Monday, October 17, 2011

Big Jim

Today is the 14th anniversary of my Grandfather's passing.

My Grandfather taught me how to bake. He taught me how to cook without a recipe. He was a soldier in WWII, like many Italian men of the era. He was there at the Battle of the Bulge. He helped liberate one of the concentration camps. He worked for the VA Hospital and after he retired, volunteered there. He was also a major blood donor. He had a rare blood type and donated as often as possible, something I need to do again. 

I would have liked to go to the cemetery today, but didn't get there, so I lit a special candle for him, said a prayer for him too, and later sorted through my Grandmother's pictures. I found pictures of my Grandfather that I've never come across before, including pictures of the whole family at the feast of Saint Rosalia, the patron Saint of Palermo, where my Grandfather and his family are from. The pictures are from the 1950s and it looks like the entirety of Brooklyn was walking the streets in the procession!

A bit about this saint:
According to legend, Rosalia was born in 1130 of a Norman noble family that claimed descent from Charlemagne. She retired to live as a hermit in a cave on Mount Pellegrino, where she died in 1166. No one knew anything about her demise.
In 1624, a horrible plague haunted Palermo, and during this hardship St. Rosalia appeared first to a sick woman, then to a hunter named Vincenzo Bonello to whom she indicated where her remains were to be found. She ordered him to bring her bones to Palermo and have them carried in procession through the city. He did what she had asked in the apparition, and after the procession the plague ceased. After this St. Rosalia would be venerated as the patron saint of Palermo, and a sanctuary was built in the cave where her remains were discovered.
She has two festival dates, July 15th when her bones are processed around the city of Palermo, and September 4th, the festino.

I know of another Saint whose main sanctuary was a mountain cave and whose fest processed to the sea... Our Lady of Mount Carmel. One and the same? I don't know. I do know that Saint Rosalia has the most interesting iconography: She is typically depicted wearing brown or black, wearing a crown of roses and holding a cross and carrying a skull, book, and scourge. She is also the Saint to pray to when praying for the dead. Skulls are an ancient tool of communicating with the dead. More on that another time, I'm off to toast my Grandfather!

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