December 31, 2020

Te Deum on New Year's Eve

The Glory of the Holy Spirit with trumpet
A plenary indulgence is granted if the Te Deum is recited publicly on New Year’s Eve and a partial indulgence is granted to those who recite the hymn in thanksgiving.

We praise Thee, O God: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.
Thee, the Father everlasting, all the earth doth worship.
To Thee all angels; to Thee the heavens and all the powers:
To Thee the cherubim and seraphim continually cry:
Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of Thy glory.
Thee, the glorious choir of the apostles,
Thee, the admirable company of prophets,
Thee, the white-robed army of martyrs, praise.
Thee, the holy Church throughout the world doth acknowledge:
The Father of infinite majesty;
Thy adorable, true, and only Son;
Also, the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.
Thou, O Christ, art the King of Glory,
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When thou didst take upon Thee to deliver man,
Thou didst not disdain the Virgin’s womb.
Having overcome the sting of death, Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou shalt come to be our judge.
We therefore pray Thee to help Thy servants, whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy Precious Blood.
Make them to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting.
Save Thy people, O Lord, and bless Thy inheritance.
Govern them, and raise them up forever.
Every day we bless Thee.
And we praise Thy name forever; yea, forever and ever.
Vouchsafe, O Lord, this day, to keep us from sin.
Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.

V. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our fathers.
R. And worthy to be praised, and glorious forever.

V. Let us bless the Father and the Son, with the Holy Ghost.
R. Let us praise and magnify Him forever.

V. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, in the firmament of heaven.
R. And worthy to be praised, glorified and exalted forever.

V. Bless the Lord, O my soul.
R. And forget not all His benefits.

V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.

Feast of Santa Colomba di Sens

Santa Colomba di Sens, ora pro nobis
December 31st is the Feast of Santa Colomba di Sens, Virgin and Martyr. According to tradition, her relic was translated from France to the Cattedrale di San Sabino in Bari, Apulia, in the eighteenth century by a group of Vincentians fleeing religious persecution. In Bari, Santa Colomba is invoked against fire, drought and other natural disasters. In celebration, I'm posting a Prayer to Santa Colomba di Sens. The accompanying photo, courtesy of Patrick O’Boyle, was taken inside the crypt of the Bari Cathedral. Evviva Santa Colomba di Sens!
A Prayer to Santa Colomba di Sens
O Glorious Santa Colomba, you served God in humility and confidence on earth, now you enjoy His beatific vision in Heaven. Help me to strengthen my faith and protect me in conflict. Obtain for me the grace to live a holy life, so that one day I may join you in the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen

New Years Eve and the Feast of San Silvestro I

My lucky skivvies
December 31st is the Feast of San Silvestro il Primo (St. Sylvester the First), Pope (314-335) and Confessor. Widely venerated across Southern Italy, he is the principal patron of Sacco (SA), Cesinali (AV), Feroleto Antico (CZ), Cermignano (TE), and Castroreale (ME), among others. 
According to tradition, he baptized and miraculously cured Emperor Constantine the Great of leprosy. A version of the story can be found in the renowned Sicilian folklorist Giuseppe Pitrè’s The Collected Sicilian Folk and Fairy Tales, a collection of Sicilian oral traditions. Even more amazingly, he is said to have subdued a pestilent dragon with the aid of the Blessed Mother.
By happenstance, the day coincides with New Year's Eve and has become somewhat entwined with the jubilant year-end celebration, so most of the popular traditions affiliated with La Festa di San Silvestro have more to do with the secular New Year than with the Saint's day. 
Typical New Year's Eve celebrations in Southern Italy begin with dinner parties. And what better way to ring in the New Year than with a hearty meal with family and friends? Customarily lentils and pork sausages are served for dinner. It's said the food represents wealth and will bring good fortune to those who partake in the meal. In some households, figs are also exchanged so the coming year will be sweet as well. Afterward, people gather around bonfires or get together in the streets and squares to socialize and make merry. At midnight they watch huge fireworks displays. (The one in Naples is sheer pandemonium—watch YouTube video)
Of course, not all the rituals and folklore are related to food. In Naples, for example, some people still throw their old and broken household items out of their windows at midnight, taking the popular saying "Out with the old and in with the new" quite literally. This cleansing ritual symbolizes an optimistic fresh start.
The superstitious also believe smashing plates and glasses on the ground will frighten and chase away evil spirits. At the very least, its a cathartic release.
Wearing red underwear is another popular custom. The explanations for this curious practice are varied. For example, I've heard it said that red is a lucky color and it will bring prosperity to the wearer. Supposedly, it also symbolizes virility or fertility and is worn by those looking to have children or find romance. 
Whatever the true meaning is, I won't be taking any chances and will be wearing mine when I ring in the New Year. Evviva San Silvestro! Ora pro nobis. Buon Anno! Happy New Year!
Prayer to St. Sylvester 
O Loving Father and Saint Sylvester be a tower of strength to Your children, grant us increase, protect us from all harm and present, with your powerful intercession, our prayers to the Almighty. Pray for us, O Holy Father Saint Sylvester that we may be made worthy of promises of Christ. Be present to Your servants, O Lord, and through the intercession of our Holy Father Saint Sylvester, bestow upon us the unceasing help of Your grace so that, by following his example, we may be defended by Thy protection. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 30, 2020

