The cycle of Easter events in Center of Portugal’s Idanha-a-Nova district is rich in religious experiences and traditions that take place during Lent. Each of the Towns of the District of Idanha-a-Nova has its own unique celebrations.
During the five weeks of Lent, the town of Ladoeiro hosts processions bringing together many different people every Friday.
The Blessing on Palm Sunday before the Holy Week takes on a special meaning in the historic village of Monsanto. All the men bring branches, traditionally prepared by the women. The branches are all large olive branches decorated with flowers, which they bring to the Church to receive a blessing. Then, depending on the location, the branches are kept. In Monsanto, there are people who keep the branches for a year, until Ash Wednesday, when they are burned with the ashes used to mark the day of the beginning of Lent. Others store a branch with small oratories, where they say their prayers throughout the rest of the year.
On Holy Thursday, the foot-washing ceremony and the Supper of the Twelve are the main events of this very special time. In the towns of Alcaforzes and Segura, the foot-washing ceremony is done by the mercy-giver. Typically, the parish presides over the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper, but does not participate in the foot-washing rite, which is done by the mercy-giver, a unique practice that likely derives from the liberal period in which the religious orders were discontinued and the clergy were persecuted.
The Supper of the Twelve is a recreation of the last supper. In the town of Segura, one of the meals for the supper is mashed spinach with sour herbs as a garnish for fried river fish. It is a delicious meal, with the sour herbs establishing a connection between the Exodus and the fact that the Jews ate bitter herbs the night before their liberation from Egypt. This culinary element also makes sense, given the fact that this region of the country was once home to a large Jewish community.
Good Friday is one of the days in which tradition and the times for the celebration of the Passion of Christ take on a special meaning in the district of Idanha-a-Nova. The Lord’s Funeral is done in all of the towns, and Monsanto hosts the noteworthy ceremony of the Descent from the Cross. The complete silence adds an extraordinary beauty to the experience of the lowering of the body of Christ, who is taken from the cross and placed in a coffin. The nails that held him to the cross are removed by the brothers of Mercy, and are then wrapped very tightly in white linen cloth, and then laid in the coffin to continue the procession. This cross-lowering ceremony is made possible through a cohesive image of Christ, which gives a greater level of realism to that moment.
Another moving tradition is the chant of Veronica – which originates from the tradition of the woman who cleaned the face of Christ and who saw his image on the cloth he wore. As this chant is sung, the cloth is pulled back, finally revealing the face of Christ.
On Holy Saturday in Idanha-a-Nova, crowds gather with rattles and whistles, making noise to show their joy. It’s a reaction that breaks with a long period in which only religious songs were sung, and that at this time have replaced by noise and shouts of joy. On this day, everyone comes to the home of the priest, who throws out a total of 70 kilos of almonds to the crowd.