“Growing up, this feast meant more to us than Christmas,” says Anna Campo, who at age 89 is believed to be the oldest living (former) "flying angel," one of the girls who flies over the crowd costumed as a winged angel at the end of the Madonna Del Soccorso (Our Lady of Help) di Sciacca Society's annual “Fisherman’s Feast” in Boston’s North End. The festival was celebrated for the 103rd time this past weekend.
It was begun in 1910 by Roman Catholic fishermen who moved to the North End from Sciacca, Sicily, and brought the tradition with them—including a smaller replica of a statue of the Madonna from back home. The Madonna was said to watch over the people of the Italian town and provide them healing. Here, Campo’s daughter Nadine Solimine says, “She watches over the fishermen, but you can pray to her for anything.”
The North End's "Fisherman’s Feast" meant food—eggplant parmesan, sausage and peppers—and new clothes. “We’d get new dresses and extra money,” Campo remembers. “You always got four new outfits for the feast, Thursday to Sunday,” Solimine says. Including, “something with a little blue for the Madonna,” notes another daughter, Rita Sacco.
This year’s "Fisherman’s Feast" kicked off Thursday with the blessing of the fishing waters at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, continued Sunday with “The Grand Procession” of a statue of the Madonna carried through the neighborhood’s streets by a team of men from 12:30 to 9 p.m., and then wrapped up with the astonishing “Flight of the Angel,” which is unique to the Boston celebration.
Serina D’Amico and Haley Graffeo Dufresne stood dressed as angels on second-story fire escapes, on opposite sides of North Street near Lewis, and recited “the ‘Ave Maria’ in Italian,” Campo explains. (They’re called “side angels” because they remain on the balconies.) Then this year’s “flying angel,” Victoria Bono, soared out over the street via cables.
“They take you out of the window and they hoist you up to the top of the cable and then they lower you. It’s three stories high,” Campo says. “You know something? The younger you are, the less you realize, and you’re not scared.”
“I was about 9 years old the first time I did it. I did it for three years,” Campo says.
“It was wonderful. I loved it,” Campo adds. “Now they use a harness. When we did it, even when you did it Rita, it wasn’t a harness. It was a big leather belt and they’d hook it onto the cable.”
Over the years, a number of different North End families have had girls fly as angels—including three generations of Campo’s family.
“It’s tradition. Your grandparents started it and you’re carrying it on with your children,” Sacco says. “You know when you have a daughter she’ll continue the legacy.”
“I’ve never left the North End. I was born right next door,” Campo says as we chat at the Madonna Del Soccorso di Sciacca Society's club at the corner of North and Lewis streets. Her daughters now reside in the suburbs. “My children, I think when their children leave home they’ll be coming back to the North End.”
“If I can afford it,” Solimine says.
This article was originally published on August 19, 2013.
This program aired on August 19, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.