Top Ten Posts of 2020

(Top, L-R) Celebrating the 94th Annual Feast of San Gennaro; Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament with HRH Princes Beatrice di Borbone; and Celebrating the Feast of Padre Pio and Michaelmas Embertide; (Center) 2020 March for Life; (Bottom, L-R) Celebrating the Feasts of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, San Giocchino and San Rocco; Celebrating the External Solemnity of the Feast of the Madonna del Rosario; and Celebrating the Feast of St. Anne
01 Addressing Procrustes
02 Review: Babylon Berlin on Netflix
03 Marching for Life in Washington D.C.
04 Review: Ultras on Netflix
05 A Catholic Quest for the Holy Grail with Author Charles A. Coulombe
06 Reflections on NYC's Mother Cabrini Monument
07 Church Furthers Cause of the Martyrs of Casamari
08 Celebrating the Feasts of the Bl. Carmelite Martyrs of Guadalajara & Bl. María Mercè of the Sacred Heart
09 Celebrating the Feast of the Blessed Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne in Brooklyn, New York
10 Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in NYC with HRH Princes Beatrice di Borbone delle Due Sicilie
(Top, L-R) Celebrating the Feasts of Sant'Andrea Avellino, San Trifone, San Respicio and Santa Ninfa; Celebrating Charles Coulombe's 60th Birthday; Celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, and Celebrating Michaelmas

Honorable mention:

11 Paying Our Respects to the Very Rev. Msgr. Joseph F. Ambrosio at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Newark, New Jersey

12 Celebrating the External Solemnity of the Feast of the Madonna del Rosario di Pompei in Brooklyn, New York

13 Looking After My Ancestors with the Holy Innocents’ Purgatorial Society


Click here to see last year's results

Upcoming Eucharistic Night Vigil and First Saturday at the Shrine Church of the Holy Innocents in NYC

The Shrine & Parish Church
of the Holy Innocents

128 West 37th Street, NYC 100018

To beg God's blessings on the New Year 2021, there will be a Vigil of Prayer before the Most Blessed Sacrament from Saturday, January 2nd until Sunday, January 3rd. On Saturday, January 2nd the Most Blessed Sacrament will be exposed at 5:00 p.m. for adoration all night, concluding with Benediction at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, January 3rd. Volunteers are needed to cover the hours of adoration throughout the night. The church doors will close at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday to the general public and will reopen at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday. 


Make a New Years Resolution to Help Poor Sinners


In these very uncertain times for our Church and Country, make a commitment to Our Lady to heed Her request for the Five First Saturdays sometime this year.

Five First Saturdays

First Saturdays in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary include the following elements, all performed with the intention of making reparation for blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart, for at least five consecutive months:


• Confession (shortly before or after the First Saturday—so long as the person receives Holy Communion in a state of grace); 

• Holy Communion received on the First Saturday of each month; 

• Five decades of the Holy Rosary recited sometime during the day; and 

• Meditating for 15 minutes on the Mysteries of the Rosary (one or more). 


Cards containing the history and requirements for making the Five First Saturday Devotion with a checklist are available in the back of the church near the bulletins for those who are committing to making this devotion in 2021.


First Saturday Devotions

 

Saturday, January 2nd is the first Saturday of the New Year. Devotions of Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary will take place after the 1:00 p.m. Mass. A good resolution for this new year of 2021 would be a commitment to consecutively make the 5 First Saturdays Devotions.


Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us! 


