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The illuminations of San Giuseppe

The illuminations of San Giuseppe

The Illuminations

The first recurrence to open Gratteri’s rich festive calendar falls on 19 March, and is that of St Joseph, characterised by the setting up of the traditional ‘luminarie‘ (illuminations). Illuminations are bonfires lit on the night of 18 March, the eve of St Joseph’s Day. Ceremonial uses of fire are widespread in Sicily.

Most of these celebrations take place from November until Lent, from before the winter solstice to the spring equinox. (Buttitta 2002, p. 119). Observing the calendar layout of the ceremonies characterised by the lighting of bonfires, we can see how many of them must have originally been connected to the productive cycles of the agro-pastoral economy, practices intended to re-found space-time and with it life, the seasons, according to a cyclical conception of time, of the eternal return (Buttitta 2002, p.135).

Just as nature dies every year as winter approaches, so too can the weather die (Buttitta 1984, p.137). It is therefore necessary to implement practices aimed at regenerating the active force of vegetation through the regeneration of time (Buttitta 1995, p.18).

Because of the intrinsic symbolic power it exerts, fire plays a primary role in this respect; bonfires are therefore a characteristic element of the ceremonies of seasonal passage, the festivals that open or close the cycle of the year, held according to the different production cycles on which the communities base their persistence: promoting the rebirth of a new cycle of the year (Buttitta 2002, p.136).

Since life is produced through death, these ceremonies consist of a varied set of practices ranging from the lighting of one or more luminarias, to processions of torches, ‘sciàcculi di ddisa‘, jumping over the flames, collecting the coals, and the firing of barrels, ‘surfarieddi‘, by the boys. These bonfires are lit on the eve of the days dedicated to the saints in the Gregorian calendar, as is also the case in Gratteri on 18 March, the eve of the feast of St Joseph.

In the past, in Gratteri, an illumination was set up in every district of the town. Often, there was a real competition between the different districts to create the largest one, which could reach 7-8 metres in height, made of wood, broom, old wooden objects and bearing a large cross made of branches at the top.

Today, the simulacrum of the Holy Family is used for the procession on the evening of 18 March, but until recently, older people, such as Giuseppe Cirincione, born in 1918, remember that the image of the Patriarch and the Child was created annually for the occasion with a sack stuffed with linen (‘linazza‘) and cloth, into which the hands and wooden head were grafted: hence the name ‘San Ciusieppi di linazza‘.

The procession ran through the streets of the town, animated by the carusi (children) that, all lined up in front of the image of the Patriarch, carried, instead of candles, clusters of lit torches of flower, “sciàcculi di ddisa”, which came to create a suggestive atmosphere. As Buttitta observes, the display of vegetal elements in numerous processions and ceremonies of seasonal passage of the spring-summer period are closely connected to the uranic dimension, to the direct relationship with the celestial entity (Buttitta 2006).

At the moment of the blessing before the Vecchia Matrice, the bearers of the fercolo knelt with the Saint on their shoulders. The whole country seemed to be iron and fire, in every corner and in each district were set up small illuminations in honor of the Saint, arranged in open spaces and at the center of crossroads. The same Cirincione tells that, in the evening procession, participated almost exclusively the men, who sang and invoked the Patriarch, singing:

“Evviva lu Patri di la Pruvvidenza li razii dispensa, miraculi nni fa!”.

From time to time someone, raising an invocation to the Saint, exclaimed: “Viva lu Patriarca San Ciusieppi!

Mrs Giuseppa Lanza, wife of Cirincione, observes that in the past, this procession of the evening, took place with great devotion, but in the ’70s it degenerated and was commonly called “a priggissioni di l’uomini”. In fact, the women not only did not participate for the late hour, but also because some men getting drunk, they let loose some jokey and tasteless swearing.

In this regard, Fatima Giallombardo dealing with the playful-orgiastic behavior, consequent to the drunkenness of bearers of bream, in some processions in Sicily, explains that they qualify “a collective taste for the abolition of socially defined control of instincts, manifested in a valence of explosion and expansion of emotional and physical energy, where eros is recognized, understood as disorder and continuous transgression of limits and barriers” (Giallombardo 1990b, p. 35).

