If you are Italian, there is a very good chance you know the story of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. A man of unwavering Christian faith, he was known for his generosity, especially to the needy.
The Romans beheaded him in the fourth century. His mourners wrapped the bishop’s body and severed head in a cloth, collected his blood in a phial and preserved his body in Naples.
The martyr’s blood, normally solidified, becomes liquid again in the Blood Miracle twice a year: on the first Sunday in May, the feast of the transfer of the saint’s relics; and then again on September 19, the anniversary of his martyrdom. Communities around the world celebrate San Gennaro with festivals, elaborate processions and street fairs full of food, wine, music, and dancing.
The festival of San Gennaro has long fascinated Seattle resident, Gennaro “Jerry” Mascio. His dream was to bring it to Seattle. This year marked the 2nd Annual San Gennaro Festival on September 5th, 6th and 7th.
“I‘ve always loved the festival,” he said. “Particularly the one in New York, seeing the pictures, the neighborhood, the on-the-street activities. It just seemed like such a fun thing.”
Originally from Sulmona, Abruzzo, Jerry and his family immigrated first to Tripoli and then to the United States when he was a child. The family settled in the Seattle area, where his father, an expert pasta maker, started the family pasta company. When the business sold in 1990, it was a multi-million dollar venture.
Not one to stay idle for long, Jerry decided to open his own company in the early 1990’s. Instead of making pasta – an intensive and complicated process – he decided to focus on a product he personally loved, polenta. San Gennaro Foods markets a delicious variety of ready-made polenta including Basil-Garlic, Traditional, and Sun-Dried Tomato Garlic. Now that Jerry is retired, his son Anthony and daughter Angela have taken over the company responsibilities.
Jerry’s energy and excitement for the festival are evident from the moment you meet him. He had dreamed for several years of starting a San Gennaro festival in Seattle. When friends Joe Salle and Tony Chiodo, and Sons of Italy Lodge 1390 offered their support, he made the leap. The non-profit San Gennaro Foundation organized in 2013 and planning began. The goal was to honor San Gennaro and the Blood Miracle, and to celebrate the contribution of Italian Americans to the Northwest.
To honor the saint, the festival pairs with the Puget Sound Blood Center to hold an annual blood drive. In addition, the Foundation donates a portion of the festival proceeds to a local charity. This year’s festival benefitted Camp Goodtimes, located on Vashon Island, which offers a free summer camp for patients, survivors, and siblings of children with cancer.
The success of the 2013 festival created a momentum to expand this year’s festival. More vendors and entertainers joined the schedule. Ray Massa’s EuroRhythms headlined the festival; other entertainers included The Porcaro Group, Danny Quintero, the Primo Basso Band, Lou Marocco, Tony La Stella & the Goombas, and accordionist Bonnie Birch.
The event began Friday night with music by the Tarantella’s. An outdoor theater featuring the Woody Allen film, “To Rome with Love” closed out the evening. Saturday morning began with music but quickly moved to the main theme of the festival with the procession through South Angelo Street, complete with choir and statue. Father Gerard Saguto of St. Alphonsus Church led the procession and after a short history of San Gennaro, pronounced the blessing in English and Italian. For many this was the highlight of the festival.
“We purchased the statue of San Gennaro from Naples last year,” Jerry explains. “I was so happy to see people actually follow the procession, bringing the statue to the stage. I like the religious element of it.”
When asked where the statue resides the rest of year, Jerry laughs. “We keep him at the factory (San Gennaro Foods), in our conference room.”
The festival continued Sunday, with a day full of music, dancing, and wine. Vendors and restaurants offered gelato, local produce, pizza, Italian books and imported foods. Marcella “Marci” Mascio, Jerry’s sister, brought her famous arancini to the festival. She owns Mascio’s Italian Specialty Foods in the same location of the original family pasta business. For the kids, there was face painting as well as a crafts booth.
The reaction of the community to the festival has been very enthusiastic. The festival draws people from all around the Northwest. Jim and Judy Gallucci decided to make the trip from Portland after Festa Italiana.
“We all had a wonderful time at the festival,” Jim commented. “The volunteers worked very hard, the people attending were so friendly, the weather was amazing. The entire festival was just fantastic.”
Theresa Rossetto Berney, also of Portland, echoed his sentiments. “The opening ceremony with the procession of the statue was really a beautiful sight to see. The sound of the choir echoing through the street, San Gennaro held up high, and all of the people following behind really left a lasting impression.
You really feel that the festival is put together by a close-knit community of hardworking people who do it for love of their Italian heritage.”
Those are the comments that keep the festival thriving, even when volunteers are tired and weary.
“Everyone really enjoyed the reunion feeling that existed there,” Jerry says of the festival. “You got to see people that you hadn’t seen in years. That’s what I saw, a lot of people sitting around, chatting and having a good time. It encourages me to do it again. Every day people tell me what a good time they had. It makes me feel good.”
Learn more about the San Gennaro Festival at www.sangennarofestivalseattle.org or on their Facebook page, San Gennaro Festival-Seattle.