Serendipity and St Michael the Archangel

Monday, June 5, 2017, 22:08

A street decorated with lights in Vila Franca do Campo

Street decorations! These were the first indication that something was going on in Vila Franca do Campo on the island of São Miguel. One of the greatest delights of Portugal is arriving in a town to discover a 'festa' taking place. It's happened to us unexpectedly many times before and the night we arrived on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores it happened again. We settled into our hotel, the converted and renovated convent of St Francis, ( and then headed out for dinner.

To see what we found, click here. 
I have to confess that, to start with, hunger called rather more loudly than curiosity – and anyway we know that festas go on till late – so we went for dinner before investigating the lights.

Pork, prawns, chips and salad for dinner

Fortified by a huge hunk of pork – in the Azores, as in mainland Portugal, the assumption is that you must be close to starvation and therefore in need of feeding up – and two large prawns , with chips and salad, we felt sufficiently restored to go out and explore.

All we needed to do was follow our ears. Every settlement of any size in Portugal has a bandstand, and even if by some mischance they don't, you can hire a portable one. Often, they are in the centre of town, near the parish church.

The bandstand by the church of Sao Miguel in Vila Franca do Campo

In Vila Franca do Campo, the bandstand is next to the church of the Archangel Michael and the band was already playing classical music to people sitting on the steps leading up to the church. For a while we joined them to listen to the superbly played music. It is a delight to see that so many people play instruments in Portugal; even young people consider it 'cool' to study music and belong to local folk groups. Other people were patronising stalls in the square set up to cater for the inner person as well as the spirit. This is a view across the square to a second church taking a couple of stalls.

The Square outside the church of Sao Miguel in Vila Franco de Campo

After a while we decided to pop into the church of the Archangel Michael, and meet the patron of the celebrations. The grey and white nave was charmingly simple with polished wooden pews. There were only a couple of worshipers, at the front just before the altar; other than that we were alone so we could walk around and see the lovely flower decorations without disturbing those in prayer.

Nave in the church of Sao Miguel do Campo

At the east end of the church, the baroque altarpiece was shiny gold with a life size statue of the angel. Dressed as a warrior, Archangel Michael bears a shield and brandishes a sword to represent his victory over Satan and the fallen angels. Elsewhere, before the altar and scattered throughout the church, were his symbols, the sword and a pair of scales. We know what the sword represents but what about the scales?

The archangel Michael is said to accompany the faithful in their last hours of life and to guide their souls to judgement, where he is said to weigh their good deeds in life against their sins. Are they worthy of mercy and admission to heaven? If God is said to be loving, what is judgement without mercy? Surely that would be vengeance only?

There is said to be a small book in which the names of those admitted to heaven are written but, sadly, a rather larger book with the names of the condemned. Mind you there is an aphorism which says: "Heaven for the climate. Hell for the company." Bearing that in mind, when your time comes, would you want St Michael to choose, the big book or the little book for you?

The altar and statue of the Archangel Michael

In Portugal, it is a woman's job to decorate a church for Sunday or feast day worship and in the Azores they had been busy around the altars, before the lecterns and on the pillars.

A spray of flowers on a pillar

We sat a while to contemplate the flower arrangements and enjoy the peace. We had not, however, reckoned with the band. Unusually, in a place where you might expect perhaps hymns, an Agnus Dei or some plain chant, we were surprised suddenly to find the church echoing with a medley of ABBA songs played by the band outside. They chose all the well-known tunes: Dancing Queen, Fernando, Waterloo and particularly incongruously, I thought, Money, Money, Money.

We left them to it and wandered down some side roads before going back to the hotel. There we came upon an interesting garage. I can almost hear you repeating in puzzlement, 'An interesting garage?'. Well, if you wonder what in a garage can catch your attention read the next post.

Have you come across unexpected celebrations and been able to join in? Do tell us if you have. (If you are Portuguese, please feel free to write in your own language. You don't have to write in English. Lembre-se: o que é importante não é a língua mas a contribuição.)

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