In the past the women waited for the arrival of the Saint in his district, near the illuminations, and sang in choir a traditional song known in two different intonations, called: the Salve Regina di San Giuseppe, while the boys took care to burn the flames animating them with gasoline and alcohol, to fuel the flames of the great bonfire that was to heat San Giuseppe, seen the frost of the night.

The Saint, perceived as a living presence, is there watching the fire lit in his honor: “San Ciusieppi s’avi a scrafàri” (to heat) reports Giacomo Lanza, born 1909. Today the custom of distributing the traditional loaves of San Giuseppe has been resumed and, in the ashes of the great bonfires, in some districts, artichokes, sausages and “stiglioli” are roasted, and distributed in the neighborhood the typical sweets called “sfinci di San Ciusieppi“, fried pasta with sugar.

As A. Cusumano points out, bread, in the peasant world, assumes a very strong symbolic value; the bread of the feast is not the bread of everyday life, but has a different quality that is manifested in the form modeled according to specific expressive rules.

That bread, destined to be prepared and consumed on that specific ritual occasion, becomes an essential sign of that feast, is a constitutive and functional element, figuratively summarizes the mythical referents. That bread is that party (Cusumano 1991, p.88).

In the past, as the elders recall, fulfilling the promises for the grace received from the Saint, were also set up in Gratteri as in many municipalities of Sicily, real banquets, called “virginieddi”, to feed the poorest families in the country.

Isidoro Scelsi speaking of the virginieddi of Gratteri wrote: “depending on the availability of funds, the number of them varied from seven to thirteen. On a predetermined day, but unfailingly on Wednesdays (this day dedicated to San Giuseppe), single girls were invited to lunch or, failing that, widows, to whom a modest banquet was offered. The meal consisted of frugal dishes, such as homemade pasta, tagliarini, vegetables, bread and fruit. Before eating, a prayer was recited dedicated to San Giuseppe to thank him (Scelsi 1981, p.135).

In this regard, as Mrs Antonina Lazzara remembers, class 1921, a prayer of thanksgiving was recited by her family at the end of the meals:

Ora c’aviemu manciatu e vivutu, ludamu a cc’u la razia n’ha datu, lu Patri e lu Figliu ni l’ha cuncidutu, San Ciusieppi sia ringraziatu!”.

The writer A. Lanza, speaking of virginieddi of Gratteri, wrote: “…are cooked together fresh and dried legumes, mountain fennel and other vegetables, pasta and rice. Followed by meat dishes, buccellati and sphinx of San Giuseppe, soft cream puffs stuffed with ricotta” (Lanza 1941, p.33).

Speaking of the sacred meal, Van Gennep points out that the sacred banquet of communion between men, “the commensalità, or rite of eating and drinking together, is clearly a rite of aggregation; the commensalità is reciprocal and there is an exchange of food that constitutes the strengthening of the social bond” (Van Gennep 1973, p.25).

The large amount of food ritually consumed guarantees abundance throughout the year, as Fatima Giallombardo pointed out about the Feast of San Giuseppe in Sicily: “food, as a vital and regenerative symbol in ancient communities, took on the value of a symbolic refoundation and wishes for a new cycle and propitiated a condition of life characterized by fullness and abundance for all” (Giallombardo 1990b, p. 43).

To be invited to eat the sacred meal are significantly the poor, vicarial figures of the deceased, who must be recognized and remembered for the desire to participate in the joy of the living. The dead, in fact, as Eliade writes, approach the living especially in times when the vital tension of the community reaches its maximum, that is, in the holidays of “fertility”, when the generating forces of nature and human group are evoked, unleashed, exasperated by rites, opulence and orgy (Eliade 1976, p.364).

The food offerings to the poor/departed, the auroral sharing of food, the symbolic redistribution and, above all, the waste, wish for and prefigure the future wealth, attest, however, at a time the current poverty also through the display of foods based on vegetables in the field: only abundant food in a period of food shortage (Buttitta 2006, p. 124).

