When San Ciriaco went to Boston

di Florindo Cirignano



 When San Ciriaco went to Boston  



Persecuted by the vile demon hunger that stalked him often in the course of his life, my grandfather, Florindo Cirignano embarked upon the SS Verona at Naples on 18 Nov 1913 - destination Boston.  He carried not only his little cardboard suitcase, but something so precious he would have defended it at the cost of his own life.


He was the only Torrese on the ship, an anomoly at that time because in those days, when you departed for America -  perhaps to provide mutual courage, perhaps to avoid suffering the trauma of separation alone - Torresi went in groups. Check any ship manifest to notice how they often took cabins near one another.


As I have said, this poor and honest man, my grandfather, in addition to his hopes and illusions, carried a small treasure.  At least it was considered so by the many Torresi who emmigrated to Boston and the environs; it was a plaster replica of San Ciriaco.  Probably commissioned and paid for by the emmigrants, it finally reached its destination at the church of St Leonard in the North End of Boston – the city’s Little Italy.


A woman from New York, very passionate about the history of Torre, offers another possibility. She thinks the statue could have been donated by the Torresi to their brothers overseas as a gesture of thanks, since in 1913 the emmigrants had raised funds to send back to Torre for the purpose of building an aqueduct to bring water into the community.


San Ciriaco for many years has represented a bridge between America and Torre, the transplantation of a unique symbol of our country and traditions.


Over the years in Boston, however, people lost track of San Ciriaco.  Recently, however several descendents (Rotondi, Cefalo, de Sanctis, Rita Cirignano) synchronized their research and found it in the sacristy on the lower level of St. Leonard's church.


Thus, I was able to verify what at first was only a village legend recollected by Franco Scala, as the pure truth.  As the story goes, my grandfather arrived in Boston at the end of November and was a guest of paesani living in a tenement, where slept an entire group of poor, unfortunate and equally desperate immigrants.  Shortly thereafter, he found work for a construction company, replacing a troublesome worker who had been fired.


For days and days he worked three meters underground, like a mole, digging with shovel and pickaxe to install drains in a new neighborhood.  He slept and ate in the tenement where the menu featured beans, beans and more beans.


On Christmas Eve, it was snowing and terribly cold.  Passing in front of the church of St. Leonard after work, my grandfather -perhaps to warm up, perhaps for the nostalgia of the nativity, (which in Torre is celebrated with much passion and reverence), or perhaps lured by the sweetness of music emanating from the sacred building, decided to enter. 


He had barely crossed the threshold when what seemed to be an angry demon rose from the center of the church. Without a word spoken, this fanatic thrust his fist into my grandfather’s eye, and sent him flying out into the cold snow.  My grandfather, thin as a wren, could not compete with something that monstrous and went back to the tenement with a black eye.


When his friends saw him so badly beaten, they immediately sat him in a chair, dressed his wounds and insisted he tell what had happened. When my grandfather explained his mishap, they immediately identified the aggressor as the man who had been fired and who was replaced at work by my grandfather.


The next day a team of Torresi found the troublemaker in an alley.  They beat him and left him on the ground for dead.


My grandfather returned to Italy after three months, renouncing the American dream. The statue however is still there - 95 years later. They tell me it is very well kept.  Perhaps our paesani in the States realize that if Torre continues as it is, we will have to travel to Boston to pay homage to our Saint.






 Traduzione di Carole Andrews, alla quale vanno tutti i nostri ringraziamenti