Festivals and Pilgrimages in Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo is one of the cities in Portugal with a strong connection to religion.
An example of this is the Sanctuary of Monte de Santa Luzia, one of the greatest religious works in our country, which was built in the Minho region.
In addition to the Sanctuary of Monte de Santa Luzia, there are several churches, cathedrals, chapels, and temples scattered throughout Viana do Castelo, dedicated to the exaltation of religion.
However, the dedication of the people of Viana to religion and Christianity is not limited to churches and temples.
Every year, there are several festivals and pilgrimages in Viana do Castelo that exalt religious elements and pay tribute to iconic figures of Christianity.
Throughout the year, the following festivals and pilgrimages take place in the city of Alto Minho:
- Feast of Our Lady of Agony
- Rose Festival in Vila Franca do Lima
- Feast of the Holy Cross and Flowered Floats in Alvarães
- Pilgrimage in Honor of Our Lady of the Incarnation, in Vila Mou
- Meadela Festival
- Pilgrimage of Santa Marta de Portuzelo
- Feast of Our Lady of the Snows in Barroselas, Vila de Punhe, and Mujães
- Pilgrimage of S. Bartolomeu in Ponte da Barca
- Feiras Novas in Ponte de Lima
- Feast of São João Novo in Subportela
- Open Tray Procession in Perre
Continue reading this article and get to know each one in detail.
Feast of Our Lady of Agony
The Feast of Our Lady of Agony is one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimages in Portugal.
It began in 1823 and has been held every August since then in Viana do Castelo.
This devotion to Our Lady of Agony was originated from the local fishermen who saw her image as their protector.
Initially, there was only a solemn mass celebrated on August 20th at the Sacred Congregation of Rites.
Later on, an annual costume parade was also organized.
In 1968, the first Procession to the Sea took place, during which dozens of fishermen carry the image of the patroness to the sea and the river in their fishing boats. This moment has become an annual tradition.
This way, the Feast of Our Lady of Agony began to take shape in the form it happens today.
Over the years, various moments and activities paying tribute to Our Lady of Agony were added, to the point where the festivities had to be extended for more days beyond August 20th to include everything in the schedule.
Currently, the Feast of Our Lady of Agony takes place over nine days in the city of Viana do Castelo.
Throughout the nine days, there are various parades featuring “cabeçudos” (big-headed figures), “gigantones” (giant figures), drumming groups, floats, and a wide variety of regional costumes, with special emphasis on the gold pieces that women carry.
In 2023, the festival starts on August 14th with musical performances in Praça da Liberdade and extends until August 22nd.
On August 15th and 16th, respectively, the Folklore Festival and the Costume Party take place as part of the festival’s program.
On August 17th, the first festive dawn and the traditional Mordomia Parade are scheduled.
On August 18th, the traditional Solemn Procession is scheduled, and on August 19th, the Historical-Ethnographic Parade takes place. On the night of the 19th, the creation of the Flower Carpets also occurs.
Finally, on August 20th, the aforementioned Procession to the Sea takes place, and on August 22nd, the pilgrimage concludes with a traditional serenade on the Lima River.
If you are curious to participate in this religious festival, you can check the complete schedule on the official website
Rose Festival in Vila Franca do Lima
If the Feast of Our Lady of Agony is one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimages in Portugal, the Rose Festival in Vila Franca do Lima manages to be even older.
This festival has been celebrated for 400 years, and today, it is part of the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
It always takes place on the second weekend of May, being the first festival of the year in the cycle of festivals and pilgrimages in Viana do Castelo.
During the event, there are several activities, including a folklore festival, concerts by philharmonic bands, and the Flower Baskets Parade.
This parade has become a highly anticipated activity of the weekend and has become a significant tradition in Alto Minho.
The tradition was initiated by the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Rosary. The Confraternity was founded in 1622 by Dominican friars who stated in their statutes that the “mordomas” (young women responsible for organizing the festival) had to bring flowers to Our Lady on the feast days.
Since then, the tradition of the parade has been maintained until today.
The flower baskets are crafted with thousands of flower petals and can weigh over 50 kilograms.
During the parade, the baskets are carried on the heads of the “mordomas,” who are young women that turn 19 years old in May.
At the end of the parade, the “mordomas” offer the baskets to Our Lady of the Rosary, and they are displayed in the parish church.
This adds to the excitement of the parade as there is a friendly competition among the “mordomas” to have the most beautiful flower basket.
Overall, it is a parade and festival that should not be missed if you are on vacation in Viana do Castelo in May.
Feast of the Holy Cross and Flowered Floats in Alvarães
Also in May, the Feast of the Holy Cross and Flowered Floats takes place in Alvarães.
The festival also includes a parade, but in this case, it is a bit different from the Flower Baskets Parade that takes place during the Rose Festival.
To prepare the parade for the Feast of the Holy Cross, the community comes together to create beautiful floats adorned with natural flower petals. These petals are carefully attached one by one using a glue made from water and flour.
