The Italian Enclaves blog is extremely proud to share this post with our readers today. Giovanni di Napoli has been selflessly documenting Italian heritage throughout America by diligently photographing and taking part in the rituals and traditions of Italian churches as well as their vast devotions to Italian Saints and Roman Catholicism. We asked Giovanni to make a guest blog post and he delivered so graciously based on his incredible faith and devotion without even asking us to mention his blog. So, before reading the below, please make a note to check out Giovanni’s blog and follow him on social media (www.ilregno2s.blogspot.com, on Facebook; “Il Regno.”) Please enjoy….
Near the corner of Baxter and Canal Streets, on the border of New York City’s Little Italy and China Town, stands the Church of the Most Precious Blood (113 Baxter St.). Once a bustling National Parish serving the burgeoning Italian American community of Lower Manhattan, this historic house of worship lies sadly neglected with, considering the recent spate of church closings, an uncertain future. The church is currently part of the parish of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (263 Mulberry St.) and under the pastoral care of Msgr. Donald Sakano. The Heart and Soul of Little Italy, it is arguably best known, due to the immense popularity of the saint’s feast, as the National Shrine of San Gennaro.
For those who are less familiar, the church is also the longtime home to the feasts of Sant’Antonio da Padova, Sant’Angelo d’Acri, and Saints Cosma and Damiano. With the regrettable closing of St. Joseph’s Church (5 Monroe St.) in 2015, Most Precious Blood acquired the statues, relics and feasts of San Rocco di Potenza and San Vincenzo Martire di Craco. Though smaller in comparison to San Gennaro, the organizers and devotees of these other celebrations are no less fervent in their devotion to their respective saints.
From St. Joseph’s, Most Precious Blood has also come into possession of the statue of the Madonna delle Grazie, patroness of Santa Caterina Villarmosa, Sicily and the icon of the Madonna di Ripalta, patroness of Cerignola, Puglia. These sacred images join the church’s already impressive collection of statuary and iconography from southern Italy, which includes the recently restored statues of San Calogero from Sciacca, Sicily and San Michele Arcangelo, thought to hail from Sant’Angelo le Fratte in Potenza, Basilicata.
In addition to the above mentioned statues, the murals of Donatus Buongiorno (1865-1935), damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, are currently undergoing much needed restoration. Nineteen paintings in all, they depict the Principal Episodes in the Life of Christ, of St. Francis of Assisi, and of St. Anthony of Padua. The first painting rescued thus far was Buongiorno’s Saint Francis with Dante Alighieri and Christopher Columbus.
More impressive than the paintings and statues, Most Precious Blood boasts an array of first class relics, the most important being a splinter of the True Cross. Safely stored in the sacristy, the bone fragments of San Gennaro, Sant’Antonio di Padova, San Francesco d’Assisi, and St. Jude Thaddeus are brought out for veneration during each saint’s feast day. The one relic on view all year round is San Vincenzo’s, which is kept in an ornate, gilded wooden reliquary at the foot of his reclining statue in front of the so-called “Guariglia” bye-altar.
As an aside, every August, during the Feast of San Rocco, the St. Rocco Society of Potenza publicly display the relic of their beloved patron for veneration. Unfortunately, their original relic mysteriously went missing after the closing of St. Joseph’s Church. But upon learning of their terrible loss, the Very Rev. Cav. Msgr. Joseph Ambrosio, pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Newark, New Jersey generously donated his relic to the society at the feast in 2016. In the meantime, a member has been charged with the enviable task of safekeeping the new relic until Most Precious Blood’s ongoing restoration project is completed.
The 129th Annual Feast of San Rocco will be celebrated on Sunday, August 19th at 12 noon. Following Mass there will be a procession with the world famous papier mâché statue of the saint through the streets of Little Italy, escorted by the Giglio Band.
Weekly parishioners aside (they no longer offer daily Mass), by far the most active members of the church have been the Comunità di Sant’Egidio, an international prayer group dedicated to communicating the Gospel and performing charitable works. Meeting every Friday evening, from 6:30PM-7:30PM, the St. Egidio Prayer Group, led by Dr. Andrea Bartoli, gather before a replica of the Icona del Santo Volto (icon of the Holy Face of Jesus) from the Chiesa di Sant’Egidio in Rome, and fill the nave with beautiful song and prayer.
Speaking of song and prayer, Most Precious Blood Project Manager Bill Russo has been organizing a monthly “Music and Voice” concert series, which has featured many extraordinary talents, including musician-singer-actor-folklorist-teacher Nando Citarella and internationally renowned guitar virtuoso John T. La Barbera, among others.
However, in my humble opinion, the most recent interesting development has been the attention given to the church by the U.S. Delegation of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George, an ancient dynastic order of knighthood whose origins traditionally date back to Constantine the Great. It appears that the Order is interested in making the church its official chapel in New York City and look to sponsor Traditional Latin Masses there on a regular basis. In fact, over the past two years the Order has offered several Tridentine Masses, including a requiem Mass in 2016 for their late Grand Master, HM King Francesco II di Borbone of the Two Sicilies. On any given occasion individual Knights and Dames can be found praying in the church, alone or with other members of the laity.
The Constantinian Order’s next Solemn High Mass will be held on Friday, March 23rd at 7:15pm, in honor of the Madonna Addolorata.
For those of us who still hold dear our Catholic faith and value our rich religious and cultural traditions, Most Precious Blood Church offers a remarkable opportunity to expand ones devotional life. If you are looking for a peaceful place to pray or interested in helping the various prayer groups and saint societies—the custodians of our southern Italian culture and traditions—I encourage you to come forward. Practical efforts to help them and the church to grow are sure to be warmly received.
Giovanni di Napoli
Feast of St. Sebastian, 2018
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Starting on Friday, February 2nd, the Communita di Sant’Egidio will be moving their weekly prayer gathering from 6:30pm-7:30pm at Most Precious Blood Church to the Basilica at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, which is located at 273 Mott Street, New York NY 10012.