Continue reading

May 7, 2011

Announcing Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country)


Film Synopsis

For nearly two decades, Campania, the southern region of Italy where Naples is located, has witnessed an ongoing practice of illegal toxic material dumping in rural and inhabited areas. The management of waste material in the region has been in the hands of the Camorra – a mafia organization with vast economic and political power. This practice has taken place mostly in the provinces of Naples and Caserta and in particular in an area nicknamed “The Triangle of Death.” This area includes the towns of Acerra, Nola and Marigliano, located about 20 miles northeast of Naples, Italy. The material that is illegally deposited in this region comes mostly from industries in Northern Italy. The waste material, including aluminum salts, ammonium salts, lead, acid sludge, contaminated oil, rubber from tires, and asbestos, is unlawfully incinerated. As a result, high levels of dioxin are released in the atmosphere. The types of cancer reported, ranging from stomach, breast, and colon to lung cancer, are connected to highly contaminated environments. In the region, a total of 5,200 illegal trash sites have been found.

The film documents the personal stories of Mario Cannavacciuolo and his son Alessandro, and Bruna Gambardella – all of them living in the Triangle of Death. Mario has experienced the loss of his sheep herd – 3,000 sheep that died due to exposure to toxic substances.

His son Alessandro, the youngest child in the family, has witnessed the collapse of the family business and the loss of a family member who suddenly died of lung cancer. Bruna had recently developed several health issues. In particular, she was diagnosed with endometriosis and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Her body contains a high amount of polychlorinated biphenyls – the same toxic substances that were found in the soil near where she lives. The journey through this once fertile territory continues as Gennaro Esposito, a medical doctor and environmental activist, leads us to several areas that have suffered from the illegal activities of the Camorra. The scars to the environment become obvious at the sight of piles of trash left abandoned or sometimes burned in the countryside.

Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country) is not just a story about environmental issues that relate to just a specific geographical area in Southern Italy. Through the personal stories of Mario, Alessandro and Bruna, this documentary reveals the broken emotional and cultural balance between the people from the Campania region and their land. The film holds a universal message about the way humans interact with their environment and why this connection is so important today as the social and cultural paradigms are shifting.

Repinted from unhappycountry.com

May 3, 2011

A Piece of Abruzzo in NYC

Italian American Museum showcases the Madonna di Pietranico
Recently, I had the great privilege of viewing La Madonna di Pietranico at the Italian American Museum (IAM) in New York City. The fictile statue, dating from the 15th century, had been seriously damaged in the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila and has gone under extensive restoration following its recovery from the devastated Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo. The reconstruction was made possible by the hard work and generosity of the IAM, which helped raise $110,000 for the victims. In gratitude for its munificence the people of the Abruzzo have loaned the beloved statue to the museum.

According to Lucia Arbace, the Superintendent for Artistic and Cultural Heritage in Abruzzo, what makes the Madonna so special is not who the sculptor was (the artist is unknown) or how precious the materials used to make her were (its made from simple terracotta), but rather her religious and historical significance. This devotional piece represents the collective identity and historical memories of the Abruzzese people, whose rich legacy of Medieval and Renaissance art remains unjustly understated.

"The Madonna di Pietranico," says Arbace "is also a testament to our capacity to communicate faith in Mary, our great Mother, who, deeply rooted in the territory of Abruzzo, assumed a new face mid-way through the fifteenth century to transmit an intensely spiritual message to the faithful." (1) She is depicted on a throne, in prayer, cradling the Christ Child on her lap.

In all, twenty-four fragments were recovered from the ruins. The nose and left hand were completely destroyed. A metal bar, some wire and plaster incorporated during an earlier restoration in the 1930's added to the difficulties. The Christ Child was lost prior to 1934.

Highly trained specialists were brought in for the complex restoration project. Using state of the art technology and techniques like computerized laser-scanning and digital 3D-modeling, the team, over the course of the year began to repair the damaged icon and return it to its former glory.

The back of the statue's head remains unfinished so viewers can see the restoration process and the extent of the damage for themselves. The repairs will be completed upon its return to the Abruzzo where it will be reinstalled, after an 80 year hiatus, to its rightful home, the Chiesa di San Michele e Santa Giusta in Pietranico.

