If you have been following me a while on this blog then you may recall three years ago we were lucky enough to be in Olhão da Restauração for the blessing of the sea. It was a rather joyous occasion, proceeded by the more sombre but equally fascinating Procissão do Senhor dos Passos. We then managed to miss it for the next two years, and so this year we were determined not to miss out again.
As in 2016 the procession began after Mass in Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário, and the sculpture of Jesus carrying the cross was again accompanied by a band and the scouts. The scouts always seem to be an essential element of any Portuguese procession, as do very loud unmusical church bells. Please be cautious with volume control if you play the bells!
The ‘Procissão do Senhor dos Passos’ dates back to the medieval ages, when crusaders who had visited Jerusalem decided on their return to Europe to relive their spiritual experience of the last journey of Jesus. And one of the ways they did this was by organising a procession marking fourteen moments from the journey. These days the processions can include between seven and thirty-nine moments; Olhão seems to have elected on seven.
Whilst the Crusaders came from across Europe, the invocation really only remains popular in Brazil and in Portugal, and from what I can gather usually takes place on the second or third Sunday during Lent. It isn’t though the easiest event to track down, and so for the curious tourist it is most likely to be something you stumble across on an evening stroll rather than being one you look out for and turn up for. And even if you do turn up remember the mass will overrun, and the procession will commence much later than scheduled. Yesterday we arrived about half hour after the scheduled time, and for a moment thought we might be dot on time as the band were meeting up, there were scouts dotted around and a few Portuguese waiting. However it was to be another 30minutes before the doors opened!
In Olhão as in many Portuguese towns Jesus is always accompanied by Our Lady. She does not reside in Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário. Instead she is in Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Soledade, a small funeral chapel just around the corner. We knew the main procession would stop so she could join them, so we and many members of the congregation went ahead to watch. And out she came just as the procession arrived. But then everything changed, rather than joining the main procession she was taken off in the opposite direction. We have no idea why, and the alteration caught out the men who were carrying her as they had to be instructed to turn around!
We decided to follow our Lady as we were intrigued where she was heading and for a moment in the narrow streets it felt like everyone else was doing the same. We caught up with her in the Praça Patrão Joaquim Lopes where we discovered a stage by the statue of the Moorish woman, Floripes. Rather ironic I thought that a Christian event started by the Crusaders should have their main event beside a Moorish legend. Stopping here was something new; in 2016 they simply heading straight through the square towards the sea. Maybe this meant the Blessing of the Sea was no longer an integral part. We would have though a while to find out as first we had to wait for the main procession to turn up and then for the band to stop playing.
It turned out the blessing of the sea is no longer part of the ceremony, or maybe 2016 was the only year it ever was. Such a shame as it was a rather moving and made the procession uniquely Olhanense. Still we did get a longer address from the priest, and this year we did not get distracted by the thought of a drink in one of the cafes, instead we watched the procession return.
By the way my apologies for my rather mediocre photographs in this post. On return to the apartment I discovered that I had managed to put my camera on a rather odd setting. At the time when I was taking them I simply thought it was because I had my sunglasses on in the shade, I really should know better! However my final video will give you a glimpse of what it was like in the procession.