Mrs Antonina Cirincione, born in 1913, tells us that, until some time ago, when in the houses were still used braziers (“cunculìni”), at the end of the ceremony were brought home more divutions, semi-extinguished embers, taken from the piles of wood consumed. Buttitta, studying the ceremonial uses of fire and vampe in Sicily, believes that all these “behaviors are aimed at coming into contact with sacred vampe.

Their beneficial, purifying and fertilizing power allows a catharsis and a strengthening of individual and collective energies and allows men to approach the divine that manifests itself through the flame.” (Buttitta 2002, p.160).

Today the paving of streets and squares, the danger of fire within the town and the depopulation of some neighborhoods, are among the reasons that, not infrequently, have generated the progressive concentration of different bonfires in a few spaces or in the suburbs; today remain those set up in Piazza Scala, Piazza Monumento, rione Pianura and largo Matrice Vecchia. Until a few years ago, beautiful was the competition that was created in the neighborhood of San Andrea.

The characteristic parade of “carusi” with torches has almost disappeared; there are few children who still participate keeping alive the tradition. It is clear that these celebrations refer to rituals of refounding nature, time and society, exorcise the death of vegetation and promote the return of spring, of new life.

The beginning of the year in the life of the archaic societies with agropastoral economy was not attributable to a uniform date because connected to the particular moments of passage of the productive cycles dependent on the seasonal course and its sites in the different areas (Buttitta 2002). Winter manifests itself in all its strength, especially in the Madonite mountain villages, such as Gratteri; these archaic practices are aimed at regenerating vegetation.

The feast of March 19, instead, a day liturgically dedicated by the Universal Church to San Giuseppe, is characterized by Eucharistic functions, the afternoon collection and the solemn procession through the streets of the town, carrying an ancient simulacrum of the Saint with the Child with the participation of the confraternities and the town band.

In the past already in January the Saint was transferred from the Matrice Vecchia (Old one) to the New to start the traditional “mièrcuri di San Ciusieppi” the weekly days dedicated to the Patriarch, characterized by the recitation of the seven joys, the homonymous Salve Regina and the intonation of the ancient Rosary by women. For every grain it matched:

“E decimilia voti e ludamulu a San Ciusieppi”


“Ludamulu di tutt’uri Maria Giuseppi e lu Signuri”

to each end added:

“Patriarca ‘Mmacolato, di Gesù custode amato, casto sposo di Maria, Vui salvati l’anima mia”.

As for the ancient image of San Giuseppe with the Child, it is in gilded wood, carved and painted respectively by Giuseppe De Joannes and Francesco Reyna in the seventeenth century. The seventeenth-century simulacrum since 1930 is kept in a chapel at the end of the aisle of the Matrice Vecchia, but from the church of San Giuseppe, today no longer existing where there was also the seat of the Compagnia del Santissimo Sacramento.

From some manuscripts kept in the parish historical archive of Gratteri it is clear that the latter was founded in 1630 under the title of San Giuseppe and San Vincenzo Martire, traditionally called the “slaves of the Blessed Sacrament”. From the inventory of movable property of the same oratory of the year 1715, we read in fact:

…Oratorius Santissimi Sacramenti huius terre di Grateri sotto la tutela et protezione delli Gloriosi Santi S. Gioseppe sposo della Gloriosa Vergine Maria et San Vincenzo Martire chiamati alla volgare li schiavi del Santissimo Sacramento fondata in questa terra di Gratteri per la prima fundatione nel anno 1630 et reformata per la reforma delli capitoli nel anno 1644 fatto de ordine mandato Reverendissimi Sacerdotis Don Joseph Tamburello gubernatori ditte oratorii …

“…una statua del glorioso S. Gioseppe dorata con il Bambin in mano con suo sgabello fatti fare di elemosina di Antonino di Oddo e Giseppi Lapi per sua devozione” e si aggiunge nell’inventario: “il bastone in argento un sole e dui stilli di argento fatti dal medesimo Tamburello” e “…un quatro grande con li immagine del Santissimo Sacramento e San Giseppi el Vincenzo quale era nel antico tempo posto nel medesimo altare”.

