As a past President of St. Mary’s Feast Society of Cranston, I was fortunate enough to visit Itri, Italy and experience where the feast originated. This opportunity came about because my …
As a past President of St. Mary’s Feast Society of Cranston, I was fortunate enough to visit Itri, Italy and experience where the feast originated. This opportunity came about because my son-in-law’s family has prominent members in the Itri Feast Society. It was the perfect chance to compare our festivities with our sister city’s. Both cities celebrate their feasts with a deep sense of tradition and community, but the way they honor the occasion is as unique as the cultures they represent.
During my visit to Itri, I was moved by the profound religious devotion exhibited by its people. Unlike our Cranston celebration, which embraces various cultural events, Itri's focus remains primarily on religious practices. Every day, processions stretch across the town, with the majority of Itri's population actively participating to ensure the sanctity of the event.
I was struck by the Novina, involving different priests, over 9 days which adds even more religious significance to the feast. The people of Itri engage in devout acts showcasing their strong commitment to their faith.
One aspect that surprised me during my stay was the food during the feast. While I expected traditional Italian delicacies, I was greeted with an interesting mix of American-style cuisine. Food trucks lined the streets, selling a variety of treats, including hot dogs, hamburgers, pulled pork, kabobs, and even french fries. Surprisingly there were not any doughboys or sausage and peppers!
Itri's feast was an extravaganza of entertainment catering to all age groups from rides and vendors to live music. As the sun set and the temperature became more pleasant, the entertainment came alive.
On the first night a lively tribute band took the stage. The next evening an orchestra enchanted the audience. The climax of the feast entertainment was Le Vibrazioni, a platinum recording group, who drew a crowd from towns across Italy, some traveling hours. The performance was nothing short of spectacular.
One intriguing aspect of Itri's feast was the timing of the entertainment. Most events, including the musical acts, started around 10 PM. This late-night schedule is a reflection of the local lifestyle, adapting to the oppressive heat. By starting festivities in the cooler evening hours, everyone could participate comfortably and embrace the celebration.
As Wednesday arrived, a significant moment marked the beginning of the festivities. The silver and gold statue of La Madonna della Civita was taken from its enclosure, and the first procession commenced, bringing the revered figure to an altar outside for the outdoor mass. A heartwarming highlight took place at the end of this mass. Twelve roses were lovingly presented to the Madonna by expectant mothers, seeking her blessing upon their unborn children.
Following the outdoor mass, the saint's procession continued, making its way up to St. Michael the Archangel Church perched atop the mountain, overlooking the town of Itri. The feast society sat and kept watch over the saint throughout the night while sharing a banquet among themselves. This act of devotion exemplified the deep sense of responsibility the society holds for preserving their sacred customs. The society was very welcoming to myself and Al Crudale, a Cranston Feast Society board member and former President. A special thank you to Doriano Saccoccio and Mattia Punzo for helping to include us in every feast event and making us feel like long standing members of Itri’s Feast Society.
On Thursday morning, the journey continued when the statue of La Madonna was carried back down to Santa Maria Maggiore Church on the ancient cobblestone walkways. Along the way the procession stopped at an elderly home.
On the much-anticipated day of the feast, Friday, July 21st, the saint was brought out once again, and a procession took place through the streets of Itri. The city came alive with a vibrant display of faith, as residents and visitors alike joined in the celebration.
Saturday morning brought a sacred moment, a mass and a small procession led to another section of the town before returning to the church. At that time many sought the opportunity to approach the statue.
At midnight on the last feast evening, the excitement reached its peak with a magnificent firework display that defied all expectations. The fireworks were orchestrated from the medieval castle that watches over the town on a hill in the center of the mountain range where the city sits. It was a unique spectacle because the display emanated from inside the castle itself, creating an awe-inspiring experience. At one moment, the castle looked like it was engulfed in flames, casting a crimson glow against the night sky. In the next moment, the castle transformed into the source of a cascading waterfall, with shimmering lights imitating flowing water.
After the fireworks ended a select group of individuals presented twelve roses to the saint statue. This symbolic gesture signified a farewell to the cherished figure, as it was then returned to its place of honor within the church, where it will rest until next year's celebration.
As Cranston celebrates our annual feast, reflecting on the contrasting celebrations in Itri, Italy, has been a truly eye-opening journey. While Itri's feast revolves around deep religious devotion, time-honored rituals, surprising American-style food offerings, and an eclectic mix of entertainment, our Cranston celebration harmoniously blends cultural diversity and the spirit of togetherness. Despite the differences, both feasts embody the essence of unity and fellowship, strengthening the bond between these two sister cities.