Autumn in Minas Gerais: Part II

Outono em Minas Gerais: Parte Dois

Two of the reasons Ouro Preto attracts so many visitors: historic churches and the mountainous landscape

The next morning, Domingo dos Ramos (Palm Sunday), Jaimie and I awoke early in order to participate in another processão. This one was to depart the beautiful Igreja de São Francisco de Assis—the church that uses the second largest amount of gold in its interior design in Brazil (the first is in Salvador da Bahia). We heard ringing church bells as we showered and prepared to leave, but when we arrived at the church, it was empty. Despite local advertisements, the processão had already departed before 8 am!

We asked some locals and discovered that we could walk a few short blocks and find a mass in session. We did so, and took part in the blessing of the ramos, or palms. A choir sang accompanied by an ad hoc group of instrumentalists—flute, trumpet, organ, a few clarinets.

After the mass had concluded, I spoke briefly with a few of the singers. When they found we were Americans, they seemed very excited that we would be interested in the church music, and shared their personal experiences.

A woman in her thirties said she had only been in the choir for a year and learned mostly by ear, but that she hoped to learn how to read music. The choir director, a man in his early fifties, had been with the church for thirty years, and was proud to be able to keep the music going as part of religious services. The elder member, a man in his late sixties, complained that cell phone use during services was becoming all too common. He also ridiculed local politicians for having closed a government-funded music school in the area, the only option for those of modest means to access music education.

As we happily chatted, the elderly man explained that his voice felt very hoarse that day and not to judge him too harshly. Then, he told us that we couldn’t miss the evening processão which would feature the Cerimônia do Encontro, a reenactment of the meeting of Mary and Jesus Christ as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We promised to be there.

Bells ringing outside the Santuário Nossa Senhora da Conceição

After a full day of visiting historical sites of Ouro Preto, Jaimie and I struck out to find the evening procession. I had read conflicting information about where the processão would begin, but when we saw an elderly trombonist in a marching band uniform, we knew he would lead us in the right direction.

Trombonist heading to the processão. The windows in the distance are decorated with red banners in honor of Palm Sunday.

We arrived at Praça Tiradentes—the central town square—just before sunset. We found an empty curb in view of the temporary stage set up for the occasion and watched the crowds slowly gather. My favorite scene is of a young girl in an angel costume being photographed by her adoring grandfather. He snapped picture after picture in front of the setting sun as the I-know-I-am-adorable-but-I-will-pretend-I-don’t-notice-all-of-the-people-watching-me girl gave smile after smile.

Angel granddaughter in Praça Tiradentes

The sun set. The humming crowd of over one thousand quieted and an hour-long sermon commenced as the moon slowly rose over Praça Tiradentes. I marveled at the silent attention this huge mass of ouropretanos gave to the impassioned guest bishop. Only the sounds of fidgety children could be heard and the occasional hum and creak of a passing car.

Moon rising over Praça Tiradentes

The priest gave particular attention to Mary, or Nossa Senhora das Dores (Our Lady of Sorrows), explaining the significance of this encounter and the pain she would endure at the impending loss of her son. Mary’s significance for this priest was as a metaphor for the pain and suffering of motherhood and a reminder for ouropretanos to honor the matriarchs of their families.

As the priest spoke, two wooden images squeezed their way through opposite sides of the crowded square. Each dais was accompanied by costumed sentinels in Roman dress and a band of brass, winds and percussion. As the priest spoke, the images neared closer and closer until his passionate speech reached a peak and the images met face to face.

Cerimônia do Encontro: the images of Mary and Jesus Christ meet in Praça Tiradentes

The priest closed his speech, hundreds clapped, and the processão began. Jaimie and I were unprepared for what followed.

The processão wound through street after street, over a river, past warmly glowing restaurants, solemn-looking churches, and many open windows. The two bands following each wooden image traded off playing hymns throughout the 3-hour journey.

Processão under a nearly full moon

A musician struggles to find the next song while descending a steep street

Church elders leading the processão

After snapping pictures of the happy but tired musicians, Jaimie and I found our way back through the winding streets to eat a quick dinner and collapse into bed. The next morning we awoke feeling like old women—our legs ached, we limped around our little pousada room, and only long showers could prepare us to climb the ladeira for our last day in Ouro Preto.

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