Three Saints Festival: How the Three-Day Bash Gives Back to the Merrimack Valley

Atmosphere at the 2017 St. Alfio Festival. (Courtesy photograph)

Atmosphere at the 2017 Three Saints Festival. (Courtesy photograph)

Ahead of the 2018 Three Saints Festival in Lawrence, taking place over Labor Day Weekend on Friday, Aug. 31, Saturday, Sept. 1 and Sunday, Sept. 2, guest columnist Jack Roy offers an inside look at the Saints Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino Society.

By Jack Roy

Born in the third century in southeastern Italy during the Roman persecution of the Christians, the brothers Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino were educated in the Christian faith. As young boys, they witnessed the persecution and martyrdom of their mother, Benedicta. The Roman Court knew that the Three Brothers were Christians from a noble family and tried to make them turn away from Christianity and worship the pagan gods.

The Brothers refused and were sent to Tertullo, the merciless governor of Sicily, who was ordered to wrestle their Christian faith away from them using any means necessary, including torture. Along with twenty Roman soldiers, the three men traveled from Rome to Messina, Sicily.

From Messina they were marched southward towards Mt. Etna and into Trecastagni, where they rested for a night. This why our Saints are sitting as opposed to standing. Continuing south, they traveled to Catania, and then entered into Lentini in early September in the year 252 A.D.

The Brothers were beaten and tortured cruelly while in Lentini, and several times St. Andrew the Apostle appeared to them and healed their wounds. Tertullo tried in vain to make Alfio and his brothers change their beliefs, but they remained steadfast in their faith.

After several months of torture, Tertullo became furious and ordered his soldiers to produce the final instruments of death for the Brothers: a pair of tongs to tear out the tongue of Alfio, a gridiron set over a fire for Filadelfo and a cauldron filled with oil and pitch for Cirino.

On May 10 in the year 253 A.D., the Three Brothers were martyred in Lentini. The Romans tied 22-year-old Alfio to a post and tore out his tongue. Twenty-one-year-old Filadelfo was burned upon a gridiron and Cirino, only 19, was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil.

The story did not end there, however. During their lifetime and even after their death, numerous miracles have occurred which are attributed to the intercession of the Three Saints, even today. Since the 1500s, the people of Trecastagni have held a grand Festa each May 10 in honor of the Three Saints who rested in the town named after these three chaste lambs (Tre Casti Agni).

In the early 20th century, Italian immigrants settling in America brought their faith and traditions with them as they embraced a new culture and society. As in many industrial cities, mutual benefit societies were created to help the immigrant family. These societies were often created not only to help their own members but to keep alive the tradition of honoring their patron saint and maintaining a link with their past.

Lawrence’s three-day celebration, which takes place annually on Labor Day Weekend, is one example of how Merrimack Valley locals honor the Saints and help raise funds for various charities and scholarships for college-bound students, among other causes. More than anything, the Festival is a testament of faith for the three young men who gave their lives over 1,760 years ago and for the Society that remembers it.