The floats, then, become the main feature of the parade, with each one weighing over 500 kilograms.
During the parade, visitors of this festival can see eleven fantastic floats adorned with flower petals and fourteen embroidered crosses.
The flower petals create a vibrant and colorful procession, making this festival one of the most anticipated events in Alto Minho.
In addition to the parade, the program of the Feast of the Holy Cross and Flowered Floats in Alvarães also includes a procession in honor of Our Lady of Minho.
Another excellent activity to attend and add to your agenda if you are on vacation in Viana do Castelo in May.
Pilgrimage in Honor of Our Lady of the Incarnation, in Vila Mou
The Pilgrimage in Honor of Our Lady of the Incarnation in Vila Mou is one of the largest pilgrimages in the municipality of Viana do Castelo.
One of its main attractions is the Festive Arch, the landmark of Vila Mou, beautifully decorated with flowers.
During the festivities, there is also a procession of trays and a procession in honor of Our Lady of the Incarnation, which attracts many visitors to the village.
The entire community of the village contributes to the organization of this festival to ensure that it becomes a grand celebration of the Christian religion.
The Pilgrimage in Vila Mou also features philharmonic bands and fireworks to entertain the attendees and add to the festive atmosphere.
Visit Viana do Castelo and, consequently, Vila Mou during the Pilgrimage in Honor of Our Lady of the Incarnation and let yourself be captivated by this beautiful celebration.
The Meadela Festival is another historical tradition of the municipality of Viana do Castelo.
It has been celebrated for about fifty years and is a pilgrimage organized in honor of Saint Christina.
Like many other festivals and pilgrimages mentioned here, the Meadela Festival also includes a Parade and a Solemn Procession.
But it doesn’t stop there.
The festival also includes a traditional fair, open-air markets, and a folklore festival in its program.
And, of course, there will be fireworks as well.
Indeed, at the Meadela Festival, entertainment is guaranteed.
Typically, the Meadela Festival takes place in August and precedes the Feast of Our Lady of Agony.
If you are planning to come on vacation to Viana do Castelo to participate in the Feast of Our Lady of Agony, consider arriving a few days earlier and also taking part in the Meadela Festival.
Pilgrimage of Santa Marta de Portuzelo
August is indeed the most active month in Viana do Castelo when it comes to festivals and pilgrimages.
That is evident, as the Pilgrimage of Santa Marta de Portuzelo also takes place in August, specifically on the second weekend of the month.
This pilgrimage is unique as it features two processions, one on Friday night and another on Saturday afternoon.
During these processions, traditional customs are reenacted.
In the first procession, for example, there is the “Mordomia” parade, where young women dress in black and adorn their chests with gold, parading through Viana do Castelo accompanied by lavradeiras (female peasants) dressed in red and blue.
The gold-covered chest serves as a symbol of the past wealth of the unmarried women’s families. Additionally, during the procession, the girls carry a votive candle in their hands, symbolizing their purity.
On the final day of the Pilgrimage of Santa Marta de Portuzelo, there is a Majestic Procession in honor of the patron saint, Santa Marta.
This patron saint gained a significant following as the advocate for women in childbirth and homemakers.
For this reason, during the Majestic Procession, the devotees of Santa Marta present their penances.
Throughout the procession, they sing hymns in her name while accompanying the floats of the saint. These hymns have a history of over 100 years.
During the procession, the figure of Santa Marta de Portuzelo carries on her chest the offerings made throughout the years as promises.
These offerings are typically made of gold.
An authentic celebration that is worth scheduling on your August calendar. Not only because of the parades and processions, but also because the Pilgrimage of Santa Marta de Portuzelo features a Folklore Festival on Saturday night, filled with lively entertainment and music. This festival is the oldest folk gathering in Portugal.
The Pilgrimage of Santa Marta de Portuzelo is one of the most comprehensive celebrations in Alto Minho, and fun is guaranteed throughout the entire weekend it takes place.
Don’t miss out on this grand festival in Viana do Castelo.
Feast of Our Lady of the Snows in Barroselas, Vila de Punhe, and Mujães
Indeed, August is a month full of festivals and religious celebrations in Viana do Castelo.
If you go on vacation to this city in Minho during August, you can be sure that you won’t be lacking entertainment and fun.
We say this because the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows in Barroselas also takes place during the first weekend of August.
This is a festival that has been taking place since the 16th century at Largo das Neves and is organized by three parishes of Viana do Castelo. They are the parishes of Barroselas, Vila de Punhe, and Mujães.
The most anticipated moment of the Senhora das Neves festival is the performance of the famous Medieval Play of Floripes, a medieval theater play.
The play portrays a battle between Christians and Turks, one of the oldest models of popular theater.
But, although it is the most anticipated moment, the medieval theater is not the only entertainment included in the program of the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows in Barroselas.
