A festival of flowers and fire

By Eloise Walton [email protected]

This Easter, why not leave the chocolate eggs and bunnies at home and venture further into the Algarve to discover the centuries old flower torch festival of São Brás de Alportel?

The Festa das Tochas Floridas, or flower torch festival, is all that remains of a once popular Easter celebration that took place throughout the Algarve.

On this religious day where Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, many towns in the region would host a procession with torches lit by fire.

Over time, this gradually changed as wax became scarce and the torches became sticks decorated with fresh flowers and candles, a tradition upheld annually and which attracts thousands of Christians and non-religious onlookers alike to São Brás.

Originally, religious festivals such as this were organised by religious brotherhoods or ‘confrarias’. The gradual disappearance of these, however, led to the simplification of many religious festivals.

On the morning of Easter Sunday, which this year falls on April 4, the procession, known as the Procissão Aleluia, in São Brás de Alportel leaves the town’s main church in the morning, with many local residents travelling and singing together.

According to tradition, the procession should be carried out at dawn before mass to remember the three Marias who found Jesus’ tomb empty at sunrise.

Unlike other religious processions in Portugal, this one does not include the carrying of saints or other religious icons in the procession, with the main highlight being the flower torches. 

Where once there were one or even two choirs singing hymns in honour of the resurrection of Christ, these are now sung by the local people, with the older generation teaching the younger members words to old hymns.

As well as the procession, visitors to São Brás de Alportel on Easter Sunday are greeted with beautiful and painstakingly made carpets of fresh flowers along the main streets.

In the past, the roads were all swept and carpeted in rosemary, lavender and wild flowers. Garlands of flowers were also hung on walls of houses and women would hang their finest white or red bedcovers from their balconies and windows.

Entire villages would be alive with colour and celebration as even wealthy families had arches made near their homes with greenery, flowers and ribbons.

Nowadays, there are competitions and prizes won in São Brás for the best flower torches and floral verandas, as well as for the winners of the traditional flower games, which are typically awarded for the best poems or songs about the event.

According to tradition, the main streets of the town will be open to view the floral carpets from 9.30am on Easter Sunday, followed by mass at the Igreja Matriz at 10am. Visitors are also able to sample regional and local sweet delicacies from stalls, while bands play live music throughout the day. The flower torch procession leaves the church and travels along the streets of the town from 11am.

For more information about the Festa das Tochas Floridas, please contact São Brás de Alportel Câmara on 289 840 000.