We, Juha and I, were there on the occasion of the most important religious time of the islands.We witnessed the sincere, simple, yet profound faith of the people who call this place their home.
There is no mystery as great as faith, when it is deep, pious and sincere. When it make us brethren then it is sublime.
The good people of the island express themselves in the most profound way they can: in believing their almighty souls will be saved by the intercession of Jesus. We are sinners but we can be saved if we renounce sin, if we take the three virtues into daily use. Faith, hope and charity can save us us from the grim eternal fire of hell.
This is the time of year, this Holy Week, in our lives, when can and should consider the stuff of which we are made.
A very short history of the Brotherhood of the Pilgrims
The tradition of the pilgrimage of a band of brothers is over 500 years in the making. The local people call these travelers “romeiros” which translates as pilgrims. Etymologically though, it means pilgrims to Rome and not Judea.
On the 22nd day of June in 1522, a massive seismic calamity claimed the lives of circa 5000 souls on this green island. The island had been populated from the early years of the previous century but the population had not grown with any haste.

One of the first acts of the survivors, after the devastation, was to construct a small hermitage-shrine to the honour of Our Lady of the Rosary. It became a place of pilgrimage for the survivors. Archangel Island (now called St Michael of the Archangel of St Michael, is the principal island in the nine island archipelago)  had suffered seismic eruptions in the middle of the fourteen hundreds (1439-1444) but little is known of what happened to the islanders. Some years later, more eruptions claimed lives. The resilient souls built churches and shrines. In 1586, and eruption caused mayhem and destruction but a church dedicated to Our Lady was spared. The pilgrimages started at this time. The “ranchos” is made up of men and boys, who in early spring traverse the island singing verses of praise and benediction to Holy Mary. And praying. Praying as they walk, as they weather the mist, the rain, the cold, under the sun, with the wind of the Atlantic moving them along. They walk, sing and pray. They stop at chosen churches and shrines along the way. Local parish councils and the citizens feed them, share their homes, and make new friends. Sometimes all they have are straw huts for the night. At sunrise, the pilgrims continue on their journey.
They carry few things with them. A sack with some bread, water, a fruit. This symbolizes the cross which Jesus bore towards his death. They cover their shoulders with shawls – representing that shawl which covered Jesus – Their necks are covered by a colourful bandana which symbolizes the Christ’s Crown of Thorns. Their hand is steadied by a stave, of pine, crowned by a cross. A rosary terço de lágrimas) is within their grasp, always and it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
There was a time when these pilgrimages were offensive. It was during the years covering WWI when Jacobite anti-clericism was on the rise. The anti-clerical movement tried to stop these manifestations of faith and piety, but (evidently) to no avail. It seems that the islanders wanted and continue to need to show and live their faith, every day and with vigour.
The pilgrimage starts early on the first day. The master of the pilgrimage, his adjutant and the shepherd of souls are ready at three in the morning. They wait in the forecourt of the parish church. The men and boys start arriving. They greet each other and before daybreak they are on their way. The band can be small, but it depends on the size of the  council or parish. Their routine is well known. They pray to the Virgin Mary. They sing each song like it is a threnody, though it might not be originally conceived as such. They trudge in the dark, light, rain, and mist always sober and full of melancholy.
This pilgrimage lasts eight days.
http://www.youtube.com/v/GPw-45eq-8w&hl=en&fs=1&border=1The music is Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei. I took the photos on a Lenten visit.

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An extremely short history of St Michael the Archangel Island, the Azores

According to historical records, the archipelego of the Azores was discovered in 1427 by 1427, por Diogo Silves. Archangel island was unihabited and the settlement of the island started in the town of Povoação (Eng – Settlement) in 1444. In 1432 the islands were re-discovered by Gonçalo Velho Cabral who was then charged  with populating the islands. The island of the Archangel was the first. The people came from the Estremadura, Algarve and Alto Alentejo regions of continental Portugal. Later, these were followed by settlers from Brittany. 

The fertility of the land and its strategic position between the Americas and Europe and Africa ensured rapid growth. Though a small land mass, wheat was cultivated, and in abundance, it fed the garrisons in the New World and the Portugal’s African colonies. This ensured a stable economic base. The islanders experimented and in later times woad (flowers extracted a blue dye – grown from plants of the cabbage family) with a fair trade to Flanders or what is now Belgium. The island economy developed with the introduction of sugar cane followed in subsequent years by sustainable dairy production, sweet potatoe, yams and oranges. The island fared well and the population grew. In 1822 a massive earthquake destroyed the then capital, Vila Franca do Campo. Five thousand souls lost their lives.

The islanders had to face attacks by French, English  and Algerian corsairs and pirates during the XVI and XVII centuries.  In 1582, a French naval squadron was defeated by a Spanish force in Vila Franca do Campo (the first capital of St Michael) and the archipelago changed hands. The Spanish Crown ruled until 1640. St Michael once again became an important commercial centre. 
In the XVII century, it exported people, to Brazil, It also found a new base product for its rising wealth – oranges. The orange became an important trading commodity for almost a century. The major export market was England but the USA and other European countries were importing Micaelense oranges. The affect of the trade is visible in many ways but in particular there are two: the numerous tiny fishing ports in isolated regions, built to facilitate the transport of oranges from these isolated regions. The second is the ostentatious manors found throughout the island attesting to the wealth which came back to the island. This ended in 1842 when a  cargo ship from Brazil brought with it a pest which destroyed the orange groves. Oranges could no longer support the islanders. 

The islanders found new products. Tea was found to thrive well in the north shore and a large tea production (the only one in Europe) still carries on. Pineapples were tried and these too are still grown and exported. Passion fruit, sweet potato and sugar beets became staple crops for alcohol production.  By the mid eighteen hundreds tobacco too supplemented these important commodity crops.

The island did feel the cold wind of war during WWI and WWII but escaped the ravages of Europe. Portugal tried to remain aloof in WWI but it was dragged into the war and St Michael was affected but not in any measure.

WWII was slightly different. The Salazar government negotiated with the British for naval rights to St Michael. Winston Churchill called upon a friendship agreement between England and Portugal dating from 1373) these two countries during the heat of WWII and in 1943 the British were granted naval and air rights to St Michael. During the 20th century, the island developed its agricultural and fishing base. Tourism started to make an important contribution to the island’s economy in the beginning of the 21st century.