Accepted Paper:

The body in "Giglio Feast" in Nola and in Williamsburg  


Katia Ballacchino (Università degli Studi “Sapienza” di Roma)

Paper short abstract:

My paper develops a part of a research based on the theoretical and ethnographical analysis of the centuries-old Giglio Feast, a ritual celebrated in honour of St. Paulinus, in Nola (Naples, Italy) and in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, (New York, United States), by Italian-American migrants.

Paper long abstract:

The Giglio Feast represents an occasion for strong social aggregation as well as extreme competition among several protagonists dancing. In this occasion, the body becomes the principal way of representation of religious faith, sense of belonging and identity, etc.

This spectacular religious ritual catalyzes and promotes a networks of relationship based on a double belonging, religious and ethnic one. The feast in Nola is a procession of eight heavy obelisks, each 25 meters high, carried for many hours on 128 men' back, called "collatori". Through their religious dancing procession, these men show their faith, their strength and virility. The "paranza" (lifter) meetings reinforce the status of important members of the feast hierarchy.

Every man who puts his shoulder under the Giglio is performing a passionate act, shared with all others liftmen. In Brooklyn the celebration of the Feast of Saint Paulinus expresses a religious commitment, but also a family tradition, manhood, and the passage from childhood through maturity to the old age. The exultation at the end of each dancing day, is not simply a matter of masculine high spirits or youthful release; it is a remarkable demonstration of pride by men of all ages who, in making the Giglio dancing, have renewed its sense of order, values, and continuity into the community.

However, the main consequence of this physical effort, is a shoulder malformation called "callo of St. Paulinus", which have marked many lifters forever. Another interesting aspect of the body in relation to the feast in Williamsburg, are tattoos representing the Giglio's images marked on the Italian-American men's bodies. Analyzing both cities where the Giglio Feast is celebrated, bodies observed in the individual dimension, through tattoos, and in a collective one, represented by dancing obelisks carried on shoulders, become the place where the soul expresses a passion for a Saint and for a feast and create a distinction and an identity, exclusively local in Nola and global in Williamsburg.

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Body and soul: on corporeality in contemporary religiosity