Holy Christ of Miracles Procession
St. Mary’s Catholic Church
588 Adelaide St. West, Toronto
They leave the country wearing a Holy Christ medallion around their neck, or a little saint in their luggage, or tiles of the Holy Christ in front of their houses, or when they are sick they have a Holy Christ print at their bedside at the hospital, or when they die they take a print inside their coffin. They never leave the Holy Christ. We see his face burdened, in pain, with thorns. The people identify with that – Fernando Couto.
The Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres procession in Toronto, launched in 1966, was for years the largest Portuguese (Azorean) religious celebration in Canada and one of the largest in North America. Associated initially with the St. Mary’s Catholic Church in West downtown Toronto, the same procession has spread to other large Azorean settlements across Ontario, where devotion to the Senhor Santo Cristo is maintained.
The procession of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres, or Holy Christ of Miracles, organized by St. Mary’s Catholic Church, is among North America’s largest Portuguese religious celebrations. The tradition dates back to the late seventeenth century, when an ornate wooden statue of Ecce Homo was paraded through the decorated streets of Ponta Delgada, in the Azorean island of São Miguel, five weeks after Easter. In the early eighteenth century, as the island was rocked by earthquakes, the statue fell during one of its annual processions and at once it was believed that the tremors stopped without the statue being damaged. Following this and other reported “miracles,” devotion to the statue grew. This devotion has been displayed on the streets of Toronto since 1966, thanks in large part to the generosity of musician Mariano Rego, who donated a replica of the statue to St. Mary’s that year, which was then directed by the influential and controversial priest Alberto Cunha.
Dating back to 1852, St. Mary’s is the third oldest church in Toronto. In 1958, it became the first Portuguese national parish in Toronto and has since been an important hub for this community in more ways than just spiritually. There, the statue of Senhor Santo Cristo has a dedicated chapel from which it is removed every year five weeks after Easter and carried through the streets surrounding the church. The procession also includes men wearing red capes, children in gowns adorned with angels’ wings or religious uniforms, marching bands, representatives from different community organizations, and thousands of onlookers lining the streets.
The feast of Senhor Santo Cristo is a fundamental part of Azorean culture and one of the most visible public manifestations of Portuguese life in Canada. In 1974, a reported 90,000 people attended the procession and subsequent celebrations, coming from various parts of the Azorean diaspora, including Bermuda and New England. In recent years, the changing demographics and structures in the area surrounding St. Mary’s church have created logistical challenges to the continuation of this procession, whose place in an increasingly secular city is questioned by local residents and city officials. The gradual departure of Portuguese immigrants from downtown Toronto and the appearance of Santo Cristo processions in Galt, Guelph, Kingston, London and other locations across Ontario have contributed to reducing the number of attendants. Nonetheless, the devotion to Senhor Santo Cristo remains strong, as evidenced by the thousands of faithful joining the procession every year.
Hora dos Portugueses
Photos & Videos
Short description: Crucifix
Place of origin: Azores, Portugal
Description: Old and darkened crucifix with bandage tape holding the cross’ intersection and extremities on the back, standing in a golden leaf base. The crucifix was brought from the Azores and gifted to St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
See 3D version here.