“Inside us… it is very beautiful.”
Sao Miguel, Azores
by Jacqueline Raposo – photos by Brent Herrig
It’s five thirty in the morning and a group of Romeros – men on their first of a seven-day pilgrimage around the Azorean island of Sao Miguel – are walking a clipped pace. Their voices sing rounds of the Hail Mary in a fisherman’s monastic chant, lifting sound up through the empty, dark streets.
At a church they stop. Huddled, their heads covered in scarves to mute the chill and spray of the surf, they pray, then continue up the mountains that make the terrain of volcanic Sao Miguel.
It’s a tradition unique to the island that dates back to the mid-eighteenth century when a series of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions inspired a Romeria to petition god for blessings against nature’s wrath. The Romeros walk in the original form: they carry no food or money, eat only what is brought to them and, if not taken into a home at night, sleep on a church floor. By the end of the week they will have walked close to three hundred and fifty kilometers and prayed at every church. In the course of one month, every village will have seen their group of Romeros circumvent the island in meditation and prayer…
“Something inside of me made me want to understand my life.”
Sao Miguel is a rustic island. Roads wind in sharp curves, a wet spray seeps from the ever-near Atlantic, and the heavy air of March dampens all with a chill. The men on the island are similarly rough; life is rather simple here, but not easy. And while Azoreans struggle to keep up with changing times and their flailing economy, they keep close to their Catholic faith that has seen them safely through centuries.
In the center of every town is a square. And within one block of that square is a church, or two, or sometimes three. Religion and tradition hold so strongly that many continue to turn to the Romeria for spiritual grounding. They walk in thanks for the centuries of peace that have been shared between the people and their land. They walk to petition god for their loved ones, or for better education, or for jobs, or for merely a chance for their people. For some, they walk just to find god.
For a short time they are nameless, and have no family save for the “brothers” they walk with. Their sung chants blend with calling birds, pulsing waves, and sulfuric smoke. And then they walk in silence, the meditative rhythm of their steps lulling them to look deeper:
“On the Romeria, when we stop thinking about the every day – about our problems, about everything – when we think about us, inside us… it’s very beautiful.”
These images were taken March, 2012. For more information on this piece, please email Jacqueline@WordsFoodArt.com