Source: December 27, 2020 Bulletin

Presenting the Inaugural Catechism Class at St. Josaphat Church Hall in Bayside, Queens

December 29, 2020

Feast of San Tommaso Becket

San Tommaso Becket, ora pro nobis
December 29th is the Feast of San Tommaso Becket (St. Thomas Becket), Bishop and Martyr. Patron saint of secular clergy, he is the protector of Mottola, a town in the Province of Taranto, Puglia. In celebration, I'm posting a prayer for St. Thomas Becket. The accompanying photo of the gold Reliquary Pendant of Bishop Reginald of Bath for Queen Margaret of Sicily (Eng. ca. 1174-83) was taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. According to the inscriptions on the obverse of the pendant, the reliquary once contained pieces of the blood-soaked vestment of San Tommaso. Evviva San Tommaso!
Prayer for St. Thomas Becket
O God, for the sake of whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas fell by the sword of ungodly men: grant, we beseech Thee, that all who implore his aid, may obtain the good fruit of his petition. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.

Upcoming Requiem Masses in 2021 Sponsored by the New York Purgatorial Society

The New York Purgatorial Society is a pious association dedicated to assisting the poor souls in Purgatory, under the patronage of St. Michael the Archangel. Members hear Mass (Usus Antiquior) monthly and pray daily for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed (one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be). A Solemn Mass with polyphony is offered annually on or around the feast of All Souls.

To become a member, write to nypurgatorial@yahoo.com. There is an annual membership fee of $30 which defrays the cost of the choir at the annual Solemn High.

Church of St. Vincent Ferrer
869 Lexington Avenue (66th St.)
New York City

Also see:
Praying for the Repose of the Souls of the Faithful Departed with the New York Purgatorial Society
Mass of Thanksgiving for the Canonization of Cardinal John Henry Newman in New York City

December 28, 2020

Photo of the Week: Massacre of the Innocents by Belisario Corenzio at the Duomo di Salerno

Photo by Andrew Giordano

Memorial Mass for Servant of God HM Francesco II, King of the Two Sicilies, in Newark, New Jersey

After Mass, members of the Order take a commemorative photo
with the portrait of SG King Francis II of the Two Sicilies
A look at Sunday’s Mass for the repose of the soul of Servant of God Francesco II di Borbone (1836-1894), King of the Two Sicilies, sponsored by the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St, George at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church (259 Oliver Street) in Newark, New Jersey.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated ad orientem by Knight of Ecclesiastical Grace Rev. Fr. Edmund Amil Luciano III. He was dutifully assisted by server Alan Bridges. Knight of Ecclesiastical Grace Rev. Fr. Michael C. Barone and US Delegate HE Cav. John M. Viola sat in choir. Cavalieri in attendance were Nob. Dr. Robert La Rocca, Cav. John J. Napoli, Cav. Hon. Jude-Anthony Tiscornia, and Cav. Dr. Victor Metallo.


Buon Natale! Buon Anno! and Viva ‘o Rre!

Portrait of SG King Francis II of Bourbon with flowers
and flag of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
(L) Beautifully decorated high altar. (R) Fr. Luciano and server Alan bridges
(Above & below) There was an array of medals on display
Holy cards with prayer for the Beatification of SG Francis II of Bourbon, the last King of the Two Sicilies, were distributed to participants

Prayer for the Beatification of SG Francis II of Bourbon, the last King of the Two Sicilies


O One and Triune God, Who casts Your glance on us from Your throne of mercy, and called Francis II of Bourbon to follow You, choosing him on earth to be king, modeling his life on the very Kingship of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, pouring into his heart sentiments of love and patience, humility and meekness, peace and pardon, and clothing him with the virtues of faith, hope and charity, hear our petition, and help us to walk in his footsteps and to live his virtues.


Glorify him, we pray You, on earth as we believe him to be already glorified in Heaven, and grant that, through his prayers, we may receive the graces we need. Amen.

