Wednesday 22 October 2014

Anthropology of religion:a forensic reconstruction. The face of St. Anthony of Padua

"(...) There are mystically in our faces certain characters which carry in them the motto of our souls (...)" 

On August 31, 2014 in Brusciano took place the annual "Festa dei Gigli" (lilies party). The protagonist of this celebration, even though we are in Campania, is St. Anthony of Padua. The devotion to this Saint is so strong in the town that the party in his honor is felt by people as more important than the country's patron saint, San Sebastian.
This year's celebration, however, was characterized by an important novelty: one of "Gigli" (Italian for lilies) dedicated to the saint, the "Giglio" of Passo Veloce, led at its peak the effigy of St. Anthony of Padua with its true face.
The "Gigli" are constructions made ​​of poplar, fir and chestnut, in the shape of an obelisk, up to 25 meters and weighing till 50 tons, assembled with nails and rope and decorated with religious scenes. 
The forensic reconstruction of the face of the saint was a team work that has involved, among other institutions, the Museum of Anthropology of the University of Padova (Dr. Nicola Carrara), Arc-Team (Cicero Moraes and Luca Bezzi), the Centro Studi Antoniani (Father Luciano Bertazzo) and Antrocom Onlus (Dr. Moreno Tiziani) and was  presented in Padua during the Antonian June 2014.  
The choice of the devotees of Brusciano is an opportunity of interesting considerations from the point of view of anthropology of religion, which gives us an overview of the relationship that believers have with Italian patron saints. 
The cult of the saints is in fact one of the strongest aspects of religiosity in Italy, being a powerful medium of identity. The Saints are not only representing themselves and their figures are not limited to a religious or hagiographical matter: each saint is primarily a sample of the community which he represents; he is a civic emblem that embodies the character of the city in which he is revered, of the community or the group who elected him as a patron saint and turned him into a "supernatural logo", as well summarized by the anthropologist Marino Niola. He is  a sort of totem, which can inform us about the origin of customs, symbols, characters, and rules of conduct, involving the unique relationship that the saint has with that particular community in that particular area.
It is no coincidence that the day dedicated to the local saint is a festivity day. One day that departs from the others through a series of behaviors which are different from those in use in everyday life: eating differently, dressing differently, following different rhythms given by the holiday.
We have also to consider that, according to popular physiognomy,  there is a correlation between physical features (especially facial), and character traits. The face of St. Anthony, given by the forensic reconstruction of Cicero Moraes, validates the folk imagery of the devotees. In this way the day dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua becomes a ritual representation of the city's tradition, a sacralization of the urban space and an opportunity to rewrite the "identity maps", to rebuild the community in the name of the saint.
Here is how to explain the choice of the believers to use the true face of the saint: the symbolic efficiency of the saint is reinforced by his real look, which embraces the whole community gathered in celebration.

In the video below it is possible to see the "Giglio Passo Veloce" with the statue of St. Athony on his peak (Standard YouTube License by Alessio Italo Jr. d'Alise).

In this image you can see the statue of the saint, done by the sculptor Giacomo D'Alterio and painted by the painter Ilaria Auriemma for the Giglio Passo Veloce of the maker Gerardo Di Palma (photo by Antonio Castaldo).

And here is a panoramic image of the "giglio", done by +Cícero Moraes withe the frame of the video.

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