The Festive celebrations of the Azores

The religious nature of the Azorean people is apparent in their manifestations throughout the year on all religious holidays and in the number of emigrants from around the world which arrive to participate in the festivities and alms giving on these special occasions.

The largest religious feast in the Azores is the “Festa do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres”, (Festival of the Christ of Miracles), which takes place on the 5th Sunday after Easter, in the city of Ponta Delgada, São Miguel. Many pilgrims from all over unite in a true manifestation of faith as they follow behind the image of Christ on a three hour procession along the flower decorated streets of Ponta Delgada. 

The origin of the Image

The “Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres” Christ of Miracles cult began in São Miguel at the Caloura Convent. It was here that the first Religious Convent was erected on the island. It was imperative that someone go to Rome to receive the Apostolic Papal “bull”, - a document of recognition necessary for a convent. Two sisters travelled then to Rome from São Miguel. Not only did they receive the necessary document, but they were also given a statue of the Lord “Ecce Homo”. Caloura became too exposed to pirates, being on the coast. Some sisters moved to a convent in Vila Franca and the others went to Ponta Delgada, including Madre Inês who took with her the statue of the Christ of Miracles. 

The first procession

In 1700, the island of São Miguel was repeatedly hit by tremors. When the hospital administrators realised that the tremors wouldn’t stop, they decided to go the monastery and ask for permission to take the statue in procession around the square. On the 13th of April 1700, the religious groups, brotherhood, and nobility all gathered and followed the statue of the Christ of Miracles barefoot. The commotion was immense when the statue appeared. The nobility carried the statue and it was worshiped by the people at every church they passed. Then an incredible thing happened, the statue fell off its’ support, not sideways, but through the top. The crowd asked for mercy as it fell but only a small piece of the arm was damaged. It was then taken to the St.Andrew’s convent, cleaned and returned to the procession until it withdrew to the Esperança Monastery. 

Today, before and after this solemn event, other activities animate the afternoons and eve­nings in and around the church square. During the four days of festivity the faithful followers and interested bystanders partake in the cele­brations. 

In Graciosa, the devotion and homage to the “Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres”, is cele­brated with equal intensity. Every year during the month of August in Santa Cruz, the people celebrate the event with their best decorations and ornaments. 

The Azoreans also demonstrate their religious faith by gathering in Furnas on the first Sunday after Easter to assist the “Procissão do Senhor dos Enfermos”, (Procession of Our Lord of the Sick). The streets are covered in multicoloured flower petals simulating unending intricate car­pets on which the procession passes in order to bring hope and comfort to the homes of the sick and infirm. 

The “Procissão de São Miguel ou do Tra­balho”, (The Procession of St.Michael and La­bour), on the first Sunday after May 8th in Vila Franca includes all artisans who pay homage to their Patron Saint thanking and asking for re­newed strength in their works. The “Festa do Bom Jesus da Pedra”, (Jesus of the Stone), is also a sincere manifestation of faith on the last week of August also in Vila Franca. 

Another tradition of a religious nature worthy of mention occurs in São Miguel. The “Ran­chos de Romeiros”, groups of men which are organised in every parish, travel throughout the island on foot for eight days during the Lent­en season to fulfil a promise. They stop to pray at every church and chapel which has an alter dedicated to The Holy Mary. 

The feasts of “Nossa Senhora da Assunção”, (Our Lady of Ascension), occurs every year throughout the Archipelago on the 15th of Au­gust. The feast in “Vila do Porto, Santa Maria” is the largest since this is the Island’s Patron Saint. The Festival “Maré de Agosto”, (August Tide) also takes place at this time in Santa Ma­ria. It attracts many people from the islands, Portugal and other Azorean communities to lis­ten to the various musical groups which partic­ipate in the festival. 

The Feasts of the “Divino Espirito Santo”, (Divine Holy Spirit) which takes place all over the Archipelago commencing with Pentecostal Sunday and many Sundays following it, differ in characteristics from island to island and town to town. The similarities are, the “Grande Coro­ação”, (Great Crowning) and the distribution of food especially the “Sopas do Império”, (Impe­rial Soup), as tradition dictates. 

The religious spirit of the people is felt from the Pentecost to the end of the summer on every Sunday in each town in “Terceira”. The festivities culminate with the giving of the “bodo” to the needy with the distribution of the famous “Sopas do Espirito Santo”, (Divine Holy Spirit Soup), and the “Alcatra”, (Roast Beef) in the Clay pot, which in turn is made up of beef offered to the Holy Spirit. All is accompanied with bread, water bread, sweetbread, “Massa Sovada”, (Sweetloaf), and aromatic “Vinho de Cheiro”, (“Morangueiro”). All this is enjoyed and shared by anyone present. 

The festivals come to a close especially in the towns and villages with the exciting “touradas à corda”, (street bullfights). The bull is usual­ly tied to a rope and managed by the crowd through the streets at the risk of those who choose to participate. 

Between the 23rd and 29th of June the pop­ular saints are honoured: St.Anthony, St.Peter (Carvalhadas de São Pedro em Ribeira Grande, São Miguel) and St.John. The “Sanjoaninas” Festival which takes place on the island of Terceira, is a large religious celebration which manifests all traditional folklore. 

The traditional bullfights in the plaza occur continuously and the bullfights in the streets, peculiar to this island, are worth seeing. The only bullfighting ring in the region is found in Terceira, where the world renown Festival or Taurine Fair takes place during the festival week. 

