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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Christians festivities of the month of June in 18th and 19th century Portugal I - Saint Anthony


There's this tradition in Portugal that involves towns and holy-men and festivities to celebrate them. They are called “festas populares” (poplar festivities).
Some say they're based on the attempt of the Christian church to erase pagan celebrations by swapping them with saints and holy people, but the fact is that there are 3 main saints that are celebrated in Portugal and are the cause of street festivities and a holiday for each town that chooses them to be their “santo padoreiro” (patron saint). These men are: Saint Anthony (celebrated by the city of Lisbon, on the13th of June), Saint John (celebrated by the city of Porto, amongst others, on the 24th) and Saint Peter (and Saint Paul, on the 29th). They are the most important saints of the Julian Calendar.

The Holy Inquisitional Court of Portugal authorizes a bull fight in the city of Lisbon on the 17th of September of 1778 to celebrate saint Anthony. Picture Taken of the mentioned book.

The one I'll be focusing more on today will be Saint Anthony and the celebrations that happen in the city of Lisbon, called “marchas populares” (poplar marches), followed by street balls in every quarter of the town, food and beverages.
Saint Anthony was a friar of the Franciscan Order, born in Lisbon, in the late 12th century and canonized after death in the 13th century by Pope Gregory IX, for his miracles. You can read more about his work on the internet. It is therefore that the city of Lisbon chose his protection and celebrates him each year with dances and singing on the streets, that today we know as “marchas populares” (poplar marches).
According to the book “A marcha é linda – Lisboa-o culto a Santo António, as marchas populares da cidade”, Carlos Caseiro, Ideias&Rumos, 2003, the origins of these marches may be the “danças do entrudo”, involving pranks, games and organized dancing and singing groups that would perform on the streets in front of the royal and noble houses of the city of Lisbon for “Mardi-Grass”, very popular in the Middle Ages, but definately with pagan origins. Some regions in Portugal have similar tradtions, ver particular to their region. I would suggest you would go on google images and tipe “Entrudo em Portugal”.
A later influence would be the French “marche aux flambeaux”, that introduced the candeled balloons and the dancing and marching in a square formation. These “marche aux flambeaux” has an origin in France after the capitulation of the crown and the yearly celebrations of the Bastille day. Soldiers would carry torches and march through the city of Paris followed by the people.
In 1787, Lord Beckford complained about these celebrations of the anniversary of the Saints death, 13th of June stating that the river was illuminated by several fires across the city heating the air and making it very difficulty to breath; that little fire-crackers were thrown on the ground scaring the donkeys and horses; that even the poorest house or street was decorated with flowers; that from sunrise to sundown all what the people seemed able to do was jump around, dance, sing and play the viola; that all that magnificence was starting to tired him and that he was sure he wouldn't be able to sleep unless Saint Anthony would perform a miracle.

(Violent) Games during the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro, Augustus Earle, 1822, National Library of Australia.

There are innumerable websites on the internet that state this fact, but be aware!!! I have not found one that was accurate. The most common mistakes I found were these: they say that the origins of the “marchas populares” came from the Napoleonic Invasions, that, according to these websites, happened in the 18th century. Besides confusing the 1800 with the 18th century, they also attribute the modern festivities we know to the French. Not at all!!! The French Invasions happened in the early 19th century, the fall of the French crown in late 18th century and what the French brought to Portugal, when they invade it, was what I said above (fire and marching in a square). Celebrations involving Christian holy-men already existed in Portugal!!! It is only in 1932 (over a century later) at the modern “marchas populares” happen (on the 12th of June), organized by famous theater directors, actors and journalist of the time.

Photo o f the Poplar Marches in Lisbon in 1932. Picture taken from the book mentioned above. Funny enough, the men are dressed in late 18th to early 19th century clothing.

It is the joy of christian vs pagan celebrations and having an organized street party that the 1st Portuguese settlers took to Brazil and adding the native and the African influences, then later originated the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro. But this is all I'm going to say about this matter; I would need a whole different post to talk about that.

1 comment:

Le Loup said...

I have often questioned the information supplied by so called experts when they don't even know the difference between the 18th century & the 19th century!
Regards, Keith.