The Festival of the Holy Spirit | Festas do Espírito Santo

Each year in Portuguese communities, especially those with an Azorean background, there are held Festas do Espírito Santo (Festivals of the Holy Spirit). They involve a dressed parade with some paraders carrying baskets of bread on their heads, the crownings of queens of the festivals and a community meal in each community. Prominently displayed during each festival is a crown topped with an image of a dove. This festival is usually held on Pentecost Sunday (a.k.a. Whitsuntide or Whitsunday), the seventh Sunday after Easter, but could be held on any Sunday between Easter and Pentocost Sunday.

The participants and onlookers think of the festival as a quaint manifestation of Portuguese community spirit. It is usually organized and presented by a local non-church organization but utilizes church facilities. Little do the onlookers know that this festival had its origins in a radical theological movement that was wide-spread in Europe but survived largely only in Portugal because the King and Queen in Portugal moderated its radical elements and supported its observation.

The Survival of the Holy Spirit Movement in Portugal

In Portugal the Queen Isabel, originally a Princess of Aragon, was an enthusiast for Joachim's vision and her husband King Dom Dinis also became one. They however saw no need for the disappearance of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy. Isabel was accepted by the populace as a saint in her own lifetime and made officially a saint by the Catholic Church after her death.

So the King and Queen of Portugal promoted the celebration of the Festival of the Holy Spirit throughout their kingdom. Sometime between 1296 and 1325 they established a church in the city of Alenquer dedicated to the Holy Spirit. It was staffed by Franciscan monks. Later a hospital was built in Alenquer along with the church.

The Royal Couple also created a lay brotherhood to organize the Festivals of the Holy Spirit. The Festivals included a ceremony for crowning a commoner as the representative of the Emperor of the Holy Spirit. The crown used in the coronation initially had a cross on top, but later that cross was replaced or superseded by a dove. The cross was a symbol of the Era of God the Son whereas the dove was the symbol of the Era of God the Holy Spirit. So the Festival of the Holy Spirit was thoroughly a celebration of Joachim's concept of the Era of the Holy Spirit. It survived in Portugal due to the support of the King and Queen of Portugal with their accomodation of the the Catholic Church.

Several elements of the festival stem directly from the life of Queen Isabel, such as the distribution of bread. There was a famine in Portugal. Queen Isabel began to take food from her table to the poor. Her husband, King Dinis, admonished her to stop doing so. One time he saw her with something under her cloak and suspected it was bread and thus evidence of her disobeying him. Isabel said a quich prayer and when she opened her cloak it was roses which tumbled out instead of bread. The use of a crown in the festival stems from Queen Isabel praying for the suffering of the people to be alleviated and promising that she would give her crown to the ceremony if the people's suffering was reduced.