At the same time in “Vila Franca”, São Miguel the “São João da Vila” Festival takes place with a parade of well organised and colourful march­es, dances and many other festivities through­out the week. 

In “São Jorge”, in addition to the festivals in honour of the parishes, the “Romaria à Nossa Senhora do Carmo”, (Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Carmo), in the “Fajã” of the Vines on July 16 and the “Romaria do Santo Cristo”, (Pilgrim­age of Christ), in the “Fajã” of the same name on the 1st Sunday in September, uniting all the faithful to pay homage. 

As focal point, the devotion to “Nossa Senho­ra de Lourdes”, (Our Lady of Lourdes), elected patron saint to the Whalers, begins in “Lajes, Pico” on the last Sunday in August and extends through the week, Whalers Week. During which time many social cultural events connected to the ancient art of whale hunting take place. 

The “Festas de Santa Maria Madalena”, (Saint Mary Magdalene Festival), in the town of Madalena on July 22nd and the “Bom Jesus”, (Good Christ Festival), on August 6th in S.Ma­teus, are other religious manifestations of the Pico people. 

The “Festa das Vindimas”, (Wine Harvest Festival), takes place during the first week of September and is a century old custom practised by the people of Pico. The culture of grape vines and the production of famous wines that reached the tables of the Czars of Russia is the reason behind the cultural sportive and social activities which entertain the populace of Madalena. 

Of the many religious festivals which take place in Faial, the one most worth mentioning is “Nossa Srª das Angústias”, (Our Lady of Agony), in the city of Horta. During this time many people from Pico also participate in the celebration. 

Also in Faial, on the 24th of June many peo­ple congregate on “Largo Jaime Melo” and cel­ebrate the “Festa de São João” (St.John Fes­tival). 

In “Flores” in every village on Good Friday, the processions of the Stations of the Cross, are witnessed, the “Sanjoaninas” and “Nos­sa Senhora da Conceição” in Santa Cruz, the “Festa do Emigrante” and “Nossa Senhora do Rosário” in Lajes, the “Festa dos Reis” in Fa­zenda, the “Festa Nossa Senhora da Saúde” in Fajã Grande and the “Festa Nossa Senhora das Flores” in the Matos chapel are all occasions which demonstrate the religious nature of the Florentines. 

In Corvo the people celebrate their patron saints “Nossa Senhora dos Milagres”, (Our Lady of Miracles), on August 15th every year in addition to the festivals of the Divine Holy Spirit. 

Other Social-Cultural traditions which should be seen take place periodically throughout the year: 

  • The “Festival da Maré de Agosto” (August tide Festival), takes place every year begin­ning on the 15th of August in Praia Formosa, Santa Maria. It is a musical festival and cele­brates local, national and international talent; 
  • The “Semana Cultural de São Jorge” (Cultural Week in São Jorge) (April) in the town of Velas and the “Festival da Música Jovem” (Young Music Festival) (July) in Calheta; 
  • The “Festa ou Semana dos Baleeiros” (Whal­er’s Week Festival) in August in Lajes, Pico and the “Semana das Vindimas” (Grape Fes­tival) in September in Madalena, Pico; 
  • And the already renowned “Semana do Mar” (Sea Week), dedicated almost exclusively to Nautical Sports, takes place in August in the hospitable city of Horta, the Yachtsman’ Cap­ital who come to dock and fill up on supplies in Faial; 
  • The “Festa do Emigrante”, (Emigrant festi­val) in Lajes, Flores, takes place on the third Monday of July,(Municipal holiday) at a time when the island is covered in flowers. (which is where the name “Flores” came from). It is a week long festival for the emigrants who return to visit their native land. 

Some purely recreational activities worth mentioning are: 

  • The “Danças de Entrudo” (Carnival Dances and Marches), which during Carnival time take place in many of the towns in Terceira along with the exciting and exhaustive “Toura­das da praça ou à corda” the Bullfights in the ring and on the streets, enticing both island people and visitors; 
  • The Carnival in Graciosa, enjoyed by all with great enthusiasm in the associations and local clubs where large groups of all ages march by in imaginative and colourful costumes; The parading of various Dance and Carnival groups occur throughout the islands and many time with costumes depicting a certain political or cultural criticism of the times. 

Many folklore festivals take place in the many towns and villages of the islands. They are ac­companied by the town philharmonic or one of the many folklore groups. Traditional dress and traditional dance themes are the order of the night and may include: 

  • The “Sapateia, Manjericão, Balho-furado, Pezinho-da-Vila, Chamarrita, Cana-Verde” accompanied by the island guitar, in São Miguel; 
  • The “Pezinho da Graça, Moda do Moinho da Mão, Alfinete, Balão, Romance do Cego, Mouros, Eu fui acima da rocha”, danced to the sound of the typical wire guitar, the trian­gle and rod, and other string instruments in Santa Maria; 
  • The “Sã-Macaio, Tirana” and the lighthearted and comical “Velhas” in Terceira; 
  • The “Caracol, Larum-tum-tum, Rema” in Pico; 
  • The “Chamarrita Encaracolada, Ciranda, Péz­inho de Baixo” in Flores. 

Many other Azorean folkloric melodies are sung and danced to, cheerfully and graciously, on these nine volcanic islands surrounded by water called the Azores.