The Madonna di Pietranico, along with a fifteen-minute documentary film about the restoration work, will be on view at the Italian American Museum until June 2, 2011.

Photos by New York Scugnizzo

(1) Quoted from La Madonna di Pietranico: The reconstruction, restoration and history of a work of art in terracotta, Edizioni ZIP, 2011, p. 22

May 2, 2011

Sacred Concerts

The Life of Alessandro Scarlatti,
The “Grandfather” of Classical Music

“Let every man praise the bridge that crosses him over.”
– English proverb


Alessandro Scarlatti was born on May 2, 1660 in either Palermo or Trapani, Sicily, at that time part of the Kingdom of Sicily. Nothing is known of his early musical education. In 1672 he was sent to live with a relative in Rome. It is generally believed by modern scholars that while there he was schooled by the composer Giacomo Cassini. It is also believed by many that he must have had contact with teachers from Northern Italy, since his early works show influence by Alessandro Stradella and Giovanni Legrenzi.

In April, 1678 Scarlatti married Antonia Anzalone, who bore him ten children (including his son and musical successor Domenico). Sadly, only half would reach adulthood. At the age of 19 he produced his first opera, Gli Equivoci nel Sembiante. The success of this gained him the patronage of Queen Christina of Sweden, who was living at the time in Rome following her abdication and conversion to Catholicism.

In February of 1684 he became the maestro di cappella to the Viceroy of Naples. It is believed this largely came about due to the influence of one of his sisters, an opera singer who was the mistress of an influential nobleman. Ironically, it was gossip about both his sisters’ scandalous behavior that forced him to leave Rome for Naples in the first place! He remained in that official capacity for 18 years. An avid workaholic (no doubt due to his impoverished childhood), during his tenure in Naples he produced a long series of operas as well as other music for state occasions.

By 1702 foreign intrigues forced him to leave Naples, not to return until the end of the Spanish domination of that city in 1708. During the interim he enjoyed first the patronage of Fernando de’ Medici in Florence and subsequently Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome. It was during this period he composed his “magnum opus”: Mitridate Eupatore (1707) in Venice. Continue reading

May 1, 2011

Ferdinand Pecora and the Investigation of the Great Crash


Ferdinand Pecora
(National Archives)

Michael Perino on "The Hellhound of Wall Street: Ferdinand Pecora and the Investigation of the Great Crash"

Thursday, May 5,
6:00pm - 7:30pm

John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
25 West 43rd Street, 17th floor
New York, NY
(Between 5th and 6th Avenues)
212-642-2043

In the winter of 1933, the nadir of the Great Depression, Ferdinand Pecora took control of a bumbling United States Senate investigation of the 1929 stock market crash. Pecora, a Sicilian immigrant and former assistant district attorney from New York City, was one of the country's few Italian-American lawyers. He put Charles Mitchell, the chairman of National City Bank (today's Citibank) on the stand, who left utterly disgraced after Pecora's relentless questioning revealed the bank's shocking financial abuses. Michael Perino of St. John's University and author of The Hellhound of Wall Street: How Ferdinand Pecora's Investigation of the Great Crash Forever Changed American Finance (Penguin Press, 2010), shows how Pecora became an unlikely hero to a beleaguered nation by spurring Congress to rein in the free-wheeling banking industry. These unprecedented steps led directly to the New Deal's landmark economic reforms.

Calendar of Events: May 2011

Il Regno cannot be held responsible for changes in dates or venues so please be sure to confirm with the organizers.

Featured Southern Italian Festivals & Events for May 2011

La festa di I Tri da Cruci
(The Feast of the Three Crosses)
May 3rd, 2011
Tropea, Calabria


Stemma di Tropea

Tropea's annual Festival of The Three Crosses commemorates the day three sacred wooden crosses were placed in the Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo (delle anime del Purgatorio). During the celebration, the Calabresi recall the expulsion of the Saracens from Tropea ("The pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea"), who for centuries harried the Coast of the Gods (Calabria's northern seaboard) for tribute and slaves. In what's facetiously called, il camjuzzi I focu, or "the dance of the burning camel," an effigy of the hated Moslem "tax-collector" is paraded around town then set aflame with fireworks to the delight of the revelers.

