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From Sicily, with Love

North End’s St. Agrippina di Mineo Festival this weekend

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A procession carrying the shrine of St. Agrippina kicks off and concludes the festival. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Cals27

Each summer, Boston’s North End hosts a dozen festivals celebrating the feast days of saints venerated by the Italian immigrants settling there when they arrived in the United States. Running from June through early September, the festivals are a combination of street theater, religious worship, and open-air food court. Starting tomorrow and ending Sunday, it’s the turn of St. Agrippina di Mineo.

Little is known of the true identity of Agrippina, who died in AD 262. Legend has it that she was a blonde princess, born to a noble Roman family and tortured to death by the Emperor Valerian because of her Christian faith (it’s believed she was either beheaded or burned to death). Her body was said to have been taken from Rome to Mineo, Sicily, by three young women. A number of unexplained miracles are attached to the journey, including a fragrance that accompanied the corpse wherever it was taken, the speed of the ship from Rome to Sicily, and a cloud that reportedly sheltered the women as they escaped numerous dangers. After burial in Mineo, Agrippina became the city’s patron saint and her tomb a popular destination for pilgrims. Today, she is considered the saint who protects against evil spirits, thunderstorms, leprosy, and bacterial infections.

The three-day feast of St. Agrippina begins tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. at the intersection of Hanover and Prince Streets. A procession of a shrine with a life-size statue of St. Agrippina carried by 20 men will make its way through the area. Patrons affix dollar bills to the shrine to raise money to support the neighborhood church that bears her name. The event is popular with religious and secular visitors, with games, a DJ, live music, and food following the procession. The cuisine is decidedly Italian, augmented by standard street vendor fare such as fried dough and candy apples. The festivities continue Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday, a solemn high mass in honor of the saint is held in St. Leonard’s Church in the North End at 10:30 a.m., followed by another procession at 1 p.m. The festival concludes at 8 p.m. with a traditional tug of war, in which two 10-man teams battle over the shrine rather than a rope, and a dance.

The festival of St. Agrippina is sponsored by the Benefit Society of Saint Agrippina di Mineo.

To get to Hanover Street, take the MBTA Green Line to North Station. Proceed on foot to Hanover Street (about a six-minute walk).

John Fichera can be reached at jfichera@bu.edu.

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