29. May, 2017

The legend of the Festa Do Espirito Santo

Azoreans believe that the Holy Ghost is a separate deity; they consider him to be a powerful and vindictive male with a decidedly human personality and specific likes and dislikes. A dove with outstretched wings on top of a silver crown and a silver scepter symbolize the Holy Ghost to the people of the Azores.

The legend of the Festa Do Espirito Santo dates back to Queen Isabela of Portugal, who reigned between 1295 and 1322. Queen Isabela was bothered by the many poor and hungry people of her country, and she pleaded with the Holy Ghost to help her starving people. She promised to sell her jewels and crown if He could help. Within days suddenly two ships appeared in a Portuguese harbor. Neither of the ships had any humans on it. The only contents were cattle on one ship and grain on the other. These ships were thought to be a miracle sent from the Holy Ghost in answer to Queen Isabela’s pleas. With this supply of cattle and grain, a large meal of meat and bread was prepared and a banquet served to the poor.

From that date forward, an annual banquet for the poor was given in the same manner as the first. The idea was to make the poor royalty for a day where they could eat and dance escaping from the drudgery of being poor. This celebration has continued annually and was brought to the Azores by either the Portuguese or the Flemings, maybe both. In the Azores a crown is placed on an emperor or empress, and he or she is escorted through the streets followed by a parade to the local church where Mass is held. The entourage goes to a designated area where there is a feast and a dance. This has wide variation depending upon the tradition and monetary support. Anyone is invited to eat, as it is free following the tradition of feeding the poor or the masses. The food is soup and sweet bread called "sopas" and "massa sovada" or "pao doce" respectively. On the crown is the symbol of a dove representing the Holy Ghost, the third member of the Christian Godhead.

After arriving at the church the queen and the princesses help read for mass and the priest crowns the queen in front of the faithful, praying over her and the community. After mass, the parade returns to the salon where the orchestra continues to play music and the kitchen begins to serve the meat stew to everyone. The soup is traditionally made up of Portuguese sausage, beef, potatoes, cabbage, and moist bread dipped in stew.

The festival of the Holy Spirit, is not celebrated in Portugal main land as it is done in many parts of the Azores, Brazil, Canada and the United States.