As hundreds packed a narrow North End street Sunday night, an ethereal figure floated from a third-floor window, continuing a tradition that has lasted more than a century.
After months of preparation, 10-year-old Victoria Carregal of Peabody completed the annual Flight of the Angel, a custom in her family for generations.
Many cheered, “Go Victoria!” as the child, dressed in flowing gowns of blue and white speckled with gold stars, glided toward a statue of the festival’s saint.
With a final, “Viva la Madonna del Soccorso!” she rose into the air, arms held aloft, as pillars of confetti burst from the street below.
“I loved it,” said observer Joanna Mayo. “The whole thing was wonderful.”
The angel’s flight, facilitated by a safety harness, traditionally signals the finale of the North End’s annual Fisherman’s Feast honoring the Madonna del Soccorso, whose likeness is borne through the streets of the North End during the four-day festival.
In taking the role of the Flying Angel, Victoria follows in the footsteps of her great-grandmother Anna Campo, who recently died at 95, according to Carregal’s aunt, Justine Fialkosky.
“I feel honored,” Victoria said in a phone interview Sunday afternoon. “A lot of my ancestors, my aunts, and grandparents did it.”
Victoria’s cousin, Sophia Fialkosky, of Newton, filled the role last year.
Victoria worked months on perfecting her lines, in which she asks the Madonna to protect the fishermen of her ancestors’ village, according to Fialkosky. To make sure the prayer is just right, Italian-speaking members of the society that organizes the feast provided Victoria with a recording of the lines with proper pronunciation.
“I’ve been practicing a lot all year, so I think I’m ready,” she said.
As Victoria prepared, hundreds gathered in the North End to enjoy live musical performances and peruse the wares of local street vendors. Around Fisherman’s Corner, families stopped to snack on fresh pizza and pray before a flower-adorned altar for the Madonna.
For Dorothy Tortorici Paola, of Arlington, the feast is a yearly tradition and part of her heritage. The daughter of immigrants from Sciacca, Paola recalled watching the festival from the fire escape of the apartment on North Street where she and her 11 siblings grew up.
“We could be there late at night and my mother didn’t get mad,” she said.
Paola’s daughter, Rina Bonavita, said she remember playing in the Old North Church as a girl. Though many of their family members have moved out of the North End, they return each year to participate in the Feast.
The feast’s traditions originated in Sciacca in the 16th century and are carried on today in the Boston area by the descendants of immigrants from the Sicilian fishing village, who make up an 85-member religious society, said Victoria’s father, Mark Carregal.
Each year, society members nominate a girl — often one of their daughters — to play the role of the Flying Angel, Fialkosky said. Following a prayer by two “side angels,” the flying angel, dressed in flowing robes and sporting small wings, descends to recite a devotion in Italian before the Madonna.
Mark Carregal remembers being part of the parade floats as a young child and growing up to become one of the bearers for the Madonna’s procession. Now 46 and one of the festival’s directors, he sees the tradition as an important part of his life.
“My kids are starting to feel the same way,” he said. “They look forward to it.”
This year’s feast is also important for his 13-year-old son, who for the first time will take part in carrying the Madonna through the streets.
Though still a little nervous, Mark Carregal said he was excited to watch Victoria fly.
“I see my daughter — how excited she is carrying on the tradition,” he said. “I’m very proud.”