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Terceira Island Events

Along with the various pilgrimages, the picturesque ranchos dos Reis, the groups who travel over the parishes singing Christmas carols, and the lively Carnival dances, the Festivals of the Holy Ghost are the events that best express the feelings of the people of Terceira.

Holy Ghost Festivals – Throughout Terceira Island

Linked to Franciscan mysticism and the charitable spirit of Queen St. Elizabeth of Portugal (16th century), the Festivals of the Holy Ghost came to the Azores with the first settlers. The invocation of the Holy Ghost at the time of the natural catastrophes that struck the archipelago, along with the fame of the consequent miracles together with the hard life and isolation of the islands, contributed to making the devotion that created deep roots which persist in the Azores (while disappearing in Portugal with rare exceptions). Moreover, Azorean emigrants carried the devotion to Brazil, America, and Africa, where the old ceremonies are now repeated in all traditional splendor. The Holy Ghost Festivals are also held in Hawaii, where there is a large Azorean community.

Of a charitable nature, the festivals are aimed at distributing food to the needy. Everything starts on Trinity Sunday with the drawing of the names among the “brothers” to determine who will be the “mordomos” (or stewards) of the festival in the following year.

The first to be chosen keeps the insignia of the Holy Ghost (crown and scepter on a silver plate) in his house until Low Sunday, when the festivities begin with “balhos” (dances) accompanied by guitars and singing while the throne of the Holy Ghost is set up and profusely decorated in the stateroom, the main apartment of the house. The coronation ceremony is then held in the parish church where the crown is placed on the head of a child or adult called the emperor who carries in procession the symbols of his dignity to the house of another steward in a ceremony called “disposing of the crown” where it is kept for a week. On every Sunday following the crown, scepter, and plate are passed on to the houses of the other stewards until the feast day itself, when they are displayed in the “Imperio” (literally, empire) or chapel.

On that day the beef, offered to fulfill promises, is made into the typical “Holy Ghost soups” and the fragrant “alcatra” (meat dish) accompanied by various types of bread and “massa sovada” (sweet bread made from kneaded dough). The aromatic red wine called “vinho de cheiro” is consumed by all the inhabitants of the parish and its visitors, in an atmosphere of great rejoicing. The festivals are never lacking in “foliões” or jesters, who are entrusted with the task of announcing, directing, and animating the ceremonies with singing accompanied by music on a drum and cymbals, called “testos”. In rural parishes the festival ends with a lively and colorful “tourada a corda” (bullfight on a rope). The Festivals of the Holy Ghost extend from early spring to the end of the summer, spreading joy all over the island.

The Sao Joaninas or “City’s Festival”

This Terceira “festa” is connected to the traditions of the so-called Popular Saints: St. Anthony, St. John, and St. Peter. With the passage of the years these festivals have been turned into bullfighting events, with lively “bullfights on ropes”, where bulls tethered at the end of a rope roam the streets and performances by “toreadors” on horse and on foot are center stage in the arena. The Sao Joaninas usually include an ethnographic procession with old farm folk costumes and the typical vehicles called “carros de toldo”.

The festivals last for several days around St. John’s Day (24th of June). They are held in the city of Angra do Heroismo.

Touradas a Corda (Bullfighting on a Rope) – Held Throughout Terceira Island

The bullfighting tradition on Terceira goes back to the 16th century, due to the abundance of cattle, which at that time was over 100,000 head (according to historians) and the fact that the first settlers came from provinces where bullfighting was deep-rooted.

Added to that was the later Castilian presence and influence in the 17th century. Terceira bullfights developed along the centuries a unique technique perfectly adapted to the local conditions the skill of the bullfighters and the tastes of the population; the always merry and lively “bullfighting on a rope”. In this modality the movements of the bull are conditioned by a rope held by a group of men, formerly called “mascarados da corda” (masked men of the rope). The bulls, bred in the pastures of Terceiras’ central region, are chosen for their ability to follow figures and their cunning. The bull, with its horns padded, is then let loose on the streets of the parish, the windows and balconies of which are crowded with people eager to cheer the spectacle. Fireworks are set and men and the bull immediately start running about, with steps that are sometimes luckier than others. “Parasol lucky” is the colorful name that has been given to the maneuvers that have been devised. It consists of putting the parasol (usually red) suddenly in front of the bull and trying to avoid his horns in the subsequent charge, while the men on the rope moderate its momentum. Their job is to not be dragged along while deliberately giving the bull a little more freedom to liven up the show. “Bullfighting on a Rope” has evolved with the passing of time and now held near the ocean and on beaches and shallows where boats are run upon for repairs. Everyone involved, including the bull, takes repeated baths in salt water in the midst of the laughs, shouts, and hisses of the spectators. Bullfights are held every day somewhere in Terceira between May 1st and September 30th.