Tag Archives: new york city

Ash Wednesday


The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Times Square, New York City. Photo (c) Cheryl Nemazie.

Don’t be surprised by smudges on foreheads today. It’s Ash Wednesday, kicking off the first of 40 days of Lent. The statue of Mary above is found in the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, a surprising place for two reasons: this refuge is right in the heart of New York City’s Times Square and it’s an Episcopal church. Mary…not just for Catholics!


It’s the Epiphany

presipeOn the feast of the Epiphany, I’m sharing a handmade presepi by a friend of The Mary Project. A presepi is an Italian nativity landscape, and elaborate scenes of the three kings approaching Jesus in the manger can be found in windows, basements and yards throughout the Italian American community in New York City.

10483936_10154831462495384_4924634503781624329_oJoseph Sciorra is a scholar of Italian American culture and has captured pictures of many such scenes in his book, “Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City. This one he made himself in an old television. Wow!

I’m part Italian, and I’m sharing what my nativity scene looks like below. It is passed down from my mother, who was Italian and Irish and not from New York City—but I do believe it was made in Italy!


And speaking of Epiphany, read Wally Lamb’s “Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” for an imaginative musing on Jesus tracking down the three kings in their native lands. It’s like a Biblical Harry Potter.

The Black Madonna del Tindari: A Italian-American tradition lives on with a twist

For 78 years it happened on September 8.

festival photo from Facebook page

The streets of this Italian East Village neighborhood in New York City were strung with banners and lights and a replica of the black Madonna del Tindari was paraded through the neighborhood and brought to the window of a small chapel that couldn’t hold more than a dozen people at a time.

Sicilian immigrants brought their religious beliefs and practices with them from the Old World to this neighborhood at the turn of the 20th century, especially their devotion to the Blessed Mother, particularly the Madonna del Tindari, the black Madonna of Sicily.

An Italian-American tradition that had begun in 1909 ended in 1987 after members of the Sicilian community on and around Manhattan’s East Thirteenth Street died or moved away. The chapel closed and the statue moved to a private home in New Jersey, where it still resides.

However, 12 years ago, Italian-American scholar Joseph Sciorra, Director of Academic and Cultural Programs at the Calandra Italian American Institute at Queens College—and curator of the exhibition “Evviva La Madonaa Nera!: Italian American Devotion to the Black Madonna”—had an idea to resurrect the feast day gathering, with a modern twist.

The site of the chapel at 447 East 13th Street is now a bar called the Phoenix Bar.

“The bar is the former site of this chapel. Having discovered that information, I called people there in the name of the Black Madonna,” he said.

He did so in a rather playful way, calling it the Committee for the Resurrection for the Feast of the Black Madonna. And people came. Nothing was scheduled to happen. Nothing in the bar indicates that it was once a religious chapel. But people gathered. Practicing Catholics and atheists. Poets and artists.

“Italian-American culture is not something that is fixed. It’s something that be reimagined. That’s what this event tries to capture,” said Sciorra. “Whatever happens, happens.”

One year a group made chalk drawings. Some read poetry or sang or danced. One year an altar was spontaneously created outside of the bar.

“Someone created a banner of the Madonna that she brings every year,” Sciorra said. There is also a group of folk revival musicians who join every year. One of them is a bagpipe player.

This Tuesday, September 8, is the 12 anniversary of the gathering. Sciorra will be there at the bar, waiting to see what happens this year.

“It’s a reclamation of space. New York City is constantly changing. What was in one place yesterday is no longer there for a number of communities, especially immigrants,” said Sciorra. “A lot of that history doesn’t get written. Just being able to acknowledge it and landmark it through performance was very exciting.”

See you there?

Twelfth Annual Festa in Honor of the Black Madonna del Tinadari

festival photo from Facebook page

September 8, 6-8 pm.

The Phoenix Bar

447 East 13th Street, off of Avenue A

New York City

Photo: Feast for the Madonna del Tindari, East 13th Street, between Avenues A and First, New York City, September 7, 1915. Courtesy the Library of Congress.