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  • St. Joseph's Altar

    by Anthony Parente

    Related Articles

    Feast of St. Joseph

    St. Joseph Symbols

    Viva St. Joseph

    One of the great traditions on St. Joseph's Day is the beautifully decorated altars made to honor the Patron Saint of carpenters, fathers and Sicily to name a few. These altars, which have been around for centuries, are a labor of love by Sicilians who create them to give thanks for good fortune, fulfill a promise or just to share with those who are less fortunate.

    Legend states that during the Middle Ages there was a severe drought and famine in Sicily. The people of the region prayed to St. Joseph asking him to put an end to the drought & famine that had plagued the area. If he would do so they would honor him by having a giant feast. St. Joseph answered their prayers and the people of Sicily kept their word. They prepared a giant feast in which everyone was invited including the poor. As part of the feast they erected an altar that consisted of three levels. The three levels, which represent the Holy Trinity, were draped in white linen and covered with flowers.

    A variety of foods were prepared, but none of them contained meat because the feast was held during lent. Of all the things prepared for the feast the most beautiful part is the cuccadati made by the people. The cuccadati are loaves of bread that are formed and decorated in a variety of symbolic shapes like a staff or crown of thorns. The cuccadati are used to decorate Le Vastedde, which is a Sicilian tradition that consists of latticework covered with branches of myrtle, bay leaves, oranges, lemons and the small decorative breads.

    When I attended the IFAFA Conference in Pittsburgh, I had an opportunity to take part in a workshop on Symbolic Pastries conducted by Eugene Fedeli. In this workshop I learned more about St. Joseph's altar and I got to see how these pastries were made. The pastries that Eugene made were preserved so he could put them on display during the Feast of St. Joseph. They included a peacock, which represent the glory of man, a monstrance and heart, which represent Christ. He was extremely happy to share his recipe for the dough and filling used to create these pieces. Now you too can create your own symbolic pastries to celebrate St. Joseph's Day.

    One can't truly appreciate the labor of love put into creating these altars unless you have seen one. A photo tour, which includes a brief description, has been provided to help you visualize the artistic beauty, hard work and dedication put into preparing the altar. Eugene Fedeli provided this photo tour of St. Joseph's Altar. These pictures are from the Feast held in the Graham-Ginestra House Museum in Rockford, Illinois. Eugene has been participating in the preparation of the altar for over 10 years and he should be commended for helping to preserve the traditions of our heritage.

    Enjoy Your Tour

    Buona Festa di San Giuseppe

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