The Fisherman's Feast is an annual event that began in Boston in 1910 and is based on a tradition that goes back to the 16th century in Sciacca Sicily. The Feast is based on the devotion of the fishermen from Sciacca to the Madonna del Soccorso (Our Lady of Help). When the fishermen immigrated to America in the early 1900's, they brought their traditions with them. Today's Feast is much the same as it was over 100 years ago with lights adorning the street and the smell of sausage in the air. The current Feast is organized by the descendants of those original immigrants and still includes a procession of the Madonna through the streets of the North End.
Each August since 1910, the Feast has been held in Boston's historic North End on North and Fleet Streets, making it the North End's oldest continuously running Italian festival. The Feast traditionally starts on Thursday when the statue of the Madonna is moved from her home in the Fisherman's Club to a chapel at the center of the feast. This will be her home throughout the weekend. Thursday is also when the fishermen that founded the Feast are remembered with a blessing of the fishing waters. Each night and during weekend days there is entertainment on the bandstand and vendors selling food (Italian sausages, calamari, pizza, pasta and much more) as well as crafts. The Feast culminates on Sunday night with the spectacular "Flight of the Angel".
Who is the Madonna del Soccorso?
In the year of our Lord 1300, an Augustinian monk by the name of Nicolo Bruno lay ill in bed with severe fevers and a broken neck. One night he received a vision of a woman of radiant beauty, who said to him, "I am The Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca (The Lady of Help of Sciacca). I have come to your town of Sciacca to aid and assist the people." She then told him to get up from bed and spread her message to the people of the town. Miraculously the monk rose from his bed free from fever and healed of a broken neck. Nicolo Bruno spent the rest of his years telling his story and spreading the message of the Blessed Virgin.
Nicolo Bruno was not without his critics however, many attributed his 'vision" to his high fevers. No one could explain though the miraculous healing of his broken neck. As the peoples acceptance of this story grew their devotion to the Madonna also grew, as result more miracles were attributed to the Blessed Lady. One such miracle took place when a six-year-old boy misbehaved for his mother. The boy, like most six-year-olds, was full of energy and getting on his mother's nerves. In a rage, the mother shouted to her son "go to the devil you little pest." Suddenly the devil appeared and grabbed the boy. The mother realizing what she had done and truly sorry called on the Madonna del Soccorso to rescue her son from the hands of Satan.
Miraculously the Madonna del Soccorso dressed in a white and gold robe and carrying a wooden club appeared. In one sweep of the club the Blessed Lady hit the devil and knocked him to the ground. The boy now released ran not to his mother but ran instead to Madonna del Soccorso, under whose cape he hid. The Blessed Mother with the boy still under Her cape walked over to the Devil and stood on top of him.
She then turned to the boy's mother and said, 'Put your trust in Madonna del Soccorso for I am the protector of Sciacca. " Then releasing the boy to his mother She said "Fear not my children for I shall never abandon you.'
Another miracle took place one day when the Blessed Virgin visited upon a thirteen-year-old girl suffering from paraplegia. The Blessed Lady said to the girl "I am the Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca, rise from your bed and tell the town I am here to help them always." The girl then told the Blessed Lady that she was paralyzed and could not get up. The Madonna then told her to touch her belt and she would be able to walk. The girl did as she was told and miraculously went out to tell her story.
The townspeople of Sciacca realizing how lucky they were to be in the good graces of the Mother of God decided to show their gratitude and devotion to her by commissioning a statue to be built in her honor. Using the description of the Madonna given to them by the monk, the mother of the six-year-old boy, and by the thirteen year old girl, the town created a painting of the Madonna and gave it to the sculptors commissioned for the statue. In the year 1492, two sculptors by the names of Guliano Mancini and Bartolomeo Birrittaro went to Palermo to build the statue of solid marble.
In the year 1503, upon the completion of the statue the townspeople of Sciacca were faced with the major problem of transporting the very heavy statue from Palermo to Sciacca. Since Palermo was to the north and Sciacca to the south with no railroads between them, the town decided to use a boat to ship the statue to Sciacca. Unfortunately, there were no transport boats large enough to carry the statue in Palermo or Sciacca. The fishermen of Sciacca realizing that they could help, decided to send their fleet of fishing boats to Palermo and in some way return to Sciacca with the statue of their beloved Madonna. Over two hundred fishermen were needed to carry the statue to the dock where it was then placed on the largest fishing boat available. With such a heavy load as the solid marble statue on board, the fishing boat was barely able to stay afloat let alone move along the seas under its own power. Using their fishing nets and drop lines the fishermen secured their boats to the vessel carrying the statue and in tug boat fashion carefully escorted the statue of the Madonna out of Palermo, across the seas and headed home to Sciacca.
Upon entry into the harbor of Sciacca, the fishermen were greeted with tumultuous applause and gratitude. In recognition of their sacrifice and in gratitude to the fishermen the town of Sciacca rewarded the fishermen with the sole honor of carrying the statue of the Madonna. Till this day, the only people allowed to carry the statue in Sciacca are the fishermen of the town.
In the year 1626, the dreaded Black Plague reached Sciacca. As it had done in the rest of Europe the plague inflicted great pain and suffering to the people of Sciacca. On February 2 1626 the townspeople reaffirming their belief and faith in their protector gathered together in front of the church of St. Augustine and prayed with fervent devotion to Madonna del Soccorso to free them from the plague. As the huge doors to the church were opened to expose the statue of the Madonna a perfumed smelling breeze blew through the town and cleansed the air. Just then, the people who were afflicted by the plague were healthy once more. Again the Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca held true to her word and rescued to the town. The town in gratitude placed on the belt of the Madonna the keys to the city. Every year on February 1, from 12 noon until 12 noon February 2 the townspeople fast. After a solemn High Mass, the statue of the Madonna is carried through the streets of Sciacca.
Another miracle occurred in 1817 when Sciacca experienced severe earth tremors throughout the city. The people feared that the old wooden church of St. Augustine might collapse and bury the statue of their beloved Madonna. The fishermen carried the statue into the Town Square away from any falling objects. Suddenly from 3:00 to 8:00 P.M., drops of sweat fell from the forehead of the statue. At 8:00 when the Madonna stopped sweating the earth tremors ceased. Every year when the fishermen carry the statue through the streets of Sciacca the Madonna starts to sweat when she reaches the spot in the square.
The statue of the Madonna del Soccorso was housed in the church of Saint Augustine until 1861, when the Statue was transferred to a church built in her honor "Le Chiesa di Madre del Soccorso di Sciacca."
On August 15 1907, the Vatican decreed Madonna del Soccorso the Patroness of Sciacca. " As a result the fishermen hold a huge feast on the Assumption (August 15) every year.
'Flight of the Angel'
This is the highlight of the Feast for many people. All day on Sunday, members of the Fisherman's club and their families carry the statue of the Madonna in a procession through the streets of the North End.
When the Madonna returns to North Street late in the afternoon (see schedule of events), it is time for the grand finale. A young girl dressed as an angel will fly out of a third story window and down to the Madonna. After a short prayer she is raised back up into the window to the cheer of the crowd and showers of confetti.
Yankee Magazine calls it "Truly one of Boston’s greatest treasures!" and National Geographic say’s “It’s a spectacle NOT to be missed!’"
The angels for the 100th Annual Fisherman's Feast will was Diana Karamourtopoulis with side angels Jessica Marie Palazzolo and Cuara Rose D'Amico.
Soci Fundatori (Founders) Founded September 15th, 1910, Boston, Massachusetts