There are also parades of percussion groups, accordion parades, a procession in honor of Our Lady of the Snows, an open-air mass, an international folklore festival, mountain biking competitions, and concerts by famous Portuguese artists.
In 2023, for example, the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows will feature performances by fado singer Cuca Roseta and DJs Tom Enzy and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
This year, the festival takes place from August 3rd to 7th, and admission is free. The complete lineup is available on the official channels.
It is definitely another event not to be missed in Viana do Castelo in the month of August.
Pilgrimage of S. Bartolomeu in Ponte da Barca
And we add one more Pilgrimage in August.
We are talking about the Pilgrimage of S. Bartolomeu, which takes place in the town of Ponte da Barca, in the district of Viana do Castelo.
Over six days, this celebration promotes traditions, customs, and practices of the region through its folklore performances, Concertinas, and activities such as “Cantares ao Desafio” (singing challenges), the Tasquinhas and Craft Fair, the Linen Fair, and Traditional Games.
However, the two main highlights of the Romaria de S. Bartolomeu are the Rusgas Parade and the Solemn Procession in honor of Saint Bartolomeu.
The Rusgas Parade is one of the most anticipated moments, as it brings together various groups who dance to popular songs. They parade through the town accompanied by concertinas, drums, cavaquinhos, and other traditional instruments.
It is a lively and animated event.
During the parade, circles of musicians form, and people dance the “vira” and engage in improvised singing battles along the streets.
The Solemn Procession in honor of S. Bartolomeu marks the end of the Romaria festivities, with all the parishes participating by showcasing their most representative saints.
In 2023, the Romaria takes place from August 19th to 24th and is a great opportunity to visit Viana do Castelo. It coincides with the famous Festival of Our Lady of Agony, making it a two-in-one experience.
Feiras Novas in Ponte de Lima
In September, towards the end of summer, the village of Ponte de Lima hosts the Feiras Novas.
Despite its name, the history of this celebration dates back to ancient times.
The origin of this festival took place many centuries ago when the people of Ponte de Lima wanted to honor Our Lady of Sorrows.
It is estimated that the festivities began around 1100, as it was already mentioned in the charter of that year in 1125.
In 1825, the residents of the village even gathered to request permission from the king to hold a three-day fair during the festivities.
The authorization was granted the following year, and since then, the name “Feiras Novas” has been used to identify the multi-day celebration.
Nowadays, Feiras Novas continue to take place and are one of the main attractions of the Viana do Castelo district in September.
The Pilgrimage takes place night and day, with lots of music, fireworks, gigantones and big heads accompanying the festivities.
And, of course, folklore and concertinas are not left out of this great festivity either.
On the last day of Feiras Novas, there is also a Procession in honor of Nossa Senhora das Dores, as has been tradition since the origin of this festivity.
Feast of São João Novo in Subportela
The Feast of São João Novo in Subportela has been taking place in June for over seven hundred years.
It is the festival that showcases the closest Popular Marches to Viana do Castelo and pays a great tribute to the Popular Saint, especially to St. John the Baptist.
In addition to the Popular Marches, this Subportela festival presents all its visitors with a secular theater play.
The play is called “Auto de S. João,” a popular tradition that represents a reenactment of the birth of Saint John.
The representation takes place near the Chapel of São João Novo, and the cast is composed of people who live in Subportela.
In addition to the theater and popular marches, throughout the month of June, Subportela also organizes several festivities with musical performances and folk groups.
So, if you can’t come on vacation to Viana do Castelo in August to enjoy the Our Lady of Agony Feast or the Pilgrimage of Santa Marta de Portuzelo, don’t worry.
Come to Viana do Castelo in June and enjoy the celebration of São João Novo and its festivities in Subportela.
Open Tray Procession in Perre
On the last weekend of July, it’s time for the Open Tray Procession in Perre.
This celebration has been taking place since 1992 and is a tribute to St. Michael, St. Joseph, and Our Lady of Sorrows.
It offers a wide range of activities throughout the weekend that promise to entertain both children and adults alike.
The procession and the open-secret Tray Auction are two of the main highlights of this festive event in Viana do Castelo.
Throughout the festivities, there is also a cultural exhibition at the Parish Hall, a gastronomic gathering, a Mass in honor of the Patrons St. Michael, St. Joseph, and Our Lady of Sorrows, as well as musical performances.
So, another festival to add to your vacation itinerary in Viana do Castelo to ensure you don’t miss out on the excitement during your break from work.
But in order to make the most of all the festivals and pilgrimages, it’s essential to ensure a good rest.
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In addition to comfortable rooms, the hotel features a SPA, indoor pool, and massage services to ensure your rest is complete and of the highest quality.
Its location in the center of Viana do Castelo is also worth mentioning.
AP Dona Aninhas is the hotel with the best location for those who want to attend all the festivals and pilgrimages, as it is just a 20-minute drive away from all the ones mentioned in this article.
Come to Viana do Castelo and have a great time at the best festivals and pilgrimages in Alto Minho.