As the time for the procession draws near, men of the community begin gathering. Dressed in their Sunday best, they all bear torches made of flowers. This torch is fairly simple, but many others were towering constructions. Prizes are given for various categories of torches.
Eventually the plaza in front of the church is full of men bearing torches. And then they begin. One will call out (with the beautiful rolling R of the Algarvean accent): “Ressuscitou…como disse!” All of the others will then join in: “Aleluia! Aleluia…aleluia.” Each “aleluia” is accompanied by a raising and lowering of the torch, and the last one is chanted in a tone that drops almost to a murmur. Then, spontaneously, someone else will call out, and the others will respond. This goes on through the whole procession, which takes considerable time. I am told on good authority that many of the men carry flasks of alcohol with them, to “keep their throats wet.” The men carefully avoid stepping on any of the flowers. (I’m guessing that after a few drinks from those flasks, they might not be quite so careful.)
Behind them come the Scouts, then a group of girls carrying a huge living cross (covered entirely in ivy leaves), and finally the church dignitaries. The first person who is allowed to step on the flowers is a banner bearer, and behind him comes the andor, or bier, which carries the church’s symbol of the Holy Ghost.
Four men carry poles supporting the brocade cover over the andor, but I was very surprised to see that the bearers of the andor itself were all young women. Women are not usually allowed such important roles in Church events, and when I mentioned this to a local Portuguese resident (who hadn’t seen it), she was surprised as well. Maybe it’s a new tradition? If so, it’s a very welcome one.
After the andor comes the band — and a mass tromping of the flowers.
Once the band passes, it is officially open season on the carpet of flowers. Locals and visitors alike close in behind the band to follow the procession through town. The scent of the crushed flowers — especially the lavender blossoms and rosemary sprigs — is absolutely divine. I wanted to stay in town just to snort the air.
Those who aren’t following the procession will now hit the various cafés, though I did see a lot of people kneeling to handle and sniff various flowers and twigs.
My local source tells me that by the end of the event, when the torch-bearing men have gotten themselves a good snootful from their flasks (or from heading for the nearest bar afterwards), a fight often breaks out. I instantly imagined grown men in their Sunday suits, bashing each other over the head with their flower torches as petals flew everywhere. That would totally be worth the price of admission.
At any rate, the Procession of Torches really is a marvelous event, and has now earned a spot in our Easter tradition. Maybe next year I’ll get to see a flower fight.