Devotional candles

"Vendors of religious articles set up booths along the sidewalks, competing for business with the thriving local trade in religious goods. The booths were filled with wax replicas of internal human organs and with models of human limbs and heads. Someone who had been healed--or hoped to be healed--by the Madonna of headaches or arthritis would carry wax models of the afflicted limbs or head, painted to make them look realistic, in the big procession. The devout could also buy little wax statues of infants. Charms to ward off the evil eye, such as little horns to wear around the neck and little red hunchbacks, were sold alongside the holy cards, statues of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, and the wax body parts. "The most sought-after items were the big and enormously heavy candles that the faithful bought, carried all through the blistering July procession, and then donated to the church. There was a wax factory at 431 East 115th Street, and candles were available at several stores on the block near the church. According to one of my informants: 'They sold candles. They did a tremendous business in candles for years.' In the June 1929 issue of the parish bulletin, in time for that year's celebration, Nicola Sabatini, who owned a religious articles shop at the prime location of 410 East 115 Street, advertised: 'The faithful who need candles of any size, votive articles of wax and silver, and other religious articles can get them here directly at reasonable prices and made to their specifications.' The weights of the candles chosen by the people corresponded to the seriousness of the grace they were asking, and this was carefully specified in the vows made to the Madonna. A bad problem or a great hope required an especially heavy candle and weights could reach fifty or sixty pounds or more. Sometimes the candles weighed as much as the person for whom prayers and sacrifices were being offered. In 1923, for example, Giuseppe Caparo, sixty-nine years old, who had recently fallen from the fifth floor of a building without hurting himself, offered the Madonna a candle weighing as much as he did, 185 pounds. If, as often happened, the candles were too long or two heavy to be carried by one person, other family members and friends would share the burden."

Robert Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950, pp. 3-4.

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