Places that Matter

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel RC Church

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Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
One of the earliest Italian parishes, now with multiethnic congregation
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One of the earliest Italian churches in the city, this parish was established in 1884. The school and church were erected soon after by the people of Italian Harlem, which by the 1920s was the country's largest "Little Italy." The building's proliferation of stone and marble is a distinguishing Italian feature, but the parish's annual procession is the most public expression of Italian Harlem's cultural identity.

The Our Lady of Mt. Carmel annual feast (July 16) continues a tradition brought by immigrants from Polla, Salerno more than 100 years ago. In the 1930s, the festa drew tens of thousands of people from across the city. Pilgrims often walked barefoot from neighborhoods miles away, camped out in nearby Thomas Jefferson Park, and then carried elaborate candles in the procession. These candles were shaped like the body parts for which the supplicant was asking grace, or their weight corresponded to the body weight of the person for whom prayers were being offered. Today a few Italians are joined by hundreds of new immigrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic as the icon of the saint (brought from Italy in 19th century) is paraded on a float through the streets of East Harlem.