The Divino Espirito Santo in Ponta Delgada

Finally finished! I’ve had trouble writing this one – it’s quite hard work to say something reasonably concise and accurate about the religious traditions of another culture with another language – for once selecting and ordering pictures was the easy part!

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The Holy Spirit Festivals date back to the colonisation of the islands in the fifteenth century. The exact origins of them are unclear, but they were probably inspired by Queen Saint Isabel of Portugal, who pledged her crown to the Holy Spirit as a plea to stop a famine, and later began a tradition to feed the poor on Pentecost, and heavily influenced by Franciscan monks among the early settlers, who worshipped the Holy Spirit according to doctrines proposed by Joachim of Fiore.

This, and the accompanying belief in a post-Revelation third age ruled directly by it with no need for the Church didn’t find favour with the Pope, and it’s probably no coincidence that Franciscans were the first religious orders to take part in the settlement of the Azores. Though they’re rooted in Catholicism, the ceremonies are now unique to these islands and parts of the Americas where Azorean emigrants have settled.

Brotherhoods of the Holy Spirit are still found in each village and neighbourhood in the islands today. Their main principles are hope, faith in the divine, egalitarianism, solidarity and charity, and autonomy from the church (I’m guessing that last was the controversial one, though the local churches appear quite involved in some of the ceremonies today).

The festivities take place over a number of weeks after Easter, based around the Imperio of the local brotherhood. This would once have been a temporary structure, but they’re now usually colourful buildings, which serve as a base for religious rituals as well as the collection and distribution of donations.

An Imperador or mordomo is chosen for that year, and  makes a pledge to provide food for friends, family and the poor of the village. They’re usualy selected randomly from the local Brotherhood, though someone who’d had good fortune during the year might step forward to volunteer.

There are a number of religious ceremonies and rituals over the six or seven weeks after Easter, and other celebrations based on sharing food and drink. Normally this is just for the village or parish concerned, but recently some cities have started holding condensed versions as big public events, including Ponta Delgada.

There were long tables and benches round all four sides of the Campo de Sao Francisco for the serving of the Sopa (soup) do Espirito Santo to anyone and everyone.

They were all packed with people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, and crowds waiting patiently if noisily nearby ready to take their turn as soon as seats became free.

Recipes for the traditional soup vary – the one served here involved beef, cabbage and potatos, seasoned with mint. It was very nice, as was the conversation with my neighbours, though it was rather limited by Portuguese. It helped that the picture on the bottles of local wine showed where I’d been anchored a few days before!

The local papers reckon that over 12,000 people attended, which I can certainly believe, and over a tonne of meat was used, which is rather harder to imagine! The four kitchens at the corners of the square must really have had their work cut out, and if I ever see so many underage scouts hurrying around with bottles of wine again it will probably signal some kind of irretrievable breakdown of society.

As it is it’s an impressive demonstration of society working together to put on a huge event while saving the council money – the food and drinks for the feast and distribution to charities was donated by local companies, only local performers were booked and there were no fireworks (for a change at a Portuguese festival!).

From the voices in the crowd it certainly sounded like it brings a lot of emigrants and their families back to the islands, as well as other tourists and of course being a big event for the locals.

The main course was followed up by a delicious rice pudding – really rich and creamy, topped with cinnamon.

And then a big parade, with all 24 parishes on the island represented in the procession: lots of ox-carts, decorated floats, folk groups and marching bands.

I think this pair of oxen may have drawn the short straw when it came to enthusiasm of the designers.

As if there hadn’t been enough food already, the bread van was distributing the very tasty sweet massa sovada to all and sundry

and I suspect the Sagres float was even more popular, though I do wonder how long the pumps were able to keep going before the driver had to roar off down a side street in search of more beer.

The next day was more solemn, with the Bishop of the Azores leading an open-air mass on the steps of the main church, followed by the coronation and blessing of the mordomos for this year. The active participation of the clergy is actually a more modern development rather than a central part of the ceremony – traditionally the community was addressing the Holy Spirit directly.

followed by the Bodo de Leite, a ritual serving of milk and the massa sovada bread to everyone – again the locals were very keen on including everyone.

The Folioes do Divino who’d accompanied the coronation were playing at various places around the square, though it did look to me as though they were going to cause chaos when they moved to the exit from the Bodo de Leite serving area..

 

The evening was finished off by the Ponta Delgada Light Orchestra who were definitely enjoying themselves, putting on an exuberant performance of songs from the 70s to the 90s. I think a certain group of people down in the Canaries play Proud Mary better though : )

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Responses to “The Divino Espirito Santo in Ponta Delgada”

  1. Pieter (markant) Says:

    Nice blog. Left Horta already? All the best to you.

    Pieter

    • maidofmettle Says:

      Hello Pieter, good to hear from you, and thanks! Yep, left yesterday and on Graciosa now, though the blog just hasn’t got to Horta yet…

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