Each June, on the weekend closest to the Feast Day of St. Peter, the Italian-American fishing community of Gloucester comes together to celebrate the patron saint of fishermen, St. Peter. The Fiesta opens this year in St. Peter’s Square on the Gloucester waterfront on Wednesday, June 22nd and ends on Sunday, June 26th.
(Photo Credit: David Cox)
At the turn of the century many Italian families settled in Gloucester. Having been fishermen in Sicily, these families were attracted to this famous fishing port. When they arrived here they brought many customs from the old country including paying homage to their patron saint. In 1927 one of the local Italian-American fishing captains had a life-sized statue of St. Peter enshrined in the heart of the Italian district. It wasn’t long before the wives and mothers of the fishermen began formulating plans for a religious procession to be held annually in honor of St. Peter. Gradually, this annual procession grew into the internationally renowned celebration we have today.
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. An enormous altar and bandstand form the focal point of the celebration. The life-sized statue of St. Peter, lavishly decorated with hundreds of flowers, is carried to the altar in a huge procession that moves through the neighborhoods of the city. Music is played on the bandstand every evening of the Fiesta and on Sunday morning an open air mass is conducted in the square. Later in the afternoon, the crowds witness the blessing of the fishing fleet. Street vendors and a small carnival create a festive experience.
Various sporting events are held each day. The Greasy Pole is a contest where brave young men run across a grease-covered pole high above icy waters of Gloucester Harbor trying to capture a flag. The winner is the first to capture the pole. Thousands watch from Pavilion Beach off Commercial Street right behind the Chamber of Commerce.
Another event is the Seine Boat Race. Here, twelve-man crews prove their strength and stamina by rowing against each other in old seine boats in a grueling mile long race.
St. Peter’s Fiesta is a long-standing Gloucester tradition and a feast for the senses.