How New Orleans Made a Medieval Sicilian Tradition Its Own

Mar 19, 2020 661

BY: Reina Gattuso

IN THE MIDDLE AGES, THE story goes, a great famine ravaged Sicily. Peasants starved. The rain refused to come. In desperation, villagers prayed to Saint Joseph, the Biblical carpenter whom Christians believe to be Jesus Christ’s earthly foster father. If the Saint would intervene on their behalf, the Sicilian people promised, they would honor him with a selection of their harvest from then on.

The rains came, and an abundant harvest of fava beans restored order to the land. Ever since, Sicilians have celebrated St. Joseph’s Day each March. To mark the occasion, communities feast and offer alms to impoverished neighbors in the form of lavish dinners. And they erect elaborate culinary altars, whose ornately symbolic contents, from bread sculptures to pastries, represent the abundance the saint restored to the island.

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