The Holy Steps Procession

Although not mandatory, the Holy Steps procession was a festivity of great importance, not only in the religious context but also in the social context of Vila Real.

If we analyse the structure of the Procession of the Holy Steps between 1774 (the first that we know of) and 1795, we verify that it preserved the same basic structure, apart from the latter, which included the figure of Simon of Cyrene. From 1795 onwards several elements are introduced or withdrawn, such as the Trumpet, the Angels, the Angel of Divine Love, Simon of Cyrene, the Praetorium, the Acolytes, the Holy Cross, the Eighth Step, the Lord of the Green Cane and the Martyrdoms.

In the processional organization, we can see the strong didactic proposal presented by the actors, they too spectators of this sacred theatre, who toured the city along a route marked by strategic stops, where they recreated the most important scenes of the Passion of the Lord to the Golgotha.

An important innovation refers to the appearance of the Martyrdoms (still present in the Funeral Procession of the Lord) as structural elements in the processional context since, by the position they occupied – after the torch following the flag of the Brotherhood, and before the central figures of Mary/St. John/Mary Magdalene/Angel – they constitute a summary but essential script of the most striking episodes of the Passion preceding the crucifixion of Christ.

On the other hand, if we analyse the structure from the social point of view, and taking the example of the Holy Steps procession carried out in 1835, we note that after the Banner, four torches were carried by two noble brothers and two trade brothers; the First Flag was usually carried by the previous provedor; regarding Our Lady, St. John and Mary Magdalene, there is not a single reference. The wooden framework with the statue of the Lord of the Steps was transported by four noble brothers, and the lanterns associated with this framework were carried by two noble brothers and two trade brothers. The canopy was usually carried "by two ministers of the borough, and after them by the provedores or secretaries who have served" the Misericórdia, and the lanterns associated with the canopy were carried by two noble brothers and two trade brothers. As for the Holy Cross, it should be carried by the Vicar General and, if he was not present, by the chaplain. Finally, regarding the Seven Steps, we always find a noble brother and a trade brother.

The first reference we have on the path followed by the procession concerns the year of 1848. Indeed, when the Seven Steps are mentioned, they point to precise locations: the First Step (the Garden), which would leave the church of the Misericórdia; the Second Step was in the New Hospital; the Third Step in the Old Hospital; the Fourth Step in the Town Plaza; the Fifth Step in the Smithy; the Sixth Step in Cabo de Vila; and the Seventh Step at the Calvário. In 1850, the locations are the same, but specifying that the Sixth Step would be at the Cross of Cabo de Vila. In 1851 and 1852, there is a change with the introduction of an Eighth Step, but in 1864, with the reduction of this additional Step, the procession returns to a shorter path. From 1865 on, the Steps are not mentioned anymore.