Arraial do Senhor Bom Jesus da Ponta Delgada

Arraial do Senhor Bom Jesus da Ponta Delgada

Arraial do Senhor Bom Jesus da Ponta Delgada

Bom Jesus de Ponta Delgada is one of the oldest and most popular pilgrimages in Madeira together with the Arraial of Monte.

Senhor Bom Jesus 2023 Program Madeira Ponta Delgada
Arraial Senhor Bom Jesus Ponta Delgada Madeira Poster

The Arraial de Bom Jesus is one of the largest and most famous festivals in Madeira.  It always takes place on the first weekend of September in Ponta Delgada. Hence this year, it takes place during the weekend of September 2 & 3, 2023. As you can see on the program above, it already starts on August 31st.

What is an arraial?

It’s a combination of a religious celebration and a folk festival.  In days past, entire families used to walk for several days over the mountains from all parishes of Madeira to celebrate this special Arraial.  It was a sort of pilgrimage.  Once in Ponta Delgada, these families stayed for several days and camped under a vineyard or in nearby fields.  Nowadays, people still come from all parts of Madeira but mostly by car or smarter yet by public bus since parking spaces are scarce.  Some rare associations still travel by foot.

The Portuguese word “arraial” stems from the Latin and means camp.  Another term for such festivity is “romaria” which translates somewhat into pilgrimage. The participants themselves are “romeiros”. 

The romeiros or pilgrims flock to Ponta Delgada by the thousands. When in Ponta Delgada, aka Corte do Norte or Northern Court, they converge to the church. Groups of pilgrims come with their instruments such as harmonicas, violas, brinquinhos, and tambourines.  Every occasion is good to sing loud and perform typical Madeiran music bringing joy and happiness. Still others perform traditional dances.

The streets are nicely decorated with flower garlands and multicolored lights.  Left and right, there are market stalls, called “barracas”, selling everything from mostly cheap plastic junk, to clothes, straw hats, Bonecas de Massa, candy necklaces, food, and drinks. 

Sensitive people will probably have a problem walking past some food tents as half animals are hanging in plain sight.  Barbecues are burning and espetadas are cooking on the red braze. The traditional Bolo de Caco with garlic butter sells like hotcakes. And, obviously, the famous poncha, beer and wine flow nonstop.  All the while there are music groups singing and performing everywhere.

The Origins of the Festa de Bom Jesus

In Ponta Delgada da Madeira there is an interesting legend that people have been telling for many, many years.

Around 1570 the sesmeiro* Manuel Afonso de Sosnha founded the chapel of Senhor Bom Jesus de Ponta Delgada.  The chapel was enlarged on several occasions until it became a church. *Originally the term sesmeiro qualified the official of the crown whose function was the donation of land.

In that church, a very ancient and miraculous image of Senhor Bom Jesus is exposed to the veneration of the faithful from all over the island, who stars in the legend that we are about to tell.  This representation of Jesus, according to tradition, washed ashore in a big wooden box in the early 1500 in Ponta Delgada.  It is deemed so beautiful, perfect, and realistic that upon seeing it, the heart of the devoted pilgrim melts and tears form in their eyes. Relief is found and faith is restored.

Bom Jesus Festival in Ponta Delgada

However, a fire almost completely consumed the church in July 1908.  The Senhor Bom Jesus survived the fire and still supervises the church today.   Thus, thanks to the miracle, people from all over the island continue to flock to Ponta Delgada in the hope to receive his protection.

Visitors queue to enter the church and see the SBJ (Senhor Bom Jesus). The pilgrims climb a few steps behind the altar, as can be seen in the picture above, to come as close as possible to Bom Jesus.

Explanatory Video

Here is an interesting video taken during the 2022 Arraial by a British couple living in Ponta Delgada. It gives you an idea of what to expect.

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