The church crèche
Being the Feast of San Giovanni Evangelista,
Fr. Luciano blessed our wine in the sacristy
After Mass, a few of us continued the celebration with a festive luncheon at nearby Taste of Portugal.
Paella Valenciana
(L) We set up the new prayer card by the poinsettia.
(R) Revelers imbibed sangria and caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail
Flan

Feast of Santa Caterina Volpicelli

Santa Caterina Volpicelli, ora pro nobis
December 28th is the Feast of Santa Caterina Volpicelli, founder of the Handmaidens of the Sacred Heart. Born into an upper middle-class family in Naples on January 21, 1839, Caterina gave up the bourgeois lifestyle for the grace of a religious vocation. In 1873—with the approval of the Cardinal Archbishop of Naples, the Servant of God Sisto Riario Sforza—she founded the Institute of Handmaidens of the Sacred Heart, a confraternity dedicated to contemplation and many charitable works. Among these were the establishment of orphanages, libraries and chapels. During a cholera outbreak in 1884, Caterina and the handmaidens distinguished themselves in ministering to the needs of the victims. They were granted a "decree of praise" from Pope Leo XIII on June 13, 1890. 
Caterina Volpicelli died at the age of 55 on December 28, 1894. She was declared venerable by Pope Pius XII on March 25, 1945 and proclaimed blessed by Pope John Paul II on April 29, 2001. Recognizing a miracle attributed to her intercession, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Caterina on April 26, 2009. In celebration, I’m posting a Prayer to Saint Caterina Volpicelli. Evviva Santa Caterina Volpicelli!
Prayer to Saint Caterina Volpicelli
Saint Catherine, mother of young people and children, sister of the poor, friend of families, confidant of those who, eager to meet Christ, rely on your prayer and your advice, show yourself to us today, mother, sister, friend and confidant; help guide us on the paths of holiness. Teach us to love the Eucharist and the Church. Grant us wisdom of heart and mind. Feed in us deep faith, perfect charity and living hope. Make us love Jesus and the Virgin Mary, as you loved them. Amen.

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Holy Innocents, orate pro nobis
December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the infant boys of Bethlehem massacred by King Herod in an attempt to kill the newborn Jesus. In remembrance, I'm posting a Prayer for the Holy Innocents. The accompanying photo of the Massacre of the Innocents (c.1640) by Pacecco de Rosa (Naples b. 1607—Naples d. 1756) was taken at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Prayer for the Holy Innocents

We remember this day, O God, the slaughter of the holy Innocents of Bethlehem by the order of King Herod. Receive, we beseech thee, into the arms of thy mercy all innocent victims; and by thy great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish thy rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

December 27, 2020

Celebrating La Vigilia and Other Christmas Traditions

Baccalà in umido with tomato, onion and olives
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
Like many Duosiciliano Americans, my family still keeps the tradition of La Vigilia di Natale, the southern Italian ritual of eating seafood and eschewing meat on Christmas Eve. We don’t do the so-called Festa dei sette pesci, or “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” but we do eat a variety of aquatic delicacies.

Despite regular and varied claims to authenticity, I believe the “Seven Fish” custom is a recent fabrication. Though much more lavish then in the past, according to our matriarchs there were never a set number of dishes served. We simply ate what we could afford, and what was fresh and available.


Today, we normally have shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels and scungilli (whelk), which all can be prepared in a variety of ways. Capitone fritto alla napoletana (fried eel) use to be the main course, but nowadays, since the passing of my grandparents, the dish has been replaced with aragosta (lobster), ricci di mare (sea urchin), seppia (cuttlefish), or baccalà (salt cod). This year, we enjoyed baccalà in umido (stewed codfish) and mini lobster tails.


Following the fish bonanza, we had three different types of meatless panzerotti, a delicious deep-fried crescent-shaped dough filled with onions and capers; sweet ricotta; and the classic mozzarella and tomato.


After the usual assortment of fruit, nuts, and delicious sweets, I left early for Midnight Mass, missing out on (I'm told) a raucous game of tombola with the kids. I also missed our customary passeggiata through Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, to admire the festive Christmas decorations. My family has been doing this for as long as I can remember, though originally it was in Canarsie and East New York, Brooklyn, where my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents were from.

Insalata di mare
Fritto misto di mare
Coda di aragosta alla griglia
Spaghetti alle vongole 
Panzerotti
Homemade Torrone
Homemade cartellate with fig syrup

After the Second Mass at Dawn (Commemoration for St. Anastasia) and the High Mass for the Nativity of Our Lord, we spent the rest of our Christmas morning exchanging presents. Normally we would make the rounds and visit extended family and friends until dinnertime, but unfortunately COVID-19 has many on edge. Respecting their wishes, we had to settle for phone calls and text messages. 


No less extravagant than the Eve, Christmas dinner was a culinary tour de force with plenty of hot and cold antipastiinsalata, baked manicotti and perfectly cooked filet mignon (i.e. rare). Normally we would have a ham, but since the passing of my father it was replaced with the steak. Fruit, roasted chestnuts, dessert and caffè completed the meal.


