1 of the great devotions to San Giuseppe is the annual St. Joseph's Altar that was started in Sicilia back in the Middle Ages as a way of giving San Giuseppe thanks for preserving them from a famine. According to the legend, there was a severe drought & the people called on San Giuseppe to send rain. If he did they promised a feast in his honor. The rains came & they kept their promise to hold a feast. The fava bean crop which was important as a fodder for cattle was saved. That is why fava beans play a part in the celebration.
As a part of the celebration, a 3 tiered altar was built. The 3 tiers represent the Trinity. That tradition has continued to this day in Sicilia & was brought to America with the Sicilian immigrants. Since the Italiano immigrants in my town were from the mainland, unfortunatelywe never had this tradition when I was growing up. But it has spread beyond the Siciliano community to the broader Italiano community in some areas.
The altar is covered with white linen. It is decorated with flowers & votive candles. A variety of foods are placed on it as an offering to San Giuseppe in thankgiving for his loving care. Since his feast always occurs in Lent, none of the foods contain meat. Fish & seafood are another matter. They are abundantly represented because of the huge dependance on the sea in Sicilia as well as Southern Italia. Often there are 12 fish in honor of the 12 apostles. Many of the dishes may contain breadcrumbs to represent the sawdust from San Giuseppe's workshop.
Naturally there are fava beans. Additionally since critus is widely grown on the island, it is a vital part of the offerings as well. Other items include wine commemorating the Weddinf feast at Cana, cakes, cookies like biscotti & pastry, especially zeppoli or sfingi. Zeppoli (sfingi) are a fried dough ball covered with sugar made form a pastry similar to that of a cream puff. When they are filled with a ricotta based or custard filling they are sometimes called Bignè di S. Giuseppe. But probably the most creative part of the offerings are the breads. The breads as well as many of the pastries are made in a variety of shapes that symbolize San Giuseppe or the Catholic faith. They are made in the shapes of monstrances, chalices, crosses, doves, lambs, fish, bibles, hearts, wreaths & palms. The symbols of St. Joseph include lilies, staffs, sandals, ladders, saws, hammers & nails.
Much of the food is brought by those who come to visit the altar & join in the feast. Also, it is customary to share the abundance of the altar with the needy as a reminder of how San Giuseppe helped them in need.
Each visitor to the altar is traditionally given a small bag. The contents include a fava bean, a blessed medal & holy card honoring San Giuseppe. It can also include a few of the small pastries & an orange.
Additionally baskets are on the altar where the faithful can write petitions asking San Giuseppe's intercession. Also pictures of deceased relatives & friends grace the altar asking for San Giuseppe's intercession for their souls should they still be in Purgatory. This is because San Giuseppe is the patron of a happy death.
The altars are traditionally built from materials arround the house & those making them can never profit from them. (Note: This is a general overview. Like so many traditions, they vary in detail from place to place, but this gives a general idea of how they are done.)
The picture below show a typical altar.
St. Joseph Church, Gretna LA
You can see additional photos of altars here
or google searh here
for a large number at various website.
For those who are unable to participate in an actual altar there is another option i discovered several years ago & have promoted myself since 2009. There is a Virtual St. Joseph Altar
available. It was set up by Evann Duplantier in 1999. Every year you can go to the site & make a virtual offering as well as place a petition for deceased relatives, friends or other needs. the 2011 Altar opened today.
The site gives you an excellent virtual altar. There are also links for articles about the altar, pictures of altars & recipes related to the Feast of San Giuseppe on 19 March. If you get the chance to see a real one, please do. But this does capture the heart of the devotion to San Giuseppe.
I repeat what I said in my post
about the altar 2 years. "With all the attacks on marriage, the family & the unborn, we need the powerful intercession of San Giuseppe all the more. Here is an excellent opportunity to honor him & ask for his intercession. Honoring him is honoring Jesus & honoring God for what He did through San Giuseppe to bring about our salvation
VIVA SAN GIUSEPPE!!!!!
Labels: St. Joseph (San Giuseppe)