Monday, April 29, 2013

Sopa Do Espirito Santo

I was just going to post this recipe, with no background of exactly why we do it, but then it started to intrigue me of exactly WHY and HOW this came about.  If you've ever been to the Festa Do Espirito Santo, you know it envolves the Holy Ghost, a crown, and a parade, a child being crowned, but why??  Here it is.  At the end you'll find the recipe for the "Sopas" that are served during this time.

(Picture from the Fall River Festa 2012)

Azoreans believe that the Holy Ghost is a separate deity; they consider him to be a powerful and vindictive male with a decidedly human personality and specific likes and dislikes.  A dove with outstretched wings on top of a silver crown and a silver scepter symbolize the Holy Ghost to the people of the Azores.

The legend of the Festa Do Espirito Santo dates back to Queen Isabela of Portugal, who reigned between 1295 and 1322. Queen Isabela was bothered by the many poor and hungry people of her country, and she pleaded with the Holy Ghost to help her starving people.  She promised to sell her jewels and crown if He could help. Within days suddenly two ships appeared in a Portuguese harbor. Neither of the ships had any humans on it. The only contents were cattle on one ship and grain on the other. These ships were thought to be a miracle sent from the Holy Ghost in answer to Queen Isabela’s pleas. With this supply of cattle and grain, a large meal of meat and bread was prepared and a banquet served to the poor. 

From that date forward, an annual banquet for the poor was given in the same manner as the first. Queen Isabela continued to offer this yearly ceremony as a thanksgiving to the Holy Ghost for the peace bestowed within Portugal and for the health of the Portuguese people. The event continues to be observed and celebrated in almost the same fashion today as Queen Isabela celebrated it. Though today the holiday is not widely celebrated in continental Portugal, the festivities have spread to Bermuda, Canada, the United States, and Brazil, and still flourish in the Azores. 

Today, the Feast of the Holy Ghost occurs in the eight weeks between Easter and Trinity Sunday. The celebration is managed by the Irmandade do Divino Espírito Santo, or the Brotherhood, who are responsible for caring for the Holy Ghost House and all the paraphernalia of the ritual during the year as well as sponsoring the festival itself. 

The Holy Ghost House is called the Império. These elaborately painted one-room buildings are divided into three parts by the placement of the door and two windows. Though they are permanent structures, Império’s are opened and used only once a year for the festival celebration. The first part of the festival, função, occurs in the private homes of members of the Brotherhood. The previous year, the names of seven members would have been selected in a lottery. Starting at Easter, each person selected takes the crown and scepter with the dove as well as other ritual goods for one week. A banner of the Holy Ghost with fresh flowers placed in front of the home marks it as a ritual space and signifies that the Holy Ghost is there. The crown is installed on an altar decorated with flowers and candles. 

During this time, anyone may enter the house to worship, and each day of the week people gather to recite the rosary. This part of the celebration represents the payment of a personal promise to the Holy Ghost. During this week, the person who was selected to sponsor the crown must offer food and gifts to all those who come to worship. At the end of the week, the ceremony moves on to the next house according to the order which the lottery had dictated. The Crown circulates from house to house until each of the seven people chosen have hosted the Crown for one week and kept their personal promise to the Holy Ghost. For the final week, the festival moves to the Império where the larger public holiday happens. During the week, people bring gifts to put at the altar where the crown has been placed. Traditional gifts of sweet bread, fruit, cakes and live animals are left at the altar as well as a variety of other things. 

The main part of the festival occurs on Trinity Sunday. The morning begins with a formal procession, from the Império to the church to attend Mass. There a child who symbolically crowned as Emperor before they head back to the Império. Then they partake in festa, the ceremonial distribution of meat, wine, and bread to the "poor". The meal is followed by an auction where all the food and gifts donated throughout the week are sold. All the money raised is given to charity and to the poor. After the auction, a lottery is drawn to decide who will host the Crown the following year. 

The ritualistic eight weeks of the holiday involve a tremendous amount of gift giving and food. The celebration, which has survived for many centuries, expresses the people’s desire for charity, devotion, reciprocity, cooperation, and competition.

Sopa Do Espirito Santo

3 beef shanks
3 pork shanks
2 sticks of chourico
1 head of cabbage cut in quarters
6 whole potatoes peeled
Day old bread

Take a large stock pot add meat.  Cover with water and let it boil for an hour, at least.  Then add the potatoes and cabbage.  Cook for about 30 min. or until the potatoes are cooked.  Remove meat, potatoes and cabbage and place on a serving platter on the side.  Then break the bread into chucks into a LARGE serving bowl.  Place mint leaves over the top of the bread.  Then you take the broth and pour over the bread.  Let the bread soak for a minute and it is ready to serve.

Serve the meat and potatoes after the "sopa".


  1. I went to Festa a couple of times in Lovelock, NV with my grandmother. I love this sopa and missed it. I asked my grandmother to send me the recipe which she did gladly. When I got it I couldn't stop laughing. She sent me the recipe in the format that the city uses it. The first ingredient was "3 fatted bulls". I quickly figured out that there was no way I was going to be able to par this down. I'm so glad you put this recipe here so I can have it whenever I want. :-)

  2. Thank you for the post.I have recently learned of my family's historical connection to the Azores so all things "Azorean" are very interesting.

  3. Thank you for the post.I have recently learned of my family's historical connection to the Azores so all things "Azorean" are very interesting.