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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Shrimp boat Evan Michael approaches the blessing boat, May 2, 1999
Shrimp boat Evan Michael  approaches the blessing boat, May 2, 1999. Photo: Larry Morrisey

Biloxi, Mississippi's Blessing of the Fleet

A ceremonial blessing, given by a local Catholic priest, marks the beginning of the shrimp fishing season. Even though it had its origins in ancient times in Europe, the first Blessing of the Fleet in the Biloxi Bay was given in 1929, and now takes place annually in a colorful procession in the Mississippi Sound. The ceremony begins with the dropping of an evergreen wreath into the Sound in remembrance of fishermen who have been lost at sea. Then a procession of more than 30 shrimp boats files past the anchored "Blessing Boat" where the officiating priest stands, sprinkling holy water on each of the boats and giving a blessing for each one, asking a safe and prosperous fishing season.

Other events have been added, including the Great Biloxi Schooner Race and the Shrimp Festival, featuring a cook-off and dinner, dance, and coronation of the Shrimp King and Queen. The Shrimp King and Queen are crowned at the Shrimp Festival and join the priest as he conducts the Blessing of the Fleet. St. Michael's Catholic Church has been the central sponsor of the Blessing ceremony through the years. Its architecture reflects the town's fishing heritage: a scalloped-shaped roof resembles a huge clam shell, and its stained glass windows depict the apostles as fisherman.

Shrimp and oyster fisherman were originally largely central European immigrants; since the 1980's, most have been Vietnamese. While initially working in the canning plants, many of these immigrants bought their own boats and began harvesting shrimp and oysters from the Mississippi Sound. The 70th annual Blessing of the Fleet took place on Sunday, May 2, 1999. It has become a celebration of the industry that brought thousands of workers to the area in the late 19th century and helped change Biloxi from a quiet resort town to a thriving industrial center.

The project is documented by a six-page report, promotional flyers, information on St. Michael's Catholic Church, four black-and-white photographs, and eight color slides.

Originally submitted by: Trent Lott,Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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