“It was a miracle! And we almost missed it!”
This silent, candlelit parade is held here each year in October. This year, in spite of the restrictions, there was an unprecedented turnout and parking all the way to the Praia (beach) was at a premium. We left the car at Filipe, my bass player’s house (without calling in as he has two very large dogs which quite frankly scare me) and hoofed a couple of kilometres into town past hundreds of parked cars. This is a popular festival!
The men of Machico formed the main procession
As darkness fell, the focus was very much on the bridge leading to the ‘Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição’ or ‘Church of Our Lady of Conception’ in the centre of town.
No one was particularly dressed up for the occasion; it all seemed quite casual, everyday Madeirans going about their faithful devotions. Small queues formed at a side door of the church to buy metre-long candles which they rigged up with plastic cups to protect the
flickering flames from the wind. Then they joined the throng to walk the weary mile or two around Machico’s narrow streets. It was all quite sombre and reverential. Some of the faithful were also carrying a wax-doll figure whose purpose I couldn’t quite figure out. It looked slightly spooky to me but I’m sure there was a perfectly good explanation!
This was all in aid of a ‘Miracle’!
On 9th October 1803, flash floods struck the southern half of Madeira especially here in Machico, sweeping some 600 people out to sea. Sources suggest there might have been as many as 1000 lost souls!
In Machico, a small chapel was swept seaward by a resulting mudslide and with it was the statue of ‘Our Lord of Miracles’.
The small, 3-foot figurine was found three days later and taken to the Sé Cathedral in Funchal where it was painstakingly restored and eventually returned to a rebuilt chapel in Machico in 1813.
Every year since, a two-day festival has attracted Catholic pilgrims from all over the island to pay homage to ‘Our Lord of Miracles’ with a silent, candlelit procession through the town’s narrow passages.
Let’s call it a night
“we’d had enough”
We did our best to follow and photograph the silent procession without being obtrusive. None of the participants seemed to mind but after a block or tw o, we’d had enough. It was dark and tricky to get good shots. Slightly underwhelmed, we decided to call it a night!
The bridge into town was still thronging with pious pilgrims so I asked a taxi driver if we could skirt the crowds and get back to our car via the next bridge. As we prepared to do this, the fr ont of the procession appeared again, approaching the church. We decided to grab just a few last shots. We followed the group to the door of the church to where they were depositing their half-burned, meter-long candles (no doubt to be r ecycled and repaid
for next year).
The Real Deal
Suddenly, the bridge was alight with a far more luminescent procession. This was the real deal, the men of Machico, serious, swarthy, scary-looking dudes dressed in black and white with hug e, flaming firebrands. The main procession had just arrived! And we almost missed it!
Like moths to the flame, Sergio and I ducked and dived into their midst to try and g et the most impressive shots.
Unlike the passive public parade, these men sported stout wooden batons tipped with gunmetal, flambeau flick ering blue and yellow. It was most remarkable and impressive! Staring straight ahead with their masks on, it was a slightly unnerving sight. And I’m sure they did not appreciate our paparazzi presence! These guys were serious, solemn and stern. I felt intimidated but hopped on backwar ds getting as many images as possible!
We didn’t bother them too long! We got the message and left the Men of Machico to deliver their solemn proclamation and escort the ‘Lord of Miracles’ once more to the heart of this pious, former fishing community.
I really thought this had turned into a non-event! But thank God we were guided by divine intervention to hang around for another two minutes. Otherwise, we could have missed it all!