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La Festa dei Ceri

 

 

 



 

     
 
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Brief History of Jessup

Jessup (population 4,605 in 1990) is located in the middle of the Lackawanna Valley in Lackawanna County, approximately 8 miles Northeast of Scranton. Jessup is a peaceful community situated on a slope of the Moosic Mountains. Jessup residents are often noted for their work ethic and pride, which is reflected frequently in local athletics. This undoubtedly stems from the mining days that were responsible for fueling the Industrial Revolution, as well as two World Wars, as Jessup exported many tons of top quality Anthracite coal. Today, Jessup is a prosperous, cultured town with ethnic traditions still very strong.

Settled in 1849, and named after Judge William Huntting Jessup, Jessup was presented to the Luzerne County Court for incorporation as the Borough of Winton in December 1876 (Lackawanna County was incorporated in 1878). The early 1890's were very significant for Jessup, as several new mining operations were opened. Soon after, immigrants from Western and Eastern Europe were lured to the area by the work available in the booming Anthracite coal fields.

Italian immigrants, among many others, came to this country via Ellis Island, New York, in the late 1800's. Around the turn of the century, Italians began coming to Jessup. The Italians who settled in Jessup, and the immediate surrounding communities, came mostly from small towns in the Region of Umbria, Province of Perugia. Gubbio, Gualdo Tadino, Scheggia, and Sassoferrato, for example, sent many hard working individuals to the Lackawanna Valley for economic opportunity.

Transplanting of a culture

St. Ubaldo Day or known in Italian as "La Festa dei Ceri" is a very colorful and enthusiastic celebration in which three Saints' statues, St. Ubaldo, St. George and St. Anthony are placed atop two connected octagonal wooden prisms and are quickly carried throughout the streets of the town.

At this juncture, it is important to note that the Saints are not worshiped in any fashion. Good Christians worship only God. On St. Ubaldo Day, we do however, reflect on the events that occurred in these Saints lives, which can be taken as good examples in contemporary life.

In 1909, St. Ubaldo Day or "La Festa dei Ceri" was transplanted to Jessup by the immigrants from Gubbio. In 1914, a parade was incorporated into the event and it was held every year until 1952, during which it reached great heights attracting as many as 20,000 spectators.

Some 24 years later, in 1976, the festival was brought back for Jessup's Centennial celebration. It was held annually until 1990, with many of the years gaining national media attention. During some of these years, the estimated crowds reached 30,000. The event was cancelled in 1990 and wasn't celebrated again until 2000. 

In 1991 and 1992, a group of high school students built statues and held the "Festa dei Ceri" up winding mountain roads.

It is an interesting fact that Gubbio and Jessup are the only places in the world that hold such a celebration!

History of "La Festa dei Ceri"

The story of St. Ubaldo Day starts with the birth Ubaldo Baldassini in 1085. After dedicating his life to Jesus Christ and performing many acts of saintliness, Ubaldo was appointed Bishop of Gubbio.

One of the most popular feats of St. Ubaldo, among many others, was the saving of Gubbio from Frederick I (Barbarossa), a conquering barbarian from Northern Europe. History tells us that Bishop Ubaldo met with Barbarossa, outside the walled city of Gubbio, and miraculously prevented him from attacking the city. The residents of Gubbio, concerned that Bishop Ubaldo had been away for a unreasonable length of time, begin to fear the worst. The worst did not occur, and Bishop Ubaldo returned after a day or two. Upon arriving in Gubbio, Bishop Ubaldo was informed that the town was in chaos. Bishop Ubaldo, who's health was now failing, and without the benefit of radio or television to quickly spread the word, was put on a platform or "stanga" and raced through the streets of Gubbio. This reassured residents that he was physically unharmed and the town would not be ravaged by the Barbarians, thus beginning the tradition of the "Festa dei Ceri".

Bishop Ubaldo died on May 16, 1160. In 1192, only 32 years after his death, he was canonized a Saint and was recognized as the patron Saint and Protector of Gubbio. It is known that many miracles occurred through St. Ubaldo, while he was alive and even after death. The gravesite of St. Ubaldo was a place that produced many miracles. It is said that St. Francis of Assisi would walk from Assisi to Ubaldo's grave in Gubbio to pray to God. St. Ubaldo is also known for his powers against evil spirits. St. Ubaldo is regarded a very powerful saint and is known well throughout Europe.

