Document, and preserve for historical purposes, the annual Chambersburg procession of La Festa della Madonna Maria SS. Assunta in Cielo, Prottetrice di Casandrino, more commonly referred to as The Feast of Lights.
Using articles from newspapers and journals dating back over 100 years, learn of the Italian Immigration into the Chambersburg section of Trenton, NJ in the early 1900’s.
Journey back to Rome 717, then to Casandrino in the 1400’s and finally to Chambersburg, for the first procession on September 10, 1906.
Assisted by photographs, old movie film and video, enjoy seeing processions of years gone by, and your loved ones who participated.
Endorsed by on-camera interviews:
Witness first hand accounts of the miracles associated with the statue.
Discover the threats and conflicts that arose from opposing factions.
Re-live the solemnity of the Mass inside St. Joachim Church, then follow the statue outside to the streets of Chambersburg and experience the unforgettable melodies and cadence of the Neapolitan marches.
Once Upon A Time
(1,293 years ago)
The year is 717 and a new Roman Emperor, Leo III, has just come into power. Immediately he boldly declares his “Iconoclastic Rule” that venerating religious images is idolatry and not pleasing to God. Leo orders the destruction of religious statues and paintings. Many Christians in an effort to preserve these items flee Rome and travel south. A few of these individuals transport a particular statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding her Divine Son Jesus. As they arrive at an abandoned stone shrine dedicated to the pagan god Apollo, near a lake in Naples called Lago di Patria, they enter it with the statue. Digging a deep hole inside the cave-like structure, they bury their precious treasure to protect it from travelling Roman soldiers sworn to carry out Leo’s Rule of destruction.
It is now 700 years later in the early 1400’s. Peasant farmers traveling north from the southern coast of Italy stop to rest as their oxen graze on grass and drink water from Lago di Patria. Suddenly, the oxen become disturbed and pound their hooves into the ground, in one concentrated area. Curious, the farmers dig into the dirt and soon hear a woman’s muffled cry from beneath the ground. They continue to dig, and discover the statue of Mary with child, in perfect condition, not having suffered the same extinction of the stone shrine of Apollo.
They clean it off, place it on their cart and continue their northern journey. As they approach the town of Casandrino, once again their oxen exhibit strange behavior. They stop in front of a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady and immediately fall to the ground and refuse to rise and continue on. Being unable to move the oxen, the farmers place the statue inside the chapel. Soon villagers visit the statue and some who are crippled experience miraculous recoveries. They leave at the foot of the statue their crutches and canes as thanks and proof for all to see. As the miracles continue, the townspeople place the statue on a cart pulled by oxen and process through each and every street in the town of Casandrino, to honor Mary. They still continue this procession annually in August!
It is very early 1900’s and Italian immigrants begin arriving in America. Some of them come from Casandrino and bring with them the stories of miracles of that statue and the original Neapolitan music scores that were played during the procession. The stories are so inspiring that in 1906, they hold the first procession of Our Lady of Casandrino, in the Chambersburg section of Trenton, NJ at the newly built St. Joachim’s Church.
The seeds for this documentary project were planted toward the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006. During this time discussions were undertaken on how to continue the religious procession of Our Lady of Casandrino in light of the attrition of the Italian immigrants' children and grandchildren departing Chambersburg for suburban life. The result of this exodus was a decrease in the number of organizers of, and participants in the procession. It was then I recognized the need to document and preserve the history and story of the procession which had been an important part of so many Chambersburg lives for over 100 years.
During 2005 I wrote a story narration and in mid 2006 using digital tape, shot my 15 year old daughter Natalie, narrating and interviewing various clergy and procession participants. At the same time I began formal project research utilizing newspaper articles, old photos, video and film, some dating back over 100 years. Those tapes sat idle for 3 years. During 2009 Mr. David Bannister, CEO of Shore View Media, crossed my path and upon casually mentioning the documentary and tapes, Dave made an immediate and personal commitment to perform post-production on what had been shot 3 years earlier. Utilizing the advanced editing equipment in the Shore View Media studio, and the creative talents of David Bannister, we shot interviews with additional individuals. The result was a 9 minute promotion DVD that was sent out to PBS, CPB and other stations and outlets in the hopes of attracting funds.
The year 2010 brought further project advancements with the development by Shore View Media of a web site www.thefeastoflights.com and creation of a promotion DVD that was shown continuously at the September 2010 Mercer County Italian American Festival. The video contains footage of past processions, photographs, articles, stories and interviews.
I sincerely thank everyone who has supported this project to date with their family photos, films, stories and on camera interviews. Without you there would be no documentary preservation project.
Thank you, Joseph Pica Executive Producer