A Catholic martyr’s death came to life in the streets of Bensonhurst during the weekend of Sept. 29.
One hundred fifty members of the Societa Santa Fortunata di New York acted out the horrific killing of Saint Fortunata and bore a casket containing her likeness around the neighborhood on Saturday and Sunday — a tradition that has crossed the Atlantic from the tiny town of Baucina in Palermo, Sicily, and crossed the borough from East New York.
“I can remember being a kid and getting dragged all the way to East New York twice a year,” said Societa President Ciro Quattrochi, whose parents and grandparents came to America from Baucina. “It’s like Christmas for us, we’ve gotta do it.”
But the procession relocated to 77th Street and 17th Avenue in 1972 as Brooklyn’s Italians moved south, and brought the Santa Fortunata ceremony with them.
Quattrochi explained that Santa Fortunata was a Christian woman living in the Roman Empire during the persecuting rule of the Emperor Diocletian. In the year 303 AD, Fortunata refused a proposal from the emperor’s son because she didn’t want to convert, and so the prince first threw her to lions, shot her with arrows, and boiled her in hot pitch. But Fortunata held onto life until her spurned suitor finally stabbed her in the head. Her remains were brought to Baucina from the mainland in 1790 — where her body is still used in the procession today — and immigrants brought her rite to Brookyn in 1900.
Quattrochi said that Italian-Americans from Baucina still pray to Santa Fortunata today.
“We still ask her for good luck for the future,” said Quattochi, adding that the casket his society carries is filled with jewelry left by people who had their prayers answered. “The devotion has gotten stronger, even after all these years.”
The Societa president said that today, the focus is on passing the casket on to a new generation.
“We carry on the tradition here so that our children can see what our parents’ grandparents lived through, and so that they can continue it,” said Quattrochi, who has two daughters himself.