Little Italy Festival

Back in the middle of the nineteenth century the area of London around the Clkerkenwell Road to the west of Farringdon St was crowded with Italians living and working there, and one day a year it still is, when many return to the area for the annual Processione della Madonna del Carmine – the Procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which has been taking place there (except during the two world wars) every year since the 1880s. Clerkenwell by the end of that century was home to thousands mainly from the south of the Italy, with those from the north settling around Soho.

Apart from among Italians in the UK and people who live in the immediate area the festival still doesn’t seem that well known to Londoners. I’d not heard of it until around 20 years ago I went with a friend of Italian origin to photograph it and the Sagra  – the festival – which accompanies it in the street below St Peter’s Church, which is itself worth a visit, opened it 1863 it is Grade II listed.

Statues for the procession and lined up in front of the church, and floats prepared down the side roads, while people wander in the crowds in the Sagra, buying Italian food and wine.  This is one occasion when I do have a cup or two of Italian red while working.

When the time comes for the procession,crowds line both sides of the Clerkenwell Road to watch as a long stream of biblical tableaux on float, walking groups with banners, the Four Evangelists, at least two Jesuses, one accompanied by Roman soldiers and carrying a cross and another leading first communicants,   people in traditional Italian dress and more make their way past the front of the church and process around the streets of the area.

The exact form has changed a little from year to year, but not greatly in the 20 or so years I’ve been going most times.  At some point members of the clergy are handed white doves and release them – and more recently this has happened both around the beginning and end of the procession, and there is also some tinsel fired.

At the end, the clergy who have been watching from the road in front of the church join on the the procession and are followed by a large crowd of the congregation. And as they move off, some of us take the opportunity to return to the Sagra for another cup of wine.

But the pictures tell the story better than I can in words:
Processione della Madonna del Carmine


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