Unique, extraordinarily beautiful and joyful is my description for the amazing Festa das Tochas Floridas in São Brás de Alportel. I am so glad we were able to go this year as it is a glorious tradition. Following on from yesterday’s post I thought I would begin today with a video of part of the procession so that the chant “Ressuscitou como disse! Aleluia, Aleluia, Aleluia!” becomes as fixed in your head as it was in ours yesterday.
Prior to the 20th century the singing and chanting was led by the clergy and choirs, but as their numbers have dwindled it became common practice for the chanting to be led by the people instead. One person will in each group will cry ‘Ressuscitou como disse!’ at some point – think it is random but not really sure! Then the group will stop walking and turn to face each other before responding with ‘Aleluia, Aleluia, Aleluia’. With every Hallelujah they lift their torch upwards. It is a much shorter chant than what the clergy would have said and I suspect they may not as been quite as exuberant as some of the men were yesterday. In fact the processional groups, called ‘confrarias’ in Portugal, seemed to compete with each other at times which just added to the joy of the day.
The chanting is not the only change that an 18th or 19th century would be surprised by. The flower torches are also apparently a 20th century introduction, replacing candles. I suspect the reason for the change was cost as large church candles would have been very expensive. The website however that I am obtaining all this information from indicates the main reason was a lack of wax. I was surprised by that given the amount of bee-keeping in Portugal, but perhaps it was the reason. There are early 20th century descriptions which bemoan the loss of the candles. However whilst a candle lit procession would shine brilliantly but wouldn’t you agree there is something rather special about celebrating with flowers? And as you can see the odd candle still exists.
Each group (confrarias) had its own style of torch and also preference for the type of flowers they used. I am guessing this reflects what would have happened when they carried candles, as there were once set standards for the colour and style of the confraria torches and crosses. Not sure if this is still true for the flower torches, but it looks like it might be. Some of the confrarias had incredibly complex and large torches; goodness knows how heavy they were!
The flowers may look very exotic but all of the flora can be found in the gardens and the hills that surround São Brás de Alportel. Last year you’ll may recall that I saw what I thought at the time were models of the bees created in flowers. I now know of course they were bee-orchids. I didn’t spot any bee-orchids this year (Easter is much later) but I did spot a birds nest! Unfortunately I was too busy looking at it and pointing it out to MrB to take a good photograph, however if you look very very carefully in the gallery below you might be able to spot it too.
It is not just confrarias which take part in the procession. It is after all first and foremost a religious event, and so the clergy, choir and congregation also take part.
It really is quite extraordinary, but it only lasts a day. In fact it is back to work here today in Portugal and also Spain, but if you are reading this in the United Kingdom then hope you are having a wonderful Bank Holiday Monday!