Salvador de Bahia – The Home of 365 churches

After my misadventures throughout Brazil, I thought I might take it a little saner in Salvador.  There was one place in particular I wanted to go, and it was not within walking distance of the port.  So, I consulted with several people and got hooked up with a tour of historical Salvador.  This tour promised to spend more time at each stop and it included the places I wanted to see.  I was very pleased to see that my new friends from Glasgow were also on this tour.  As it turned out, there were only 20 people – nice number – but this time half for English and half were German – it has been a while since I’ve practiced speaking any German! Our guide was native to Salvador, but spent some time in Germany, so he was fluent in Portuguese, German and English – and he truly loves his city.  Throughout the tour, he would tell us how to best interact with people – when to give money (and when not to).  Our first stop was the church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim.

Senhor du Bonfim
Senhor do Bonfim

While this is a Catholic church, it is also considered the hearty of candomble – and one of the places I really wanted to visit.  In the plaza in front of the church, I met two Santos who blessed me with cascarillo, bay leaves and corn.  They were wearing the colours of the Oshun, so I thought that was an auspicious start for me.  I was also given the special ribbons that are used to make wishes at the church. Our tour guide also went through this little ceremony, which I thought was another good omen.

Blessing
A Candoble Blessing

He really did seem to understand the religion and the meaning of the different ribbons.  All along a wrought-iron fence in front of the church, people tie these ribbons with three knots.

Senhor do Bonfim Ribbons
Senhor do Bonfim Ribbons
Ribbons at Senhor do Bonfim
Ribbons at Senhor do Bonfim

Inside the church, there is a special “room of miracles” where, when your wish has come true, you send something back to thanks the Saint.  There were pictures of weddings, soccer championships and letters describing how the Saint helped.  There were also rows of wax feet, legs and babies, for people to give as offerings for healing of ailments or birth of children.

Room of Miracles, Senhor do Bonfim
Room of Miracles, Senhor do Bonfim

On the second Sunday in January, there is a procession of Bahaian women in traditional outfits from the centre of Salvador to the church steps, where they wash the steps.  Since this is not considered a Catholic tradition, the doors of the church are close – but the celebration continues.

As we got back on our bus, there were two children who are part of a special program to help poorer children get an education and earn money.  They sang a traditional song to Nosso Senhor.

We then joined the inevitable traffic back to the centre of Salvador and the Pelourinho or the upper city.  This is an UNESCO World Heritage site because of its large collection of colonial buildings. Our first stop was the Palacio Rio Blanco.  It was built in the 16th century and has been used as many things over the years; barracks, a residence for Dom Pedro II and even a prison.  It is a beautiful building that comands exquisite views of the lower city and the port below it. It is also next to the Elevador Lacerda, which is an elevator that connects the lower and upper parts of the city.

Elevator
Elevador Lacerda

As we walked through the streets of the upper city, we had opportunities to take pictures with the women dressed in the traditional clothes – big hoop skirts and turbaned headdresses. We headed to Terreiro de Jesus, a plaza with several churches and a group of men who were demonstrating capoeira moves. As it started to rain, we ducked into one church where you can see the progression of the rococo-style is art and architecture with each side altar. As we left the church, the rain really started to fall – we took shelter in a gem shop and then were told to take some time to get a coffee, etc. while we waited a bit for the rain to die down.

San Fransicso
Igreja de Sao Francisco

We then headed to the Igreja de Sao Francisco.  This is a working Franciscan monastery – and it is also an important gothic monument noted for its Baroque inner decorations.  But first, there are the decretive tile designs that line the interior garden.  They are done in traditional blue and white and depict scene from mythology what have religious meanings.  As beautiful as the tiles are, nothing can compare to walking into a house of pure gold – and that is what the main church is – more than 100 kilograms of gold covers almost ever surface of the interior of the church.  The lights reflect off the gold until you feel you are bathing in its sheen. A part of me was amazed – and a part of me was wondering what St. Francis and his most pious followers would have said about a church like this – since he was known to give away all his gold and earthly possessions. Salvador does appear to be a place of drastic contradictions.

The rain stayed with us as me made our way to an area that was important to the slave trade – and had a church built by the slaves and still used today.  On Tuesdays, the mass said in this church is a combination of Portuguese and Yoruban – with a lot of drumming and dancing. We also had some time to visit some shops along the way.  I, of course, saw an apron to add to my collection and had a great time with 3 ladies in a shop for clothing.  Everyone we met was very warm and friendly.

We then headed back along the cobblestone streets to the bus – the rain was steady at this time and I felt like a drowned rat!  Of course I left my umbrella and raincoat on the bus, as I did not think IU would need it on the sunny day we had in the beginning! My plan had been to not go on the ship just yet, but spend a little time in the Mercado. But I was cold and wet and just wanted to get warm.  Still, I loved the charm of Salvador and the warmth of its people.

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