No one actually knows how St. George and St. Anthony became a part of the celebration or when the "Festa dei Ceri" actually began. However, St. Ubaldo is patron Saint of the masons, St. George the merchants, and St. Anthony the farmers. Most people believe that St. George and St. Anthony were brought into the procession to include classes of people who at the time were the most prevalent. Consequently, more classes of people made the celebration more complete and representative.

St. George in the Catholic Church is the patron saint of England and Venice, Italy. He is known for his taming of evil spirits and fervent evangelism.

There are many St. Anthony's recognized by the Catholic Church. However, the St. Anthony involved in the Festa Dei Ceri is St. Anthony Abbot, the Father of Monasticism.

In Gubbio, "La Festa dei Ceri" is held every year on May 15, the eve of St. Ubaldo's death anniversary. It routinely attracts a crowd between 175,000 to 200,000 people. Not bad for a town with a population of around 30,000!

St. Ubaldo Day in Jessup

In Jessup, St. Ubaldo Day is always held on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend.

The Saints are actually small statues (approximately 30" tall) that are fixed upon two wooden structures. The "stanga" is a wooden "H" shaped platform that is utilized horizontally and carried on the shoulders of the "ceraioli" or runners. The "Cero", is an octagonal wooden structure that fits vertically into the stanga. It is fixed to the stanga with a tight fitting "pin". Each statue, when fully assembled and carried, is 15 feet high and weighs approximately 400 pounds!

The Cero is carried by teams of 10 Ceraioli. The "Capodieci" (Chief of Ten) or steerer as a more American translation, is the captain of the team. As the Ceri move along, the participants switch in and out in order to go far distances. Poor switches are fervently avoided, sometimes causing the Saint to fall, as a result

Participants

Each participant, called either a ceraiolo (male) or ceraiola (female), wears the traditional outfit of their respective saint. St. Ubaldo wears a yellow shirt, St. George a blue shirt and St. Anthony a black shirt. The teams complete their uniforms with white pants, a red "fazzoletto" (kerchief) and a red sash. Each team needs many participants to help carry the Saints through the streets, as the event is tiring and emotion-filled.

Anyone who is native to or lives in Jessup or any of the communities immediately surrounding Jessup or has ties to the Gubbio region of Italy has the right to participate in St. Ubaldo Day. All others who wish to participate must be approved by a board of Ceraioli on the afternoon of St. Ubaldo Day.

Rules of the Procession

One of the easiest and most direct translations of "La Festa dei Ceri" or "La Corsa dei Ceri" is "The Race of the Saints". Additionally, this name was used to describe the event for many years in Jessup. The idea that this event is a racing-type competition is absurd. The only competition is to keep your Saint's cero and stanga (platform & pedestal) as steady and perpendicular to the street as possible. If the cero is dropped by the participants, it is considered the ultimate disgrace.

St. Ubaldo is always the lead Saint in the procession. He is followed by St. George and St. Anthony. There is absolutely no passing or bumping the team in front. While watching the procession, one must keep in mind that this is an event honoring the lives and works of the Saints. If unfortunately a Saint is dropped, everybody, including the other teams, pitches in to raise it again. It should always be remembered that on St. Ubaldo Day, St. Ubaldo is the main focus of the celebration. However, the other teams can gain favor by keeping their cero steady and unwavering.

The Saints

The Saints are kept in a private location all year. Except for repair and cleaning, they are not disturbed until St. Ubaldo Day. They were hand made in Gubbio and brought to Jessup in 1949

Starting and Ending Saint Ubaldo Day

The Alzata

The Ceri are assembled once per year during the ceremony called the "Alzatta" or "Raising of the Saint". In Jessup, the Alzata is held outside St. Mary's Church after a mass. The Alzatta is quick-paced, but very predictable, as the patrons of each Saint carry the disassembled pieces of their saint for assembly, one at a time. First, the stanga is positioned vertically to the ground. Then, with the blow of the trumpet, the cero is taken to the stanga for fastening with a steel peg. Next the capodieci or captain climbs up on the stanga cross member. The actual saint is then fastened on the Cero. Next, the brocca is carried to each Capodieci.

