Yesterday marked the end of Bensonhurst’s annual Festa di Santa Rosalia, a street fair that honors the 12th Century patron saint of Palermo, Sicily. Held every year (except 2011, when a supposed paperwork error led to a cancellation of the event) on 18th Avenue between 68th and 75th streets for 70 years, the feast brings street vendors, carnival rides, music and a lot of food—Italian and non-Italian to this once predominantly Italian American neighborhood.
Though visitors to the 10-day feast will still see older men seated on folding chairs on the sidewalks outside old Italian social clubs, they will also see Muslim women walking down 18th Avenue wearing hijab, dozens of storefronts with Chinese writing and food vendors roasting flank steak under a Colombian flag. Eighteenth Avenue is still subtitled Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard, but even eight years ago, when I first visited the Festa di Santa Rosalia, the neighborhood had become a multicultural one.
Unlike the much larger Feast of San Gennaro in Manhattan, which is produced by a contracted company, the Festa di Santa Rosalia is still put on by a local group, the Santa Rosalia Society. The feast honors the patron saint of Palermo, who lived and died in solitude as a hermit on Mount Pellegrino, three miles from Palermo. In 1624, during a horrible plague, her remains were dug up and processed through the city, putting an end to the plague. Today, she is still honored every year by Sicilians around the world, from Palermo to Brooklyn.
Below are some images from this year’s Festa di Santa Rosalia.