The local historian Isidoro Scelsi, has identified the oldest document relating to this brotherhood, a legacy dated to 1586, with which Agata La Vecchia, from Gratteri, leaves the Brotherhood in exchange for “five masses in perpetuity”, ten olive trees, sites in the fief of Malagirati, district of the Petrusi.

Originally it was composed of only “nobles, civilians and gentlemen”, but from 1800 the entrance was extended to all. It was governed by a Governor who in 1832 assumed the title of “Superior”. The religious mission of this brotherhood consisted mainly in devotion to the SS. Sacrament, to the assistance of the dying, to the continuous presence of the confrati on Holy Thursday before the tomb of Christ; moreover, on Easter Sunday the adherents intervened, dressed in the ancient custom, to help the priest chaplain to bring the Eucharist to all the sick of the country, unable to go to church. This pious function was called “u priciettu d’i malati” (Scelsi 1981, p.119).

Today the confraternity, as can be seen from its supplementary statute approved in 1993, adheres to the diocesan statute of the confraternities. It preserves its own purposes of foundation: spiritual activities that aim at the glory of God; at the spiritual good of souls and a practically Christian life.

The brotherhood participates in all processions if invited by the committee; has the obligation to participate in the mass in suffrage of the deceased brother with a number of brothers with candles lit and standing for the duration of the Holy Mass and to accompany the body to the burial; has the obligation to attend once a year a Mass in suffrage of all departed confrati and a Christmas novena; provides for the burial of the brothers, the wives of the brother and the unmarried daughters, in the burial of his property; every member must participate in the Mass on Holy Thursday with the dress, attending the St. Paschal Precept.

On Good Friday it is obligatory to participate in the Way of the Cross along with the other confraternities with the mysteries entrusted to it for a long time. The confraternity is governed by a board of directors made up of a governor and four councillors: the 1 st. and the 2 st. joint; a treasurer; a secretary; the ecclesial assistant. The governor is the first of the elected; he represents the confraternity, overseeing its good administrative progress, presiding in the assembly.

In any case, its provisions and those of the Board of Directors must comply with the decisions of the Board of Governors. In the past the admission laws of the new confrati were quite strict: the novice had to attend the confraternity for a year, entrusted to an authorized brother “the master of novices” who had the task of tempering the novice’s faith and informing him about the aims of the brotherhood.

The brotherhood of SS. Sacramento has always had a role of primary importance compared to other confraternities: it always participates in processions and enjoys the privilege of parading just before the Saint or Ss. Sacrament as can be seen from the integrative statute of the same.

From ancient tradition, when the procession is accompanied by the musical band, the latter, before the beginning of the procession, goes to the headquarters of the brotherhood, the Matrice Vecchia, to accompany it to the Mother Church as required by the local integrative statute.

The confraternity is in possession of the ancient historical costume, “the cappa”: a white tunic with a red cloak, a cord that encircles the sides and a hood with only two openings at eye level. Today this uniform is worn only for the procession of Good Friday, raising the hood to show the face.

Currently in the processions the confrati wear the red dress, bearing on the back the letters P.S.G. “Patriarch Saint Joseph” and on the front the image of the monstrance of Ss. Sacramento embroidered in gold. The insignia (the abitinu) worn by the superior brother and the first councillors elected instead, are white; the cugnunti bear the initials J. H. S. (Jesus Sacramented), while the governor, the golden image of the monstrance of the SS. Sacramento adorned with floral motifs.

Devotional song to St. Joseph

Evviva lu Patri di la Pruvvidenza
ddi razii dispensa miraculi nni fa.

Evviva Giuseppi in sua compagnia
Evviva Maria evviva Gesù.

Evviva Giuseppi castissimu spusu
Ca Patri amurusu cchiù d’Iddu nun c’è.

Cci detti l’Eternu nell’altru cunsigliu
Lu verbu pi figliu lu Re di li Re.

Lu Figliu di Diu Vi stetti suggettu
Ccu summu rispettu ccu grann’umiltà.

Giuseppi cunsola, ravviva la fidi,
Giuseppi provvidi lu populu sò.

Beata chidd’arma chi l’avi pi guida,
cui in Iddu cunfida periri nun fa.

Evviva Giuseppi lu Patri d’amuri,
ca grazii e favuri benignu nni fa.

