Friday, 14 January 2011

HOLY CROSS OF BALASAR - 3

The report of the Parish Priest

The report on the appearance of the Holy Cross sent by the Parish Priest of Balasar to the ecclesiastical authorities of the Archdiocese is dated 6th August 1832. This date is less than two months after the event, which took place on 21st June, the feast of Corpus Christi that year. The contents of the report were later confirmed by independent reports submitted by the Parish Priests of Gondifelos and Macieira.  So we are talking here about well documented facts, not hearsay or legend.
It’s also to be noted that Portugal, which had already been through a long period of political disturbance, faced imminent civil war. Mindelo’s landing was on 8th July of that year, and the liberal victory of 1834 would have terrible consequences for the Church.  In this context, the appearance of the cross was an incitement to faith and to hope, and this message was not lost on the people.
For reasons that I am unaware of, the parish priest António José de Azevedo, author of the report, left Balasar in 1833. His successor was “banished in 1834, for reason of having agreed with the usurpation, and was reinstated in 1841”, as we are told by  the priest Domingos da Soledade Silos, a staunch partisan of the new political regime. These violent upsets had been rather common; the devotee Bernadina Rosa Costa to the Holy Cross de Balsar tells it this way when referring the Touguinhó’s Parish Priest.
Part of the report of the Priest, António José de Azevedo, which we will now quote, is shown here in a copy of 1834 which is preserved in the parochial office of Balasar:

Your Most Excellent and Reverend Lordship,
I write to advise you of an inexplicable occurrence in this Parish of Saint Eulalia of Balasar. Last Corpus Christi, while the people coming to morning Mass were passing the road which crosses the little hill of Calvary, they noticed a cross laid out on the ground. The earth which formed this cross was of a lighter colour than the surrounding soil. Dew had fallen all around, except on the cross. I myself went to brush away the dust and loose earth that formed the cross, but the design reappeared in the same place. I then ordered a considerable quantity of water to be poured over it and on the surrounding ground. But after this had drained away, the cross reappeared once more and has remained there since.
The staff of this cross measures fifteen hands and the traverse measures eight hands. On rainy days the cross can be clearly seen at any hour and during good weather the cross is perfectly visible from early morning until nine o’clock, and in the afternoon, when the Sun is sinking in the west. During the daylight hours it is not so easy to discern.
As the news of the appearance of this cross began to spread people started to travel to see and to venerate it; they decorated it with flowers and left alms. It is told that some people having asked for the aid of God in their needs through it had their requests granted. Instances were reported of sick animals being healed, also animals who had been lost or stolen were recovered in ways that seemed miraculous.  Some people who had suffered for years from diseases were restored to health in a few days. A woman of Apúlia parish who had a cripple finger, touched the cross with it and was suddenly healed so that she was able to move the finger with the same ease as she could move the others of the same hand. I did not witness this myself, but it was witnessed by trustworthy people, who testified to what they had seen.
Devotion to the cross has become so popular that on Sundays and Holy Days people from distant areas walk here on pilgrimage to see and venerate it. When they arrive they circle it on their knees. Many leave alms before they depart and I have appointed an honest man to look after these offerings. 
Some of my parishioners now want to use the alms money to construct a sort of chapel at the site of the cross, to cover it with wood and also to have it surrounded with a wooden frame for protection from the elements and, inside and opposite the earth cross, to erect a wooden cross, with the Image of Crucified Jesus painted on it. 
I do not wish to agree to this without advising Your Excellency on the phenomenon, or to undertake the work without Your Excellency’s permission, being conscious that neither I nor the parishioners have authority to use the alms-money at will. Anyway, there are insufficient funds to construct the sort of edifice the site calls for. I would be obliged if Your Excellency would express you judgement on this matter and advise what measures I should take.
Saint Eulália of Balasar, 6 August 1832.
Your Excellency’s the most humble servant,
Padre António José de Azevedo

Father António José de Azevedo acted in this matter with eminent good-sense, particularly if we take into account the political climate that cast a dark shadow even over the Archdiocese:  He showed neither hasty enthusiasm nor stubborn disbelief.  Facts are facts, he seems to say to the archiepiscopal authority, and his pragmatic attitude still speaks to us today.


The name of the  Parish priest of Touguinhó mentioned above was Custódio José de Araújo Pereira and was very rich. Ten years later he would pay a new church for the parish. He must have been a very respectable man, therefore Domingos da Soledade Silos does not say anything wrong about him.

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