The brocca is a very ornate ceramic vessel that is decorated beautifully with flowers and logos of the Saint. The brocce (pl) will always be from Gubbio and sent here with Gubbio's blessing. Inside the brocca is holy water, which is poured over the peg at the attachment point of the stanga and the Cero, to bless the assembled Saint as well as swell the surrounding wood for a tighter connection. After all of this is finished, the capodieci salute one another and toss the brocce(pl) to the ground smashing them completely. As that happens, the crowd rushes over to pick up a piece, as it is good luck for the entire year! After the brocce are thrown, the Ceri are lowered to the participants shoulders and are then run in three counter-clockwise circles.

Early Afternoon

During St. Ubaldo Day, there are traditional feasts and carrying the Saints throughout the streets of the town. This serves as a showing off of the Saint, as well as, an opportunity for the men to practice carrying the Saint. In Jessup, families hold gatherings as many people who are native to the area return to participate or watch the event. St. Ubaldo Day in Jessup serves as a great reuniting of families and friends.

La Corsa dei Ceri

The main procession or "La Corsa dei Ceri" begins at 5:30pm. It traditionally begins on Powell Avenue near the intersection of Ward Steet. Powell Avenue, interestingly enough, is one of the oldest streets in Jessup, being built circa 1850.

After beginning on Powell Avenue, the course proceeds onto Mylert Street then turning on Grassy Island Avenue. After making a right turn onto Church Street, route proceeds basically down the center of Jessup to the area of the downtown Jessup's Station Park and railroad crossing. After, repositioning the Ceri, the course proceeds in reverse up Church Street making a left on Erie Street. After, following the entire lenghth of Erie Street a left is made onto Hill Street and into Jessup Veterans' Memorial Stadium.

The procession stops 9 times for 15 minutes each. This allows the participants and spectators valuable time to reposition along the route of the Saints.

Inside the Stadium, the event is ended. The Ceri, are again, similar to the "A'lzata" carried in three circles. At the end of the last circle, the Ceri are quickly tipped, the pin hammered out and dismounted. The three ceri are carried to the top of the hill in the Stadium to the cheers and chants of the respective Ceraioli and thousands of spectators.

To reiterate, the Cero of Saint Ubaldo is always held in high esteem, but however, Saint George and Saint Anthony can gain favor by executing a quick and smooth dismount of their Ceri."

Children's Festa dei Ceri

Even the children are involved in St. Ubaldo Day. On the day after the adult Festa de Ceri, children from 6-12 carry the Saints of their choice along a scaled down route. The Ceri that the children carry came directly from Gubbio in the late 1970's and are in pristine condition.

The children's day is as much as possible similar to the adult St. Ubaldo Day. If any children are interested in participating, parent's please use the email feature on this home page or come to one of our meetings.


 

Being a Spectator

If you plan on coming to Jessup to watch St. Ubaldo Day there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First, the event will not be held up by rain, so do not forget your rain-suit or umbrella. Also, you will need a good pair of sneakers or comfortable shoes, as the route of the Saints travels over 1.75 miles of Jessup Streets. Its is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT not to interfere with any participants dressed in colors, specifically when the Saints are moving. Doing so, may disrupt the event. It is important not to forget your camera, as this is an event of supreme uniqueness and color. Finally, it is important that you and your family enjoy yourself as much as possible, but please RESPECT the residents of Jessup and their property by refraining from any inappropriate behavior.

Jessup restaurants and taverns also offer fine dining. Please call restaurants ahead for details and availability.

    Sources:
  • Centennial Yearbook - Jessup, Pennsylvania C. 1976
  • Damy, Ken. Gubbio La Festa dei Ceri II Palio della Balestra, C. 1987
  • Murphy, Thomas. History of Lackawanna County volume I & II. Historical Publishing Co. Topeka- Indianapolis C. 1928