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de Nossa Senhora da Assunção, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
Photo: © Portuguese_eyes and used under license
Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Assunção, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal.
This late 15th century cathedral is one of the few structures
that have survived virtually intact since the early period of
colonisation of Madeira. The exterior is of dark stone but much
of it is covered with white stucco. The overall impression is
of a very plain simple structure. The interior, however, features
extensive woodcarving (including the ceiling), rich color, and
a baroque Blessed Sacrament chapel.
During Portugal's colonisation of the New World following
Christopher Columbus' discoveries, all lands claimed by Portugal
were made a part of the Diocese of Funchal. Thus, for a time,
the diocese was the largest in the world, with the cathedral
at its head. The cathedral seems to be well-used (see below).
Madeira, one of two autonomous regions forming part of Portugal,
is a popular year-round holiday resort and is the second wealthiest
region of Portugal, after Lisbon. It is perhaps best known
for the wine that bears its name. Funchal, the capital of
Madeira, was named for the fennel (funchal in Portuguese)
that once grew wild in the area. The cathedral is in the heart
of Funchal, facing the boulevard with its park like wide center
area. The sidewalks, and many of the smaller streets, are
paved with miniature black and white cobblestones forming
mosaic patterns (see illustration below).
These were not announced, and I don't know enough Portuguese
The date & time:
26 October 2010, 11.15am. [Editor's note: This report was
filed 7 February 2012.]
What was the name of
Weekday Low Mass.
How full was the building?
Too many to count I estimated that the cathedral could
squeeze in 300 and that there were at least 200 there. I consider
this exceptional for the third mass on a Tuesday morning.
Did anyone welcome you
We arrived about half an hour early, just to look at the cathedral,
but decided to stay when we saw the schedule. There was no
formal greeting, but there were some friendly nods.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a plain wooden pew, and not at all remarkable.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
When we arrived there were a few people around (mostly not
looking like tourists), some waiting in line at the confessionals.
We spent some time in the Sacrament chapel, as did others,
all quiet and reverent. When we went back into the main area,
it was still quiet but well filled. We found a place in the
transept, facing the altar from the side.
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
They were in Portuguese, of course, but I recognized them
as the equivalent of "In the name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
None that I could see.
What musical instruments
None; it was an entirely said service.
Did anything distract
The eucharistic minister was an older woman with a rather
bird-like voice. She seemed to chirp "Corpus Christi" as she
came to each communicant, which took my attention away from
the actual communion for the moment. I was also amusingly
distracted when the server got out a box of matches to light
the altar candles, and again at communion time to light candles
in the Sacrament chapel while the woman retrieved the ciborium
to give communion.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
A pretty straightforward Vatican II low mass with most of
the congregation joining in responses; not stiff, but not
much opportunity for happy clappy either.
Exactly how long was
3 minutes (it was an ordinary weekday after all).
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
7 It's hard to rate a sermon in a language I do not
understand, but he spoke clearly and with some feeling.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
Once again the language barrier intervened, but I could pick
up just enough to tell that he was speaking about the gospel:
the parable of the pharisee and the publican in the temple.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The sense that there were a lot of people there simply to
join in worship.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
Envy! In nearly 50 years of ordained ministry I have never
come close to filling even a much smaller church on an ordinary
weekday and they apparently did it three times a day!
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
I did have some rather halting conversation with some attendants
whose English was only slightly better than my Portuguese.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
No coffee hour I didn't even find out if they did one
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
7 Even though I am an Anglican, I really enjoyed worshiping
there, and if I ever do revisit Funchal I would plan to go
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes I always enjoy worshiping with others who also
take it seriously.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The beauty of the interior, the sense of devotion, and, yes,
that bird-like chirp.
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