Festa das Tochas

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:

carpet before

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.

carpet closeup

A closeup of part of the carpet (no wood shavings here).

"Ressucitou como disse!"

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.

lazy torches

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.

winning torch

Though not actually in the procession, this torch gets the prize: a beautiful stalk of Clivia.

carpet after

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.)

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in culture, Portugal. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Festa das Tochas

  1. JMG says:

    Oregon, even though I don’t know São Brás nor have ever seen the celebration you so charmly describe, I’m pretty much sure the church is not “Igreja de Matriz”. Matriz is not a name nor a place, it is the title of some churches (the ones with jurisdiction over other churches and chapels), like cathedrals or basilics. So, it should be named “Igreja Matriz of São Brás”.

    • oregon expat says:

      Thank you for this clarification. I looked a bit further and indeed it is the Igreja Matriz de São Brás de Alportel, also (confusingly) called the Igreja Paroquial de São Brás de Alportel. I suspect “Igreja Matriz” is the local shorthand name.

      It’s now fixed in the post.

  2. davidmalta says:

    Plenty of Easter celebrations going on here in Malta as well, I think it’s a southern European thing. Nice to see though, it brings a real sense of occasion, not to mention local pride.

  3. Ana_ñ says:

    How great to go to this annual celebration through your posts!

    It is said that, in the sacking of Cadiz in 1596, the English took lots of ‘vino de Jerez’ (which they call “sherry”). Since then, they haven’t stop to generously consume this wine. 🙂

  4. xenatuba says:

    As a non-religious person, I enjoyed watching this procession immensely (and not just for the band, which properly had the tubas in front!) The sense of community was visible, as was the personal pride in taking part in the march. I wish that the flower gatherers, route markers, and torch makers had been visible as well.

    • Lilaine says:

      I wish that the flower gatherers, route markers, and torch makers had been visible as well.

      They were visible: in each of their creations all along the path, on the ground and in the air, and of course, among the spectators on the sides and the crowd of followers: that makes them present everywhere 😉

  5. Lilaine says:

    Still no flower fight? 😉

  6. IsabelPS says:

    I know now what is the vegetable you don’t recognize! It is a flowering cabbage, a couve galega or couve de horto (or just horto, as my Sr. Carlos calls it).

    • oregon expat says:

      Aha! Thank you! I did think it might be a flowering cabbage, but when I googled some images, none of them matched. This helped.

      Hey, it’s used in caldo verde…cool.

  7. restlessjo says:

    Even stranger- here you are in Sao Bras! I’ve written about the festival too and thought it was as lovely way to spend an Easter Sunday morning.

  8. restlessjo says:

    You’re a “neighbour” then and please excuse the extra “s” in the above.

  9. kenji says:

    yes,i have many couve galega.it is a couve galega.

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