Holy Ghost Feast begins three weeks of celebration


By Eric Dickervitz

Olivia Germano and Mary Angel Coelho are friends, fellow parishioners of St. Elizabeth’s Church, and for the past year they've held a special honor – mordomos of the Holy Ghost Feast. As they sat beneath the music tent set up on the parish grounds last Friday, draped across each of the women was a red, satin sash with the word “mordomo” outlined in gold embroidering.

For the past 12 months, the mordomos were bestowed with the honor of safekeeping a silver crown, a symbol of the Holy Ghost in Roman Catholic religion. It was kept and displayed in Ms. Coelho’s home, where parishioners had a standing invitation to visit any time to see the icon and pray to the Holy Ghost.

On Saturday, the friends assumed their roles as chief marshals, leading a parade from DeWolfe Avenue to the church grounds, where the feast and festivities began.

Being selected to be the mordomo is an honor, Ms. Germano said, a tradition that came from the island of the Azores.

“It is a devotion to the Holy Spirit,” she said. “I am very honored.”

As is tradition, the spiritual reverence to the Holy Ghost includes seven families hosting the crown for one week each leading up to the feast, and 11 days of rosary prayers. On Saturday, the mordomos were accompanied by fellow parishioners, traditional dancers, musicians, and a variety of livestock that made up the parade, symbolizing the bounty of good fortune that the Holy Ghost provided over the past year. As the parade made its way to the church grounds, onlookers were treated to pieces of sweet bread and a cup of milk to symbolize charity and sharing one's bounty with those who are less fortunate.

“The big thing about the Holy Ghost celebration is to feed the poor,” said the Rev. Luis Dutra, assistant pastor at St. Elizabeth’s Church. “It’s the only time of year that many families would have a proper meal.”

The tradition of hosting the crown, said Father Dutra, is to show gratitude for the god fortune they experienced over the year.

For the parishioners of St. Elizabeth's Church, the feast of the Holy Ghost pays homage to perhaps the most revered and spiritual symbol of the holy trinity that underscores the Roman Catholic faith. Throughout the weekend of May 17 to 19, the Holy Ghost was celebrated much as it is in San Miguel and the Azores. While each village in Portugal has its own version of the Holy Ghost feast, here in Bristol, parishioners, many of whom are natives of different parts of Portugal, have combined various aspects taken from their native traditions.

"In Bristol, it's a blend of traditions," said Ms. Germano.

While food, drink and music were plentiful, with blade meat sandwiches, chourico and peppers and malassads, another Azorean tradition, took place at dusk. Rows of fencing corralled cattle, goats, a pig and various poultry, all to be auctioned to the highest bidder.

As the sun went down, trailers pulled into the driveway and farmhands began to unload animals into the pens. Friends drank wine and laughed, waiting for the auction to begin. One could imagine a similar scene taking place in the Azores or San Miguel.

For Alexander Milhomens, 12, of Bristol, the livestock auction is the best part of the celebration.

“I come every year,” Alexander said. “Once he starts talking,” he said of the auctioneer, “there’ll be bids all over here.”

On May 24 to 26, St. Elizabeth’s will host its Holy Trinity Feast with a Bodo de Leite procession starting from Guiteras School at 5 p.m. on Saturday. On Sunday, a procession to the church will begin at 9 a.m. from Gil’s Appliances on Metacom Avenue. After a feast Mass at 10 a.m., all are invited to dine on a traditional Holy Ghost soup.

The religious celebrations will wrap up on May 31, June 1 and 2, when St. Elizabeth’s hosts the Santo Cristo Feast, with a procession following the Mass at 1:30 p.m.


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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.