Azoreans - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Catholicism is pervasive in Portuguese insular society and, through the agency of the parish churches and their patron saints, the Catholic church is an accessory to affairs of state. The Azorean publicly marks his or her faith by ceremonial display and by ritual performances (festas). Folk superstition typically penetrates the tenets of state-sponsored religion.

Religious Practitioners. The parish priest is the spiritual and liturgical leader of his flock, local agent of the church hierarchy, and earthly representative of divine intercession. He is assisted in his healing mission by removers of the evil eye, midwives, folk curers, herbalists, and, importantly, by the romeiros (pilgrims).

Ceremonies. The liturgical calendar is replete with Ceremonies for subsistence events, patron saints, and Christmas and Easter rites, the last culminating on Sao Miguel island in the week-long Senhor Santo Cristo festa and the Espirito Santo (Holy Ghost) feasts, which are held from April through June. The penitential journeys of groups of pilgrims ( ranchos dos romeiros ) during the seven weeks of Lent are uniquely Azorean. Romeiros, a group from each freguesia, visit island churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Nossa Senhora). Membership is open to men in good moral standing and spiritual health and willing to submit to specified terms of obedience. Romeiros are identified by their wooden staffs and by their dress; they move as a unit, chanting, singing, and praying.

Arts. Crafts not directly designed for household use (e.g., pottery, rush mats, embroidered items, wicker basketry) have a religious dimension (e.g., azulejos—glazed ornamental blue-and-white tiles—display scenes of religious devotion and are widely used in churches). The living arts, instrumental music from a twelve-stringed violão, dances such as the chamarrita, and ballads ( cantigas ) are all prominent in the festa.

Medicine. Government-run district hospitals are Gradually replacing small dispersed clinics operated under religious auspices ( misericórdia ). Outlying clinics now service mainly maternity cases. Rural folk curing has its counterpart in the urban farmácia where professionals diagnose, prescribe, and dispense medication. Deficient diet and sanitation, heavy smoking (among males), alcohol abuse, environmental stress, lack of education, and poverty account for the bulk of islander health problems. Dentistry is virtually nonexistent.

Death and Afterlife. Beliefs are grounded in Catholic theology. Salvation is for true believers. Protracted mourning by black-draped widows and bereaved males with black armbands has been the norm; however, males are much likelier to remarry. Funerals are formal ceremonial occasions, and well-tended village cemeteries display elaborate accoutrements.

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Mar 1, 2017 @ 4:04 am
Hello there. I am very curious about Azores religions. Because I know the historic relation between Portugal and the Azores I always assumed the biggest religion on the archipelago was Roman Catholic. But I have a few colleagues who insisted that Islam was the biggest religion on the archipelago. Can someone help me out of this doubt? Thanks
stephanie Tavares-Buhler
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Oct 18, 2018 @ 9:21 pm
Re the Muslim connection: I did research on how the islands we're populated during my undergrad years. There were four main groups I was able to find: Dutch peasants from the very early protestant revolts, "reformed" Jews from Portugal still under suspicion by the inquisition, Portuguese rabnle rousrrs or in the whaling/fishing industry, and misc. people (including Moors) who jumped ship or were involved in transport by ship (trade, slavers, whaling, fishing). UC Berkeley has excellent original records from the very early years.

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