The tradition of the Pilgrims of São Miguel island, which once consisted in visiting all the chapels related to the image of Our Lady, and according to the current belief has its origins to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions of the sixteenth century, is an ethnographic phenomenon of great interest not only due to the originality of very remarkable elements, but also due to the longevity of this event over the centuries. Pilgrims of São Miguel island can be defined as groups or ranches of penitents who, during one of the weeks of Lent, walk around São Miguel island and visit all the churches and chapels where the image of the Blessed Mother is exposed (about 100 temples). The pilgrim groups, formed by people of each parish, have variable sizes and may range from about 30 up to 200 pilgrims. Each piligrim dresses himself in a traditional outfit to use daily and is covered by traditional accessories: a shawl over their shoulders, a scarf around his neck; a "cevadeira" on his back; a third and a staff in his hand.
The pilgrims: motives and goals
There are many reasons that may dictate people's desire to be part of a pilgrimage, namely:
- The Desire to redeem their own and other people sins;
- Need to be under divine protection, asking God to bless the Azores and Portugal
The pilgrims' profile
Participation in a pilgrimage is subjected to the fulfilment of some criteria:
- Males whose age is not less than 10 nor more than 50;
- Individuals in good health shape and of a good moral character;
- People who habitually comply with the Commandments of God's Law and the Holy Church.
The Organization of the group
The Organization of the group is responsible for:
- The "Master", which goes in front of the group, leads the prayers. To him all owe obedience; all respectfully kiss his hand in the morning and at night;
- The "Helper", which assists the "Master" in the guidance of pilgrimage, takes the place of the "Master" in his absence and, if with the master approval, he can also presides over the prayers in Churches and Chapels;
- The "Procurador das Almas", occupies a central place on the ranch. It is him who, along the road, directs the prayers and, along the way, receives the prayer requests made by different people;
- The 'Lembrador das Almas", goes in the middle of the ranch. It is him who, in the break of the Avé Maria song, raises his voice and repeats the requests made by people.
- The 'guides', composed by two pilgrims chosen by the "Master", lead the ranch through the journey.
The Master responsibilities
The Master is responsable for:
- Oversee the group in order to bring to fruition the holy pilgrimage;
- Ensure that the rules of pilgrimage are respected by all the ranch elements;
- Monitor pilgrims' health, sending them to the nearest health center, if necessary.
- Prevent pilgrims to ingest water in large quantities;
- Coordinate the group, in order to avoid walking during the night;
- Be fair and charitable to all brothers in order to be respected and loved like a real father.