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Carriers bearing statue of San Rocco, c. 1980
Carriers bearing state of San Rocco, c. 1980 Photo: Ladd Sustar

San Rocco Festa

A three-day religious celebration held annually in August that includes a festival, church service, family procession, and traditional Italian Tarantella, the "baby doll dance." It honors San Rocco, born into a wealthy French family in the 14th century, who distributed his wealth among the poor, took a vow of poverty, traveled as a pilgrim to Italy and ministered to those suffering from the plague. Veneration of San Rocco exploded so rapidly after his death that today Italy has over 5000 churches and chapels named in his honor. As early as 1789, Patricia, Italy, began to honor San Rocco with festivities and civic ceremonies, including distribution of chiambella (an Italian pastry) and bread to the townspeople. During the 1800s, the San Rocco festival expanded, with committees formed to collect donations, calculate expenditures, and plan entertainment such as music, fireworks, and other events. Even today villagers in Patricia, on August 16, parade up and down the hilly streets and alleyways of the town carrying a statue of San Rocco on their shoulders.

Many Patrica residents immigrated to the Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, area to work in its steel mills and, wishing to keeping their Italian heritage alive, brought this tradition with them. During its early years (1925-1955), the San Rocco Festa was a street fair that became linked with the Musical Political Italian (MPI) Club Band, which played the music of Italy at many Aliquippa civic gatherings. During the 1950s, the Festa evolved from a street fair into a structured two-day celebration held during the weekend closest to August 16, featuring band concerts by the MPI band, food, fireworks, amusements, a San Rocco Mass, the traditional "baby doll dance," and a parade/procession with floats decorated with paper flowers and men bearing aloft the San Rocco statue. The "baby doll dance" brings the festival to a close when the identity of the Taranatella dancer, sheathed in an 8-ft. tall wooden frame fashioned in the shape of a young woman, is revealed. (The Tarantella has its roots in Italian folklore, in which a young women, bitten by a poisonous spider, dances faster and faster to try to rid herself of the poison.)

Documentation includes a videotape of San Rocco Festa, August 1998, an audio cassette of the 1999 Festa band concert, a history of the Festa and its American celebration, 23 8 x 10 color photographs, news clippings, and commemorative booklets.

Originally submitted by: Ron Klink, Representative (4th District).

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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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