In a small town 30 km outside of Naples, you’ll find Nola, famous for its late June Lily Festival known in Italy as the Festa dei Gigli. The celebration is held on the Sunday after June 22, the day San Paolino returned from captivity, having been held by the Hun in North Africa.
As the tale goes, after negotiating the release of all the Nola men, San Paolino was freed and sailed back to this Neapolitan town, greeted by the townspeople, who escorted him to the bishop under the banners of the eight local trade unions while carrying armfuls of lilies picked from the fields—thus the name of the festival.
And so the festival continues on to this day and features the carrying of eight 25-metre high, 2500 kg wooden obelisks in the form of lilies, each representing one of the old trade unions; each lily is handcrafted and decorated by local artisans and transported on the shoulders of 120 men (“paranze”) to the sounds of religious as well as Neapolitan and Italian music—and the cheers of many, many adoring spectators. A makeshift boat is also transported around town, recalling the joyous return of San Paolino.
The celebration takes up the entire day and draws quite a crowd from current and past Nola residents as well as from neighboring towns as well; be sure to arrive early!
As with many Italian festivals, Nola’s Festa dei Gigli has been recreated around the world by descendants of Nola who have moved elsewhere. If you have a Lily Festival near you, it just might be derived from this one in the province of Naples.
For more information on Nola’s Lily Festival, check out the official website I Gigli di Nola (in English and Italian).