Religion in Poggioreale: Saint John the Baptist

Saint John the Baptist

June 24

Saint John the Baptist is known in Italian as San Giovanni Battista.

Remembering that Saint John had lived in the desert, the people invoke him as protector against storms, in fact when thunder and lightning come, the fearful mind and the trembling heart call out an expression of faith arid fear: “Saint John the Baptist, take away this thunder and lightning.” The circumstance, then, of John’s being Jesus’ second cousin and also of having baptized Jesus in the river Jordan was the origin of the people’s devotion to tire Comparatico. The comparatico in Sicily are the most esteemed and important spiritual family relationships, and blood relationships almost cede their place to them. The comparatico begins at the baptism of the child; the spiritual family is established between the Minster, the baptized, the parents; and between tire godparents, the child and the parents. For the people, this family relationship has its greatest importance and respect; in tire past, the parents and the godparents spoke to each other using the respectful voi form, a true, affectionate and considerable love was established between the godparents and child; from whence the expression: amuri di parrimi amuri firm! Di In parrimi si porta la vina.

The following verses give an illustration:

Cumpari, cumpari, c’u’ san Giuanni; semu cumpari – sinu a Natali; zoccu avemu – nni spartemu, sinu all’aqua chi bivemu, e s’avemu pani e ossa nni nni jemu sutt’a fossa, e s’avemu pani e risu nni nni jemu ‘n paraddisu.

Dear friends, dear friends with St. John; we are dear friends since His birth; that which we have we share, even the water we drink, and if we have bread and bones we will go (to Hell), and if we have bread and rice me will go in Paradise.

Note: “Dear friends” can also be translated as “Compadre”.

The godparent does not betray godchild, the child is practically a son to the godfather; the proverb is serious:

A cu’ scorda e tradisci ‘n San Giuanni scorda e tradisci Signuri e Madonna

Whoever forgets and betrays St. John

Forgets and betrays the Lord and the Madonna

Translation: Annette Chiappetta Rovello.

There is also the comparatico among children, with the exchange of wicker baskets containing gifts, flowers, candy and fruit, which occurs on the day of the Birth of the Saint which falls on June 24 (the longest day of the year). This is an allusion to the spiritual comparatico relationship between Saint John and Jesus due to the baptism of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan.

Children tie two strands of their hair together in a particular way and blowing them with their breath say the following words:

Pilu, piliddu vattinni a lu mare junciuta strittu non po scappari; vola capiddu vattinni a lu mari, semu cumpari, semu cumpari, cumpari, cumpari ecu S, Giuanni.

Luna lunedda -fammi ‘nna cuddrureddra, fammilla beddra granni

quantu l’occhi di S. Giuanni

Cci dissi Gesu Cristu a San Giuanni: ddi li signaliati guardatinni.

Strand of hair, fine strand of hair go to the sea Joined tightly you cannot escape;
Fly strand of hair go to the sea, We are dear friends, we are dear friends,
Dear friends, dear friends with St. John (the Baptist).

Moon, little moon – make me a “cuddruredda” (a round fruit-filled cookie)
Make it nice and big for me
As big as St. John’s eyes.

Jesus Christ said to St. John:
Be wary of people who are “marked”.

Notice how great is the material faith of the people: the fear of dying by being struck by lightning during a storm brings them to use the hyperbolic expression:

Di tutti li Santi riditinni,
ma nun pigghiari ‘mprisi cu S, Giuanni!

Chi lu Maistru dissi a Giuanni:
Si di li Santi lu Santu cchiu granni.

San Giuanni fu lu primu Lu so patri Zazzaria,
di l’Apostuli divini, la so matri Lisabetta,
scausu, nudu e pilligrinu, iddra era donna granni,
ija circannu a lu so Patri. Viva Diu e San Giuanni.

Go ahead and laugh about all the Saints,
But don’t take risks with St. John!

(because) the Master (Lord) told St. John:
Of all the Saints you are the grandest.

St. John was the first of the divine Apostles,
Barefoot, naked and a pilgrim,
He went looking for his Father.

His father Zechariah,
His mother Elizabeth,
She was a grand woman.

Long live God and St. John (the Baptist)

Translation: Annette Chiappetta Rovello.

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Background on Saint John the Baptist

(Source: Catholic Online Saints and Angels Directory)

Feast Day: June 24

Patron Saint of Jordan, Puerto Rico, Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, French Canada, Newfoundland, Cesena, Florence, Genoa, Monza, Perth (Scotland), Porto, San Juan, Turin, Xewkija, and many other places

Death: Between the years 31 and 36

John the Baptist was a contemporary of Christ who was known for evangelization and his baptizing of Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist was born through the intercession of God to Zachariah and Elizabeth, who was otherwise too old to bear children. According to scriptures, the Angel Gabriel visited Elizabeth and Zachariah to tell them they would have a son and that they should name him John. Zachariah was skeptical and for this he was rendered mute until the time his son was born and named John, in fulfillment of God’s will.

When Elizabeth was pregnant with John, she was visited by Mary, and John leapt in her womb. This revealed to Elizabeth that the child Mary carried was to be the Son of God.

John began public ministry around 30 AD, and was known for attracting large crowds across the province of Judaea and around the Jordan River. When Jesus came to him to be baptized, John recognized him and said, “It is I who need baptism from you.”

Jesus told John to baptize Him anyway, which he did, whereupon the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God was seen like a dove. The voice of God spoke, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

John instructed his followers to turn to Christ, calling Him the “Lamb of God” and these people were among the first Christians.

Following his baptism of Christ, John’s popularity grew so much that he alarmed King Herod. Herod ordered him arrested and imprisoned.

John spoke with Herod on several occasions and condemned his marriage to his half-brother’s wife.

This condemnation would be his downfall as King Herod promised to grant a wish to his daughter. In revenge for John the Baptist’s condemnation of her mother’s scandalous marriage to Herod, she asked for John’s head. King Herod reluctantly obliged. John the Baptist died sometime between 33 and 36 AD.

John the Baptist’s feast day is June 24, and the anniversary of his death is August 29 and is sometimes celebrated with a second feast.

John the Baptist is the patron saint of Jordan, Puerto Rico, French Canada and many other places.

[This webpage is excerpted from the book: “The History of Poggioreale, Sicily – From 1640 to 1956.” Originally written in Italian by: Canonico Dottore Francesco Aloisio in 1956. Adapted and translated by: Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas. 5th Edition. International Order of Genealogists Publishing. Ireland. 2019. ISBN: 9781072403371. The book can be purchased online at: https://www.amazon.com/History-Poggioreale-Sicily-1640-1956/dp/1072403374/ ]