Portugal, Land of Saint Mary

Portugal, Land of Saint Mary

Portugal’s Marian devotion began as early as the birth of the nation in the 12th century. Alphonse, founder of the kingdom and the first king of Portugal, placed his country under the protection of Our Lady by a vow, made with the consent of his vassals and signed at the Cathedral of Lamego on April 28, 1142. This date is considered as that of Portugal’s baptism, after which it has been called Terra de Santa Maria or “Land of Saint Mary”. When the city of Santarem was taken back from the Moors, a few years later, Alphonse had a monastery built, which he dedicated to the Virgin and called Santa Maria de Alcobaça.

Mary is Godmother of cities taken back from the Moors

All the conquests of the founder and king were embarked upon under the auspices of Mary and each city taken back from the Moors was christened with the Virgin as Godmother, while the people built there a church named after her: such as the oldest churches of Lisbon, for instance Our Lady of Martyrs and Our Lady da Enfermeria.

Mary, Star of the Sea, Protector of Navigators and Missionaries

The sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazareth, on the coast, is undoubtedly the oldest Portuguese Marian shrine, built well before the foundation of the kingdom; its statue of Mary goes back to the time when the Spaniards were in the area, well before the Arab invasion. In Batalha, in the 14th century, the king, as a sign of the recognition of Portugal, had an immense church built and dedicated to Mary under the name of Our Lady of the Victory, in memory of the great battle won against the Spanish invaders on August 14, 1385. On the Portuguese coast as well, a church worthy of note is Santa Maria de Belém, because it was from this beach, and after having entrusted themselves to the protection of Mary, that important navigators set sail to discovered the seas. This is how the veneration of Mary, Star of the Sea, began in parts of the world where she had hitherto been unknown.


Portuguese Marian piety is particularly marked by pilgrimages; they are called "cirios" (candles) because each parish has its own group of pilgrims that carry a candle to the altar of the Virgin each year. The “cirio” of Our Lady of the Cape, in Cape Espichel, is one of oldest Portuguese “cirios”, but there still exist other “cirios” in other provinces all over the country. Another poignant characteristic in Portugal - their cathedrals are all dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption as well as nearly a third of the parish churches. This comes from the fact that several great national historical dates coincided with the festival of Our Lady of the Assumption. In the same way the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary became one of most beloved feasts to the Portuguese faithful along with the recitation of the Rosary. In Portugal, this nation is so attached to its love for the Virgin that parents even give the Virgin Mary to their child as Godmother.

March 25, 1646: Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is officially named Protector of Portugal

On March 25, 1646, the royal decree ratifying the decision of Cortez to name Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the Protector of Portugal was proclaimed, in thanksgiving of the independence found by the nation, during the octave of December 8, 1640. Consequently, all the main Portuguese institutions and universities decided to defend the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception... two centuries before the proclamation of the Dogma by the Church in 1854!


Currently, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, of worldwide renown, is the most well known center of Marian piety and the most visited shrine in the country. Here the Blessed Virgin asked for three basic things: devotion to her Immaculate Heart in order to save sinners from hell and to ensure peace; consecration to her Immaculate Heart for the conversion of Russia; communion on the first Saturday of the month in the spirit of reparation and conversion. The events of Fatima also propelled Marian enthusiasm to a new surge that gave impetus to the entire country! All Portuguese spiritual guidebooks recognize that it is thanks to Mary’s miraculous protection and the deep Marian piety of her Portuguese children that the nation managed to stay out of the last world war that caused such devastation to the rest of Christian Europe!

Pius XII recognized that the protection of Our Lady of Fatima shielded Portugal from the Second World War

Pope Pius XII, at the time of the coronation of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, in 1946, declared that: "the most formidable war that ever devastated the world, prowled around your borders over a period of four long years, without being able to cross them. You owe it all especially to Our Lady, who, from her throne of mercy, [...] in the center of your country at Fatima, took care of you and your governing officials...”


At the time of the festivities of the coronation of Our Lady of Fatima, the pilgrim statue of the Virgin journeyed for 32 days to all the parishes of the country, and crowds came to acclaim the statue along the roadside: "It had been said that the whole country was transformed into an immense cathedral without walls to limit the participants. Literally, whole cities and villages were emptied out as the crowds rushed to greet the Pilgrim Virgin," wrote Father José de Oliveira Dias, S.J. "Generally speaking,” he continued, “the Virgin was received in town halls for the night. Evening Eucharist vigils were organized, and, during these ceremonies, very often, the civil authorities made the habit of [...] solemnly consecrating their town to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

From Fatima throughout the whole world

After that, Lucia, the visionary of Fatima, planned the project of sending Our Lady of Fatima on a pilgrimage throughout the whole world. In 1947 this world pilgrimage began: throughout Europe, but also to all the continents of the world, innumerable parishes received the Immaculate Virgin of Fatima!