Page 4, 10th October 1975

10th October 1975
Page 4
Page 4, 10th October 1975 — Baroque piety of the Portuguese

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Locations: Lisbon


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Baroque piety of the Portuguese

From Tony Hyland in Portugal

IT IS difficult to separate the history of Church and State in Portugal, so closely are they .bound by a cornmon heritage. In architec ture alone there are many examples of kings and noblemen who, at some critical period in their rule, sought urgent intercession from the Madonna or some favourite saint.

Heaven's response seems to have have been favourable in most instances, whereupon gratitude would be shown in a most lavish manner, usually in

the building of a monastery or church of impressive proportions, the monasteries of I3atalha and Geronimos being but two striking examples.

, There is throughout Portugal a sort of baroque piety which concedes little to the modern age in which it is obliged to live. Ester de Lentos describes the religion of the country as "a sound Catholicism, without sophisms or pretence, which affectionately calls Christ 'the Good Jesus'."

in Northern Portugal this "sound Catholicism" is evident in the widespread Marian devotion, especially to the Madonna of the Seven Dolours. Braga, one of the North's principal centres, is a venerable old town with a fine cathedral,

and on the outskirts, the Born Jesus do Monte, a unique

representation of the Stations of the Cross, laid out in extensive grounds and depicted by life-size terracotta figures of astonishing reality.

There are many such shrines of religious devotion in Por tugal which, when viewed against the background of the pattern of life in the North, ex plains, to some extent the disenchantment of the people there with the events which have overtaken the country.

Life there can be seen to have changed little. Each day the women bring their washing to the river, carrying the large bundles on their heads as gracefully as they would wear a hat; everything is carried in this fashion.

Shoes are seldom worn and there is little variation in dress — usually clothing of a black material being worn by both men and women. Oxen and mutes are used extensively in farming, as are the more basic tools such as the hoe and sickle.

There seem to be a few signs of — and little desire for change. It is less a conservatism than a deep sense of tradition: whatever the political climate in Lisbon, the vineyards of the Duore Valley must be pruned, tended and harvested, the maize cut and dried and the cattle milked.

But, whether desired or not, change has come, first heralded by the proliferation of political sloganeering which swept the country since the revolution. Compared with the subdued, oppressive order of Spain there is a certain riotous abandon in the elaborately traced messages on roadways, footpaths and buildings, and the colourful wall murals depicting happy workers and peasants uniting under the symbol of their "liberation" the hammer and sickle — the most common motif in Portugal to-day.

Describing themselves as the ,Partido dos Trabhaderos, the workers' party, the Communists have been quick to consolidate their position, occupying factories, and haciendas vacated by fleeing landlords.

Despite recent events, life is still tranquil; certainly there is no sign of the anarchy promised by some political pundits. But there is some apprehension. Rumours are circulating that a shortage of foodstuffs is imminent.

Such rumours can be more damaging than the real event, causing needless panic and stock-piling of food. One Englishwoman I spoke to was convinced that Portugal's Armageddon had arrived.

Having spent most of her life in this country she believed that the Communists were about to confiscate her husband's business — not so remote a

possibility — and she repeated referred to "The Communists" as one would a carrier of some virulent disease.

Learning that I was from Ireland she inquired if it were possible for her to settle in Cork without having to pay tax on her income. Any port in a storm. I couldn't give her much hope.

Lisbon is an impressive city laid out in broad, tree-lined avenues, interspersed with white stone columns and monuments to past glories. The city contains a wealth of splendid buildings, preserved as much by the dry climate as by the absence of any great industrial activity.

Its old quarter, the Alfama, has also been preserved intact, a remarkable rabbit warren of streets, many of them narrow enough for neighbours to shake hands from opposite windows. Most of the houses are adorned with flowers growing in profusion from balconies, often at the expense of daylight filtering into the tiny cubicle-like rooms.

In the evenings men stand about on the city pavements to talk and discuss the latest situation, It appears as a spontaneous event, with the crowd gathering till it becomes impossible to walk on the path, after which everyone simply takes to the road.

Perhaps the climate lends itself to a certain buoyancy of spirit: certainly one can picture discontent fostered more easily by heavy, leaden skies than here under a warm sun which dispels gloom so speedily. made a brief call on two Dominican priests whose priory is on the fringe of Lisbon's small but active "red light" district. Both priests are from Ireland. One, Er Hillary Griffen, has been in Portugal for 18 years, Fr Thomas Jordan arrived only 15 months ago.

Fr Griffen was unequivocal in his condemnation of Portugal's present rulers. Salazar, he believed, had done much for Portugal. As an example he cited the illiteracy rate, which was 80 per cent at the time of Salazar's take-over and which during his rule was reduced to 30 per cent.

He also merrtioned the building of the huge Santa Maria Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute, both of which never fully functioned due to the lack of trained staff.

Fr Jordan was more cautiously optimistic about the situation. He believes that Portugal is at a critical point where any gains resulting from the revolution could be lost. Fr Griffen was less optimistic. He spoke of the money and the industries leaving the country, the unemployment and the political divisions.

Like the Englishwoman, he blamed the Communists, believing that an economic breakdown could occur at any time. It was a personal opinion

but it served to underline the foreboding with which sonic people view the latest events.

Both priests were reticent in answering any questions relating to the Portuguese hierarchy, no doubt mindful of their position in the host country.

I asked Fr Griffen what future he thought his order might have in the new Portugal. "Who knows?" he joked, "We might all be home by Christm as".

In Portugal since 1659, the Dominicans enjoyed a special position as the only religious order remaining in the country after the decree of 1834 abolished all religious orders.

The Church in Portugal never completely recovered: 25 years ago there was one priest for every 20,000 people; to-day there is one priest for every 16,000 — a net gain of five priests.

Portugal is a country of warm, generous people. It is still almost completely unspoiled, with little sign of the brash, touristic commercialism that is ruining many small countries elsewhere.

One gets the impression that many people are not yet aware of the profound changes that may overtake their country. It would be a tragedy if such a nation was sacrificed to some political-economic system which did not try to preserve intact so much that is unique to Portugal.

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