The St. Peter’s Fiesta History
The St. Peter’s Fiesta has long attracted visitors from all over the country. It is an annual celebration in Gloucester, MA taking place on the weekend closest to the Feast Day of St. Peter, June 29. The event is sponsored by the Italian-American fishing community of Gloucester.
Starting at the turn of the century many Italian families from Sicily settled in Gloucester. Having earned their livelihood as fishermen in the old country, they were naturally attracted to this famous fishing port. Before long a substantial number of Italian fishermen made Gloucester their home. As is usually the case, they continued many of the customs they had practiced in the old country. The most important of these, paying homage to St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, proved to be the seed that finally grew into the St. Peter’s Fiesta as we know it today.
In 1927 one of the Italian-American fishing captains, Savatore Favazza, had a life-sized statue of St. Peter enshrined in the heart of the Italian district. Soon the fishermen and their families began to pray before this image of their patron saint. It wasn’t long before the wives and mothers of the fishermen began formulating plans for a religious procession to be held annually on June 29 in honor of St. Peter. Gradually, this annual procession grew to a day-long demonstration of faith to the protector of all fishermen.
In 1931 the women appealed to their husbands for aid in making the arrangements for the Fiesta as its scope had been increasing to great proportions. A meeting of all the fishermen was called at which a committee was appointed to formulate plans for the annual event. Interest was so high, it was decided to make the observance of three days’ duration. By this time people from many sections of New England were being attracted to Gloucester to observe the festival.
In subsequent years it became clear that the St. Peter’s Fiesta was taking on two aspects. The first and foremost was the deeply religious tone of the event. The second was the joyous atmosphere that permeates all who are present. The religious aspect is motivated by the realization that their patron saint has protected the fishermen against the many storms encountered at sea during the past year. The joyous aspect stems from the natural instinct of those engaged in a hazardous occupation to enjoy a festive occasion.
The St. Peter’s Fiesta of recent years provides a varied program certain to be of interest to all. The entire Italian-American section of Gloucester is decorated with flags, bunting, colored lights and streamers. Some fifty archways are erected over the streets, their colored lights presenting an awe-inspiring sight when viewed at night. An enormous altar and double bandstand several stories high form the focal point of the decorations. The life-sized statue of St. Peter is centered on this altar, lavishly decorated with hundreds of flowers. From the bandstand two concert bands alternate in entertaining every evening of the Fiesta.
Sunday morning is the annual open air Mass at the Alter at St. Peter’s Square. Hundreds of people gather to take part in this religious ceremony.
Following the mass is a procession composed of several bands and floats, hundreds of men and women participants, and the statue of St. Peter carried on the shoulders of eight fishermen.
Later in the afternoon the crowds witness the blessing of the Italian-American fishing fleet. The fleet of almost one hundred fishing vessels, all gaily decorated with signal flags, presents a most impressive panorama. After the Bishop blesses the fleet, the vessels’ fog horns are blown. These blasts can be heard all over Cape Ann.
Various sporting events are held each afternoon during the procession. The Greasy Pole is a contest where brave soles run across a grease covered pole trying to capture a flag. The other event is the Seine Boat Races. Here, twelve man crews prove their strength and stamina by rowing against each other in old seine boats in a grueling mile long race