Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Washing The Steps With Miracles

Filled with cobblestone streets, colonial architecture and historic landmarks on about every block, Salvador reflects the true heart of Brazilian culture. When I stepped upon the sunny streets of Salvador for the first time, the difference between urbane Southern cities like Rio was palpable. The air is filled with the fragrance of guavas, mangoes and acaraje sold on the streets. Baianas navigate the winding avenues and squares with a more languorous pace. The cobalt blue water of the Bay of All Saints wraps around the city and blows a feeling of tranquility over everything.
Salvador is sometimes called the Black Rome and it's easy to figure out why. The city boasts 72 Catholic churches, there appears to be one on every block. But candomble, the practice of Catholicism mixed with African deities and rituals is the true focus. Figures of Imemanja, the popular goddess of the sea, pop up on restaurants and in a house dedicated to her along the Bay. T-shirts and figures in the markets display all the other orixas or deities with the regularity of U.S. Pepsi or Coke ads.

St. Bonfim Church, perched on a hill in the lower part of Salvador, seems to represent the essence of Brazilian faith. Built in 1745, it's the most important church in Brazil in terms of religious devotion. On the second January of every year, Lavagem do Bonfim is broadcast over the country. The dramatic ritual features candomble priestesses of Oxala, the deity associated with St. Bonfim, who dress all in white and wash the steps of the church. Inside the church, the sala dos milagres or miracle room, is equally famous. A surreal display of wax and wooden arms, legs, feet, hearts and hands hang from the ceiling. The walls are plastered with photos and testimonies of people who have been cured. The figurines represent all of the people who have had corresponding body parts healed after praying to St. Bonfim. Faithful pilgrims trek from all over Brazil to St. Bonfim in hopes of being granted a miracle. Judging from the thousands of testimonies, many miracles happen in Brazil.


Anonymous said...

Lovely pics!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Christine, I'm no photjournalist but I try!