On Easter Sunday, we took our guests to watch the Festa das Tochas (Festival of Torches) in São Brás. I blogged about this fabulous bit of pageantry in two parts last year, here and here, so I’ll just add a bit of history today.
In 1596, Sir Walter Raleigh and a bunch of English and Dutch raiders sacked Cadiz, Spain, and then moved on to Faro, a coastal city on the Portugal side of the border and only a few kilometers away from São Brás. Faro and São Brás were connected by a cobbled road in those days, and São Brás had considerable standing as the summer residence of the Bishop of Faro.
Legend has it that after burning Faro, the marauders traveled up that cobbled road toward São Brás, intent on more mayhem. The men of São Brás, armed only with clubs and branches, successfully defended their town and sent the attackers packing. Then they decorated their wooden weapons with flowers and returned home in triumph. Their victory was celebrated with a mass in the Igreja Matriz de São Brás, which is the start and end point of the modern procession today. The men shout “He rose [was resurrected] as he said!” as they hoist their flower torches in the air, which I suppose is more Easterish than “We kicked their butts in 1596!”
Anyway, a few photos from this year’s celebration:
The dreadful drought that has so affected Portugal was readily apparent in the traditional carpet of flowers. Every year, the ladies of the town collect wildflowers in the surrounding hills in order to lay out this carpet, but this year there are hardly any wildflowers to be seen. So they got creative, and used colored wood shavings.
A closeup of part of the carpet (no wood shavings here).
A group of torch bearers shouting their hallelujas. They definitely get into rivalries with other groups, competing to see who can be loudest or fanciest. I did note one man talking into his mobile phone between chants, which cracked me up.
Two of my favorite torches: a frond from a palm tree, and a flowering stalk of…I’m not sure what, but it looks like it came from a vegetable garden.
Though not actually in the procession, this torch gets the prize: a beautiful stalk of Clivia.
The carpet is thoroughly pulverized after the procession, and the town smells divine for hours afterwards.
(You can biggify any of the photos by clicking on them, or view them in a slide show.)