Between courses we played the 2020 edition of our family’s highly competitive "Christmas Bowl." Just because we can no longer stomach the NFL (and just about every other professional U.S. sports league) doesn’t mean we gave up playing football. Sadly, after a hard fought match, our side could not repeat last year’s heroics (fluke) and we lost.

The Shrine Church of the Holy Innocents (128 W 37th St.) in Manhattan

Before leaving church we lit candles and prayed for the poor and forgotten Souls in Purgatory by the Infant of Prague shrine and the church crèche
Look what I found under the Christmas tree!: (L–R) Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, On Considerations by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, The Counter-Revolution: Doctrine and Action (1789-1804) by Jacques Godechot, Memoirs from Beyond the Grave (1768-1800) by François-René de Chateaubriand, Blessed Charles of Austria: A Holy Emperor and His Legacy by Charles Coulombe; Aladdin's Problem by Ernst Jünger, and The Crisis of Modernity by Augusto del Noce
Prosciutto e melone
Cold antipasti with burrata, soppressata, sharp provolone,
roasted peppers, Gaeta
and Cerignola olives, and fennel
Hot antipasti (actually room temperature) with polpette di ricotta,
focaccia Pugliese
, and frittata di scarola
Manicotti
Filet mignon with salad
Homemade lemon ricotta cookies
Homemade Struffoli

Not quite finished yet, on December 26th, the second day of Christmas and St. Stephen's Day (my saintly Confirmation namesake), we usually celebrate with torrone, a sticky nougat candy made from honey, nuts and egg whites that dates back to Roman times. I like mine with a glass of Strega or Amaro.

(L) Makeshift shrine to Santo Stefano. (R) Shot of Strega with Sicilian Torroncino

As always, the ladies outdid themselves and treated us to another memorable Christmas. Buon Natale!


~ Giovanni di Napoli, December 26th, Feast of Santo Stefano primo Martire


Amended for 2020

Feast of San Giovanni Evangelista

San Giovanni Evangelista, ora pro nobis
December 27th is the Feast of San Giovanni the Apostle and Evangelist, patron saint of writers and theologians. Widely venerated across Southern Italy, he is the principal patron of San Giovanni la Punta (CT), Mariglianella (NA), Teverola (CE), Ailano (CE), Motta San Giovanni (RC), Castellalto (TE), and Paterno (PZ), among others. In celebration, I'm posting a prayer to St. John the Evangelist. The accompanying photo was taken at the Basilica Santa Trofimena in Minori. Evviva San Giovanni Evangelista!
A Prayer to St. John the Evangelist
O Glorious St. John, you were so loved by Jesus that you merited to rest your head upon his breast, and to be left in his place as son to Mary. Obtain for us an ardent love for Jesus and Mary. Let me be united with them now on earth and forever after in heaven. Amen

In Memory of HM King Francesco II di Borbone

Memorial for HM King Francesco II 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo*
Today we commemorate the anniversary of the death of His Majesty Francesco II di Borbone, the last King of the Two Sicilies.
Eldest Son of HM King Ferdinand II and his first wife HM Blessed Maria Cristina of Savoy, Francesco was born in Napoli on January 16, 1836. With the tragic death of his pious mother (who died from complications during childbirth), the Crowned Prince was raised by his stepmother Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria.
On January 8, 1859 Francesco married Maria Sofia of Bavaria, daughter of Duke Maximilian, by proxy in Munich. The newlyweds met with much fanfare for the first time in Bari on February 3rd. Sadly, they had only one child, Christina Louise Pia (1868), who died when she was only six months old. Continue reading

December 26, 2020

Feast of Santo Stefano, the First Martyr

Santo Stefano, ora pro nobis
December 26th is Saint Stephen's Day, or the Feast of Saint Stephen the Deacon, the first martyr of the Faith. He is the patron saint of stonecutters, bricklayers, deacons and those who suffer from headaches and migraines. Widely venerated across Southern Italy, he is the principal patron of Civita d'Antino (AQ), Putignano (BA), Baiano (AV), Santo Stefano in Aspromonte (RC), Santa Elisabetta (AG), Melito di Napoli (NA), and Sessa Cilento (SA), among others.

