Anybody who has been following this blog for any length of time knows that I’m obsessed with the Templar history of Portugal. I’ve been all over Europe and the Middle East to see Templar sites, but I always come back to Portugal. Being half-Portuguese of course has nothing to do with it 🙂
August will see me visiting some incredible places and events and blogging to you direct from them:
Tomar – the evocative headquarters of the Knights Templar. A small town now dominated by a Templar fortress on top of a hill. The peaceful beauty of Tomar today belies its violent past as the front line between Christian and Muslim Europe in the Middle Ages. I’ll share with you some thrilling Templar stories and great pictures
Santa Maria da Feira – this town hosts an extremely popular festival called the Medieval Journey. They stage a huge mock battle and this year the theme is King Afonso IV. He was the son of King Dinis of Portugal who saved the Templars by cunningly renaming them the Order of Christ and giving the knights royal protection
Viana do Castelo – I’ve been visiting this town for over forty years and in August, it stages a festival for Our Lady of Agony This includes several women who dress as Mary, mother of Jesus, with fake swords plunged in their chests (well, they appear to be!) to symbolise the agonies she endured at the crucifixion
Sintra – A forest just outside Lisbon with fairytale castles, a huge wall built by the invading caliphate in the medieval period and tunnels some believe are linked to the Knights Templar
Porto and Lisbon – the first and second cities of Portugal both dripping with history but quite different. Porto, the launchpad for the crusader invasion of Lisbon, which was then under Muslim control and called Al-Usbunna
In a society where literacy wasn’t as widespread as it is today and there was no entertainment from theatres, cinemas or the TV – let alone online technology – the average serf in the Middle Ages was a sucker for visual and colourful display. This was most in evidence on the many feast days that the church peppered the calendar with, normally associated with rhythms of the agricultural year.
Rituals, processions, mystery plays and gaudy decoration where all part of bringing the bible to life for ordinary people – particularly given that the bible was an expensive book, illuminated by monks, often chained up in the church and written in Latin.
In those parts of Europe where the Reformation resulted in the Catholic church being overthrown, it’s rare to see this kind of showy religiosity anymore. The use of idols and reference to saints and superstition was hated by the Protestants. But in many parts of southern Europe, you can still get a sense of what the medieval festivities would have been like.
I visited the northern Portuguese town of Viana do Castelo during their “Romaria” this year – a four day festival celebrating Our Lady of Agony. Saints were carried round, biblical scenes acted out and local people danced and sang. The willingness of the Catholic church to turn a blind eye to some of the more pagan elements of this goes back to the early church and the need to subsume pagan ritual and practice into the church – to swallow up old practices and re-brand them. So where a pagan goddess was once processed round a Roman town – she was duly replaced by the Virgin Mary.
The mix of pagan and Christian is still very evident to me but I leave you to judge from the images below.