04 July 2011

4 July - St. Martin Bullion; St. Isabel of Portugal

Weather: If Bullion's Day be dry, there will be an early harvest.

If the deer rise up dry and lie down dry on Bullion's day, there will be a good harvest.

If it rains on the Translation of Martin, it will rain for 40 days.

If it rains on the fourth of July, there will be no grapes that year.

Today, medieval calendars celebrated the Ordination and Translation of Saint Martin as Bishop of Tours.  This is the same cloak-dividing saint of "St. Martin's Little Summer", whose feast day is November 11.  By most accounts, the 'Bullion' part of his name comes from the French "le bouilliant (the boiling), differentiating his 'hot' feast day in the summer from the colder one in late autumn.

"God made me a queen so that I may serve others"

In the New Calendar, this is the feast of Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, Queen and Widow (1271-1336).  In the Old Calendar, her feast is celebrated on July 8, so as not to interfere with the Octave of Saints Peter and Paul.

Isabel was the daughter of Pedro III of Aragon, a pious child who was married at a young age to King Diniz of Portugal.  Her husband, known as 'the troubadour king', was exemplary in his work for his kingdom, but his court was one of licentious and corrupt behavior, a sad trial to the new queen.  As with so many marriages, royal or otherwise, there were problems and misunderstandings between husband and wife, sustained by jealous courtiers to whom Isabel's piety was a conviction of their own wickedness.

She continued her religious practices, spending much time relieving the sick and the poor, building orphanages, hospitals, churches, and the Convent of Poor Clares at Coimbra.  When her grown son, Affonso, took arms in rebellion against his father, she rode between the armies and effected a reconciliation between the two men.  After her husband's death, she chose to retire to the convent at Coimbra as a Franciscan tertiary, but was called out again to make peace, this time between Affonso and his son-in-law, the King of Castile.  This negotiation took a heavy toll on her, and she died at Coimbra, where she is buried.  She was canonized in 1625, and is, as you might guess, a patroness of difficult marriages (among other things of which you can see the list here).

For an extensive and detailed (and very good) article on this exemplary medieval woman, please read "Elizabeth of Portugal: For in Her is a Spirit, Intelligent, Holy, Unique".

The Feast of the Holy Spirit (Festo do Espirito Santo) is celebrated in places with extensive Portuguese and Acorean populations, and owes it's popularity to Saint Isabel.  She and her husband had a special reverence for the Holy Spirit, building a church and creating a "Confraternity of the Holy Spirit" at the time of its dedication.

In emulation of the saint's devotion, Portuguese and Acoreans hold a special festival in the spring and summer months to honor the Holy Spirit.  The details of the celebrations differ - when it is held, how is the house 'altar' decorated, what is carried in the procession, etc., but in essentials, they are much the same.  Read here for an explanation of the feast as it is celebrated in Newport (click on 'Activities' and scroll down to "Holy Ghost Feast").

Members of the parish are chosen to sponsor the seven Domingas (Saturdays) leading up to the Feast, and host, in turn, a representation of the Holy Trinity or a crown, which is placed on a decorated home altar, awaiting the arrival of guests.  The Dominga sponsor fixes a lighted crown to his house as a sign that his family is the host for that week. Throughout the week, family and fellow parishioners gather to say the Rosary and pray to the Holy Spirit, followed by light refreshments. Some sponsors host a large party at the end of their week, and everyone turns out for the evening's festivities, of which food, music, and dancing make an especial part.  At the end of the week, the Holy Trinity and accoutrements are transferred to the next Dominga sponsor.  The eighth week is held at the house of the Mordomo.

On the Saturday of the eighth week, the representations are taken to the church hall, where devotions are followed by a large party.  After Mass on Sunday, the Dominga families, accompanied by bands, go in procession to the church hall, where a feast, open to all comers, is served.

There are a lot of recipes online for "Holy Ghost Soup" the highlight of the eating portion of this festival for many people.  Even better is to find a place at the festival table (and when they say 'open to all' they mean it) and enjoy a traditional bowl of a bread slice covered with broth and topped with meat and mint.  Heavenly!