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Pilgrimages (Romarias)

A pilgrimage is an event that has three phases: the travelling there, the arrival and the return of the pilgrim.

Pilgrimages (Romarias)

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 23/03/2020

By: Maria do Carmo Gomes de Andrade - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

The Portuguese word ‘romaria’ can be defined as a trip or pilgrimage to a religious site or one of devotion, a centre of Christian pilgrimages or a meeting of devotees who participate in a religious festival. The person who takes part in a ‘romaria’ is called a ‘romeiro’ According to Câmara Cascudo, this tradition was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese.

A pilgrimage is an event that has three phases: the travelling there, the arrival and the return of the pilgrim. It can be of a religious nature, and can have masses, processions and other activities coordinated by the Church. There are devotions organised by lay people and paraliturgical activities.

When on foot, pilgrims call themselves walkers and proceed alone, in pairs or in groups. Among those that walk alone, some may bear crosses for distances over 100 kilometres. There are walkers who organise into groups that regularly make pilgrimages, some having decades of walking.

Devotees make pilgrimages to pay promises or ‘ex-votos’ (an object donated to saints for a granted request). The promise may, or not, consist of the obligation to practice certain acts, abstain from using certain colours, serving only indicated food, letting hair or beards grow for men, or cutting their hair for women, wearing only one colour exclusively or fulfilling an infinite number of penitential duties offered at the moment of the affliction.

The pilgrimage is also made up of other activities including markets, commerce, public fireworks, shows and festivals. After paying their promise through donations, delivering the ‘ex-voto’ and assisting the liturgical ceremony, pilgrims gather on the fringes of the pilgrimage, which transform into centres of folkloric interest due to the variety of the converging elements: dances, songs, food, costumes and religious syncretism, which in these movements find ideal conditions for the expression of various types of popular manifestations.

Pilgrimages are undertaken by pilgrims, by the Church and also by the population of the place, by businessmen and by politicians, each group making their offerings and participating in the event with different interests.

In Brazil, the main centres for pilgrimages are: Nossa Senhora de Nazaré (Our Lady of Nazareth) in Belém do Pará; St Francis de Canindé in Canindé, Ceará; Bom Jesus do Bonfim in Salvador, Bahia; Bom Jesus da Lapa, Pirapora, São Francisco River; and Nossa Senhora Aparecida, in Aparecida, São Paulo. The Aparecida church was elevated to the status of Basilica in 1908 and the Virgin Aparecida was proclaimed patron saint of Brazil through a decree on 16 July 1930. Pope Paul VI offered the Sanctuary the title of “Golden Rose”, in recognition of the importance of the devotion.

Also in São Paulo, the Bom Jesus de Pirapora pilgrimage takes place, which is also a natural trait in the traditional culture of the state. The pilgrimage is done on foot, by bicycle, horse, cart, motorbike, car, on chartered buses or run. Pilgrimages occur throughout the year, showing cyclical peaks that demand special action from departments of transit.

In actual fact, all Brazilian states have favourite popular places for local pilgrimages, festivals of patrons (saints whose names are given to chapels, temples or gathering places) and much more.

In Juazeiro do Norte, Ceará, the pilgrimages of Padre Cícero are always news in the State’s main newspapers. The demand by pilgrims for religious objects, souvenirs of Padre Cícero, such as coloured ribbons, plaster statues, pictures, t-shirts and the print of his face on many other objects, as well as traditional handicrafts, drive the local economy.

Although the Church has not canonised Padre Cícero, he continues to be the miraculous saint, godfather and protector of thousands and thousands of Northeast Brazilians who caringly call him “Padim Ciço”.

A small but much sought-after centre of devotion in Northeast Brazil is the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Impossíveis (Our Lady of Lost Causes), in the Lima plateau on the outskirts of the town of Patu, Rio Grande do Norte.

In Pernambuco, the most important is the pilgrimage of São Severino Ramos, in the municipality of Paudalho. It is considered to be the third largest pilgrimage in Brazil. From September to January, thousands of pilgrims flock to the site.

Recife, 5 December 2006.             
(Updated on 14 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.

sources consulted

CÂMARA CASCUDO, Luis da. Dicionário do folclore brasileiro. 3.ed. Brasília:INL/MEC, 1972.
PAUDALHO. Diario de Pernambuco, Recife, 26 maio 2006. Retratos de Pernambuco.
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how to quote this text

Source: ANDRADE, Maria do Carmo. Pilgrimages (Romarias). Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.