A procession imploring for rain in seventeenth century Évora

A procession imploring for rain in seventeenth century Évora

Processions imploring for rain (ad petendam pluviam) are a constant occurrence in the Early Modern World. During the extended periods of extreme drought Man turned to the divine forces to ensure his subsistence directly related to the cultivation of the fields and harvesting of cereals to make bread as well as other foods.

Liturgical books frequently included sections dedicated to the preces, litanies, and other rogations to be celebrated during natural phenomena such as earthquakes, floods, or droughts among others. In particular, we will focus on the Breviarium and Missale Eborensis (books following the Use of Évora) which, although abandoned in 1570 following the introduction of the Roman Use, were kept in part when regarding local popular traditions. This is the case of the Miracle of the Candles (Milagre da Cera) which was represented in the 1548 Breviarium. The 1519 Missale for the Use of Évora includes in its final section dedicated to rogation masses one mass ad pluviam petendam.

Local historian Túlio Espanca, in one of his historical collections published in the local magazine A Cidade de Évora, transcribed an account of a procession imploring for rain that took place in Évora in 1680. According to Espanca, this appeared to be an event related to the Misericórdia of Évora where its community participated.

Image 1. Current aspect of the Church of Misericórdia, Évora (Author’s photo)

The procession took place on 6 April 1680 from the Church of Misericórdia. It went to the city’s main square (nowadays the Praça do Giraldo), by Ruancha (former Rua Ancha, nowadays Rua de João de Deus), through the Porta Nova (crossing under the acqueduct in the place where existed the “new gate” during the Medieval period) down the Rua de Aviz to the Porta de Aviz, one of the main gates to exit the walls of the city (Image 2).

Image 2. The 1680 procession route (GoogleMaps)

After exiting the city walls the procession headed to the Monastery of Santa Maria do Espinheiro. This Hieronymite house on the outskirts of Évora was known to have a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary (Fonseca, 1728: 353). This rogation event came to Espinheiro in a period where the main chapel of the monastery’s church had just been concluded. The counts of Basto were patrons of the monastery and D. Maria de Albuquerque had sponsored the building of the main chapel which had just been concluded in that year of 1680 (Fonseca, 1728: 354).

Brother Diogo de Brito de Lacerda carried the image of the Crucified Christ under a canopy throughout the whole event. When the procession was passing by the Cross of Fr. Aleixo, half way between the city walls and the Hieronymite monastery it began to rain with the Misericórdia Brotherhood and the Franciscan friars arriving, that also participated, arriving soaked at the monastery (Espanca, 1954: 162).

The chaplains of the Misericórdia were all singing the litany and holding torches. The Misericórdia’s clerk was at the head of this group holding the ceremonial staff. The Franciscan friars followed with their cross also joining the Misericórdia’s chaplains in singing the litany. The Hieronymite monks came to receive the procession at “the stone cross” (a place we couldn’t identify) and also on the way back (Espanca, 1954: 163).

At the church of the monastery the Litany of Our Lady was sung by all present, as well as a number of rogations to the Virgin of Espinheiro. Afterwards a sermon was held by the vicar and regent of the Évora Dominican convent Fr. Amaro (Espanca, 1954: 162).

Image 3. Current aspect of the church of the Monastery of Espinheiro (Author’s photo).

Yet, before the Dominican friar’s sermon, a petition to the Virgin of Espinheiro was place at the altar asking for the rain, comparing their rogation to Moses making water flow from the rocks in the desert.

On the way back to the city the Franciscan friars took part in the procession until it entered in the Church of Misericórdia. The Brotherhood offered them torches for their return to their convent since it was already passed eight o’clock in the afternoon.

It rained all the way when the procession was returning from the Monastery of Espinheiro and there were many repentant individuals during this return to the city.

In this case, contrary to the celebration of the Miracle of the Candles (also associated with the lack of rain) there is no specific antiphon or musical composition associated with the rogative event besides the singing of the litany of Our Lady.

Diogo Dias Melgaz, Recordare, Virgo Mater, for eight voices.

In any case, the use of the antiphon Recordare, Virgo Mater (associated with the Miracle of the Candles) could as well have been sung in other rogations for rain and thus constitute an important element of this devotional soundscape.

The work presented here by Évora composer Diogo Dias Melgaz, was probably written in the last two decades of the seventeenth century, thus contemporary to this procession ad petendam pluviam. We have no record of the Cathedral clergy nor the city’s collegiates clergy to have participated in this procession besides the Misericórdia Brotherhood and the Franciscan friars, received by the Hieronymite monks. This meant that in terms of musical performance, singing was resumed to plainchant recitations of the litany and, probably, also of some of the penitential psalms by the clergy of the Misericórdia and the Franciscans.

However, the proximity between this event and the musical practices in the Cathedral and collegiate churches in terms of time and space might had a significant influence in this procession as well as the musical work suggested here as a soundscape. Rogative processions of this kind frequently followed a usual ceremonial and process so it could have been very close to that of the Miracle of the Candles as well as others in which the Cathedral clergy took part. In any case it was an important manifestation of popular devotion to implore to the Virgin of Espinheiro for rain with its specific associated ceremonial.


ESPANCA, T. (1954). “Miscelânea Histórico-Artística (Sexta série”. A Cidade de Évora, 35-36, 121-131.

FONSECA, F. da (1728). Evora Gloriosa. Epilogo Dos quatro Tomos da Evora Illustrada, que compoz o R.P.M. Manoel Fialho da Companhia de Jesu. Roma: Na Officina Komarekiana.

HENRIQUES, L. (2017). A paisagem sonora de Évora no século XVII: perspectivas a partir da

HENRIQUES, L. (2019). A antífona Recordare Virgo Mater: Prática musical mariana na Sé de Évora no final do século XVII e século XVIII. In Sá, V. and Conde, A. F. (eds.). Paisagens Sonoras Urbanas:  História, Memória e Património (pp. 261-279). Évora: Publicações do Cidehus.

MISSALE (1519). Missale secundum consuetudinem Elborensis ecclesis. Lisbon: German Galharde.

This work is part of the Project ALT20-03-0145-FEDER-028584/LISBOA-01-0145-FEDER-028584 (PTDC/ART-PER/28584/2017) – “PASEV: Patrimonialization of Évora’s Soundscape (1540 – 1910)” financed by national funds through FCT/MCTES and co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through Compete 2020 – Competitiveness and Internationalization Operational Program (POCI)

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