As my chosen confirmation name, the Feast has an additional special significance to me. In celebration, I'm posting a Prayer to Saint Stephen. The accompanying photo was taken at Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary and Saint Stephen's Church in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Evviva Santo Stefano! 

A Prayer to Saint Stephen 

O Glorious Saint Stephen, first of the martyrs, for the sake of Christ you gave up your life in testimony of the truth of His divine teaching. Obtain for us, dear Saint Stephen, the faith, the hope, the love, and the courage of martyrs. When we are tempted to shirk our duty, or deny our faith, come to our assistance as a shining example of the courage of martyrs, and win for us a love like your own. We ask it of you for the honor of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who is the model and reward of all martyrs. Amen.

December 25, 2020

Buon Natale!

Holy Family by Salvatore di Franco
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
On behalf of everyone here at Il Regno, I want to wish all of our readers a very Merry Christmas! Peace and joy be with you all.
In celebration, I'm posting "The Old Manger" from Prayers and Devotional Songs of Sicily, edited and translated by Peppino Ruggeri.* 

The accompanying photo of the Neapolitan presepio was taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC
The Old Manger
I recollect the old manger at Christmas fest
built by my father, his soul in peace may rest,
the grotto, the straw and the baby poorly dressed
attended by Saint Joseph and Mary blest,

The well, the gleaming houses, the grist mill,
the sheep that grazed the grass over the hill,
a frightened man, at center, a blacksmith on the right,
a shepherd standing, with his old shack in sight.

A comet, resplendent brightly like a star
over the cardboard fashioned into a cave,
guided the adoring kings from afar.

And I, enchanted, watching stood, as I was playing,
sweet angels, shining stars, clouds and songs;
I still do now, the old manger my memory recalling. 


* Reprinted from Prayers and Devotional Songs of Sicily, edited and translated by Peppino Ruggeri, Legas, 2009, p. 43

December 24, 2020

A River of Fire in the Land of Bells: The ’Ndocciata, Agnone’s Ancient Fire Ritual

The ’Ndocciata (Photo courtesy of madeinsouthitaly.com) 
In the Molise region of southern Italy, in the Province of Isernia, stands the ancient hill top town of Agnone. Rich in history, art and culture, it is perhaps most famous for the manufacturing of bells. In fact, Agnone is known as the "town of the bells” and boasts the world's oldest foundry, the Pontificia Fonderia Marinelli, which some say dates back to the year 1000.

Agnone also has the distinction of having one of southern Italy’s oldest and largest fire rituals. Known as the ’Ndocciata, which in the local vernacular means "big torch,” the rite began as a pre-Christian “festival of light” in celebration of the winter solstice.

On the shortest night of the year, Samnite tribesmen would travel from the surrounding countryside into the town square with their 'ndocce, large torches bound together in the shape of a fan, where they would erect a huge bonfire. It is said the crackling fire would scare away witches and evil spirits, and the fortunes of the coming year could be foretold by which direction the sparks blew.

However, with the coming of Christianity, the custom was sanctified by the Church and became part of the local celebration of the birth of Christ.

On Christmas Eve, hundreds of men and teenage boys dressed all in black will gather at the northern outskirts of Agnone. Carrying their torches over their shoulders, they make their way through the local districts towards the entrance of the town, past the Church of Sant’Antonio Abate (who, coincidently, is the patron saint of fire). Over the years the 'ndocce grew larger and ever more elaborate. Most torchbearers will carry 4 to 8 torches, but those with enough strength, endurance and fervor can carry as many as 20!

Accompanied by zampognari (bagpipers) and the tolling of Agnone’s famous bells, the torchbearers dance and sing Christmas songs as they proceed to the piazza. Celebrants gather around the roaring fire to enjoy the pageantry, festive songs, fireworks, local delicacies and, most importantly, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In recent years, in addition to Christmas Eve, the ’Ndocciata has been held on December 8th; and on that day in 1996 it was offered to Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter's Square in Rome in honor of his 50th anniversary of priesthood. Nearly a thousand Agnonesi marched down the Via della Conciliazione with their 'ndocce singing and dancing. The celebration culminated with a blazing “bonfire of brotherhood." Admirers of the massive fiaccolata (torchlight procession) have described the spectacle as a “river of fire.”

~ Giovanni di Napoli, December 23, Venerable Therese of Saint Augustine

For more on Agnone and the ’Ndocciata see http://www.madeinsouthitalytoday.com/agnone.php

Missa Cantata for the Feast of St. Thomas Becket at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn, New York