The Archangel Michael
I arrived in Ponta Delgada, from Boston, at 6:30 am Saturday morning in late May, but there was no room at the inn (hotel) at that time of day. The exit of the "Lord Holy Ghost of Miracles" from the convent where it lived was slated to occur at 4:30 pm. So I had a long day on my hands (and feet, not knees) after having napped for only short periods during a 4-plus hour flight from the US mainland to Portugal’s mid-Atlantic paradise.
Some determined persons, circling the square in front of the Convent of Our Lady of Hope and the neighboring St. Joseph’s, are crawling on hands and knees (or trying to), exercising their prerogative to publicly display a personal commitment of penance -- and yet even here they are frustrated by the unusually hot pavement baked under an intense sun. The few attempting this feat employ various techniques of protecting their hands and knees (using chunks of paper, for instance). But to my view these efforts failed miserably. I felt the pavement and withdrew my hand abruptly. I could only nod sympathetically to a woman supplicant passing nearby, who obviously was in some pain.
The quarter/half-mile stretch of pavement negotiated by these faithful Europeans is a worthy “trail of tears.” I did not observe “tears,” although I am sure some were discretely shed. This really is a celebration of hope, beginning at the Our Lady of Hope Convent. The stigma of calamity and sickness is lifted for at least a week.
The Lord of Miracles, himself, is elevated on a platform, carried on the shoulders of the elected. Although appearing somewhat somber, he is escorted by thousands of devoted in Ponta Delgada on a “path of flowers.” These colorful flower arrangements cushion the steps of marchers who pass by later in the day. If the sun is hot, children and adults take turns hosing water over the petals to keep them fresh; in order not to disappoint the visiting monarch from heaven.
The stop and start, patiently executed, procession is completed in about 4 or 5 hours until darkness. Then celebration, fun, food and beer, and song, carry on into the night.
Afterward, I hiked back to my hotel on the hill overlooking the illuminated city, and collapsed, exhausted and asleep in moments.
Azoreans are generally taciturn. My presence amongst them was accepted without complaint or apparent irritation, as I strove to remain low key and respectful of their communal efforts. Few persons volunteered any conversation; many older citizens who I queried shook their heads and politely indicated they lacked English-speaking skills. Younger residents generally exhibited a mild eagerness to share their thoughts with me, a traveller seriously deficient in the Portuguese language.
Of course, there were visitors from many places wandering about, especially from mainland Europe, but I couldn’t pick them out in the crowds. The off-islanders were significantly outnumbered. A pair of jovial women from nearby Madeira (Spain) introduced themselves and extolled their own island’s virtues. A musical band representing the contingent of Massachusetts’ members of the sect marched prominently in the early columns of steppers, but I encountered no other Americans (although I am sure some were present).