The festival also evokes the memory of the town's victorious soldiers (especially the heroic Condottiero, Gaspare Toraldo, who captured a Turkish ship and her crew—including it's Captain, Rais Zesbinassan) at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7th, 1571. The famous sea-battle represents Europe's miraculous triumph over the menacing Ottoman Empire.

Festa dei Serpari
(Feast of the Snake Handlers)
May 5th, 2011
Cocullo, Abruzzo


Stemma di Cocullo

Every year, on the first Thursday of May the local Serpari (snake-handlers) of Cocullo—a small mountain village in the province of L'Aquila in the Abruzzo—"dress" a wooden statue of San Domenico outside his shrine with snakes. After mass, the idol, with it's reptilian shroud, is paraded through the village accompanied by a throng of euphoric pilgrims and the curious. It's considered good luck When the serpents slither around the saint’s head. Many of the faithful carry snakes as well.

San Domenico, the abbot of Foligno, was a renowned healer, especially of toothaches; he is also credited with building monasteries in the region and driving away wolves and snakes—a common motif symbolizing Christianity's triumph over paganism. However, as with so many Christian rites in Southern Italy there remains more than a little of their pagan origins. The Marsi, an ancient warlike tribe native to the region, worshipped the telluric snake-goddess Angitia, who has power over serpents and great healing powers, particularly with snakebites.

Festa di San Nicola
(The Feast of Saint Nicholas)
May 9th, 2011
Bari, Puglia


Stemma di Bari

Each year, the people of Bari (in the Puglia region of Southern Italy) celebrate the arrival of San Nicola's bones to their seaside town by taking a statue of the Patron Saint from the Basilica di San Nicola out to sea and back again. The reenactment commemorates the rescue of the holy-man's relics in 1087 by Baresi merchants in Asia Minor from the advancing Seljuk Turks, who routinely desecrated Christian shrines and icons during their conquest of the Byzantine Empire.

On May 9th the miracle of il manna di San Nicola is observed. A clear liquid, said to have miraculous heeling properties, exudes from the Saints bones. It is collected and distributed to the faithful.

Festa delle Milizie
(The Feast of Our Lady of Militia)
May 29th, 2011
Scicli, Sicilia


Stemma di Scicli

Southwest of Cava d'Ispica, in the province of Ragusa on the isle of Sicily, lies the Baroque jewel of Scicli. Each year the locals celebrate the miraculous triumph of Count Roger of Hauteville over the Saracens in 1091.

The festival commemorates the divine intercession of the Mother of God, on behalf of the Norman forces, at a critical point in the battle. Overwhelmed by the paynim's superior numbers—and fearing defeat—Count Roger invoked the aid of the Virgin. Mounted on a white charger and dressed in full military regalia Our Lady appeared on the field-of-battle, leading the Normans to victory. The successful outcome was of great importance for the Christian reconquest of the island.

As part of the jubilant festivities the people of Scicli dress in period costumes (Christian and Saracen) and parade—with much fanfare—an equestrian statue of the Madonna through the bustling streets. A painting immortalizing the battle can be found inside il Chiesa Sant'Ignazio, Scicli's beautiful eighteenth-century Duomo.

Sfilata deo Turchi e Festa di San Gerardo
(Procession of the Turks and the Feast of St. Gerard)
May 29th, 2011
Potenza, Basilicata (Lucania)


Stemma di Potenza

Potenza's annual Festa di San Gerardo recalls the town's desperate defense against Saracen raiders. Mooring their galleys on the Basento riverbank, a band of corsairs made their way towards the unsuspecting townspeople of Potenza. Legend has it that if not for the miraculous appearance of San Gerardo flanked by angels, the town would have suffered the usual horrific fate met by so many other unfortunate victims of Moslem piracy across the Southern Italian seaboard—death or slavery. The sight of the celestial host before them caused panic among the marauding infidels, allowing the city's defense to organize and drive them off.

The Saint's intercession is celebrated with a magnificent parade called Sfilata deo Turchi, or The Procession of the Turks. Dressed in picturesque costumes—Christian knights on horse and foot, and Turkish pirates (including the Grand Vizier on a horse drawn carriage) complete with replica slave ships—march along the parade route. Children dressed in white—representing angels—and the effigy of San Gerardo follow them, to the crowd’s delight.

After the parade the celebrants are treated to jousting competitions and horse races.