Giuseppi nni scanza di morti ‘mpruvvisa,
la nostra difisa Giuseppi sarà.

Evviva Giuseppi chi grazii dispensa
La so provvidenza mancari ‘un nnì fa.

La nostra difisa Tu nostru cunfortu,
Tu faru, Tu portu Giuseppi nnì sii.

In tronu sublimi Tu sedi in cunsigliu
A latu a tò Figliu cu gran pudistà.

Evviva Giuseppi ‘ntra tutti li Santi
D’amuri custanti cchiù d’Iddu nun c’è.

Impetra prigannu pri nui piccaturi
E grazii e favorii nuvellu Mosè.

O poviri afflitti, languenti e malati,
Giuseppi ‘nvocati lu medicu è ccà.

Riserva non avi da Diu summu beni
Giuseppi n’ottieni quan’Iddu vurrà.

Evviva Giuseppi l’eccelsa Regina,
la Matri Divina la spusa tua fu.

Lu Santu Bamminu chi teni pi manu,
t’ha fattu suvranu di regni e città.

Custudi fidili Tu stammi a lu latu
Passasti beatu a la vita accussì.

E ora chi ‘ncielu sidutu sii in tronu,
celesti Patronu Giuseppi nni sii.

Evviva Giuseppi felici chidd’omu,
chi porta lu nomu castissumu Tò.

O splendidu esempiu di fidi e ‘nnuccenza
Di sennu e prudenza d’amuri e pietà.

Culunna d’invitta costanza e alligrizza,
celesti purizza di virginità.

‘Ntra milli chi vantunu lu nomu di giustu,
lu primu Tu fusti di grazia e virtù.

Tu l’unica e sula pirsuna cchiù digna
D’aviri cunsigna la Matri e Gesù.

Evviva Giuseppi oh quantu patìu,
a l’occhiu di Diu la tua purità.

Pi Iddu l’erruri saranno distrutti
Patronu di tutti la Chiesa lu fa.

Evviva Giuseppi fu granni la sorti,
che in puntu di morti d’aviri a Gesù.

Cu l’inchita spusa lu Cristu a lu latu
Un sonnu beatu la morti tua fu.

O virgini spusu o pii sacerdoti
Fidali devoti prigamulu ccà.

Tranquilla e serena la vostra agonia
Cu Cristu e Maria Giuseppi farà.

Cu invoca Giuseppi nun temi l’infernu
Giuseppi in eternu, filici nni fa.

(Rosa Ceresia)

Prayer to St. Joseph

San Ciusippuzzu fustuvu Patri
fustuvu Vergini cuomu la Matri
Maria la Spusa, Giuseppi lu Gigliu
datici amuri, riparu e cunsigliu!

San Ciuseppi s’avvicina
cu la Spusa e lu Bamminu
la me morti ‘un sarà morti
ca sarà felici sorti!

(Maria Antonina Cirincione)

Salve Regina di San Giuseppe

(intonata durante l’arrivo del Santo presso le luminarie e la loro accensione)

Dio Vi salvi, o Giuseppi
ccu Cristu e ccu Maria,
chi bedda cumpagnia
chi Vi fui data.
A Vui fui cunsignata
‘sta spusa tanta bedda,
Maria la virginiedda
a Vui tuccau.
‘Stu Diu chi s’incarnau
pi Patri a Vui scigliu
pi sempri v’obbediu
cu gran rispettu.
Da Diu fustivu elettu
pi chistu granni amuri,
in terra e in tutti l’uri
a Diu purtastivu.
Se dunqui miritastivu
st’amuri assignuratu,
vi pigliu p’Avvocatu
e Protetturi.
Su chisti li me primuri
l’accettu ccu piaciri
un haiu chi timiri
in vita e in morti.
Se poi avrò la sorti
d’avirivi p’Assistenti
guidarvi poi cuntenti
in Paradisu.
E in Paradisu sia
ccu giubilu ed allegria
Viva Gesù, Giuseppi ed e Maria.

Viva lu Patriarca San Ciusieppi!

Patriarca San Ciusieppi tuttu chinu di carità, pruvviditi a tutti li nostri nicissità!

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