The Our Lady of Light Festivities and Its Surprising Patrimony

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Luz
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In September the party isn’t over in Lisbon, this time in Carnide! Get to know the tradition of the Festivities and the amazing patrimony of the Church of Our Lady of Light.

You have a month to enjoy the centenarian fair, to choose the music concert that you like the most and to, without fail, discover the secret that the Church of Our Lady of Light keeps.

But first let’s learn a little about the origins of Carnide, the Church and the festivities associated with this place of ancient pilgrimages and miracles.

Carnide, a Bread Producer and Place of Miraculous Cures

The occupation of the northern boundary of the city of Lisbon predates the Romanization. It corresponded to a particularly fertile area that allowed feeding bread to the population of a vast territory and still daily supply of fresh the city of Lisbon.

It was organized in small dispersed villages and in large farms.

Carnide is one of these settlements, located in North Lisbon, that until 1885 belonged to the extinct City Hall of Belém.

Coat of arms of the extinct Belém Municipality in Largo da Luz
Coat of arms of the extinct Belém Municipality in Largo da Luz

This area was very sought for treatment and recovery of patients. Members of the nobility and even the kings Afonso V and João II were treated here. In times of famine, epidemics or to convalesce from war campaigns, the nobility would take refugee here in their farms next to the Serra da Luz and to the miraculous water fountain that was said to have the gift of curing skin and eye maladies.

The village was developed along an axis, still very evident, that linked two fundamental places: On one side the parochial Church of São Lourenço of the 14th century, very transformed but still existent, in the western limit of the historic nucleus of Carnide; on the opposite side the Machada or Machado Fountain that was already mentioned in the 13th century, which was located exactly where today is the Church of Our Lady of Light.

We suggest you visit the historic nucleus of Carnide and admire one of the Bandstands of Lisbon.

Next to the Church existed a leprosarium and a small church dedicated to the Holy Spirit whose worship attracted many pilgrims from the area, but also from afar. The sailors and fishermen had a particular devotion, and in 1437 they took the initiative to carry out a procession every year.

The Cult and Legend of the Our Lady of Light

The cult of Our Lady of Light begun in the year of 1463.

It is said that Pêro Martins, a local from Carnide recruited to fight in North Africa, was held captive there. Our Lady appeared and promised to save him. Having returned to his homeland, the devotee soldier saw the Virgin again surrounded by light next to the miraculous water fountain and there began the construction of a new small church dedicated to the Our Lady of Light. One year later after its edification began the pilgrimage that since then takes place in the end of summer and that culminates with a procession.

Inscription outside the Church of Our Lady of Light
An inscription outside the church reveals the story of the captivity of Pêro Martins and his vision of the Lady whom he called of the Light.

This venture was supported by important figures of the nobility and even members of the royal family who throughout the ages have been participating in religious festivities and events.

Soon the cult of the Our Lady of Light overcame that of the Holy Spirit. And in 1918 the centenarian headquarter of the parish of Carnide even moved from the old Church of São Lourenço to the Church of Our Lady of Light.


Secret Patrimony in the Church of Our Lady of Light

What is left of the small church of the 15th century in Gothic style, built by Pêro Martins, is one of the secrets of the city of Lisbon.

Those who visit the present church today do not know that it is still possible to observe, at a lower level, what remains of the vestibule of the primitive fonte de mergulho (diving fountain) and some magnificent Hispanic-Arab tiles of aresta and majolica that, it can be said that miraculously survived the vicissitudes of time.

Gothic portal and Hispano-Arabic Tiles - Church of Our Lady of Light
Gothic portal and composition made with Hispano-Arabic tiles resulting from restoration.

These vestiges alone justify a visit to the Church of Our Lady of Light. Go to the secretariat inside the church and ask to see the place of these precious things.


Architectural Patrimony: Old Hospital of Luz and Church of Our Lady of Light

In the 16th century the Infanta Maria, (1521/1577) daughter of the King Manuel I, left in testament revenue and goods to build a large hospital and a new church, which she chose as the place to be buried, in the place of the leprosarium and the old small church of the Holy Spirit.

Inscription outside the Church of Our Lady of Light
In a second inscription is revealed to us the intention of Infanta Maria of building a new church in praise of Our Lady of Light.

The old Hospital of Luz was thus inaugurated in 1618 after the death of the Infanta, to support the pilgrims and the sick who came to this place. We speak of the great three-storey building with a classic façade whose central body is topped by a triangular pediment, current facilities of the Colégio Militar.

The Old Hospital of Luz, Currently Colégio Militar

As for the Church, it is the one that today is in the place dedicated to Our Lady of Light. Noteworthy work projected by Jerónimo de Roão in 1575 but completed already during the Philippine dynasty.

It is a large Mannerist building of Italian influence with a sober façade rebuilt in the 19th century. We highlight the interior where a large altarpiece, painted in 1590 by Francisco Venegas and Diogo Teixeira, and the flat grave of the Infanta Maria await us.

The Church of Our Lady of Light

The earthquake of 1755 damaged most part of the building, having its rebuilding and restoration of the interior taken place between 1870 and 1890.

Also notice the existing sidewalk work the traditional Portuguese limestone pavement on the churchyard, it is without doubt a magnificent example of this original Portuguese art.

Calçada Portuguesa - The Church of Our Lady of Light


A Fair and Religious Festivities

The Lisbon Festivities are based around the devotion to Santo António and take place during the entire month of June. But Carnide continues, like it was an independent and still rural village, its festivities linked to the cult of Our Lady of Light during the time of the end of the harvest time. September is therefore a month of a fair and religious festivities.

The devotion and pilgrimages of the Our Lady of Light had great projection in the 16th and 17th centuries. They gathered the rural population from Mafra and Sintra, the nobility that spent here summer, representatives of the royal family and population of Lisbon in general. Everyone came to watch the image of Our Lady of Light passing by in the procession that crossed the streets of Carnide.

The fair appeared naturally to meet the needs of the people gathered, ending up being an important economic centre. Here the fresh produce and handicrafts of the region were traded with emphasis on the pottery and basketry, and the buying and selling of cattle was particularly important at a certain point.

The festivities couldn’t fail to include cultural and entertainment events such as street plays, popular games and picnics.

Arquivo Municipal de Lisboa; Fair in Largo da Luz, Carnide; 19–; Paulo Guedes (1886-1947); PT/AMLSB/CMLSBAH/PCSP/004/PAG/000028

Today, Carnide’s appearance is obviously urban, but the fair and the festivities are still alive.

During the entire month of September, the Luz Square is occupied by this big fair where you can find all sorts of products, food and drinks and amusements. The music concerts gather Portuguese artists of various styles and constitute a great attraction. The procession with which the festivities culminate is one of the grandest in the city of Lisbon.

Join in the festivities and visit the Church of Our Lady of Light, a centenarian tradition and a quasi-secret patrimony to discover.

Get to know Lisbon’s historic neighbourhoods in a guided tour and discover unmissable places of this magnificent city.

Note: Original article published on 5 September 2018.


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