The Nations of men exist by what is best in man, and are destroyed by what is devilish in him.
Every land goes through periods of greatness and periods of decline. Periods of greatness express the enthusiasm of a land and its people for some spiritual ideal and insight, for some great idea. At these moments a country's spiritual essence, the soul of its people, becomes apparent. Periods of decline express the betrayal and loss of that ideal in favour of a fatal and decadent attraction to a worldly passion for earthly riches, land and power, and the clouding of that national soul and spiritual essence. In this way a great many empires, both old and new, have risen and fallen, be it the Babylonian, the Egyptian, the Macedonian, the Western Roman, the Persian, the Eastern Roman, the Zimbabwean, the Mongol, the Aztec, the Inca, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Moghul, the Chinese, the Ottoman, the Austro-Hungarian, the French, the British or the Soviet. We will here look at that great idea and spiritual ideal which once fired the soul of Portugal and its people.
The first period of Portuguese history, the Orthodox Christian one, begins before Portugal as we now know it existed, with the mission of St. James the Apostle, the son of Zebedee and brother of St. John, to the Romanised inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula. To this day his memory is celebrated in Galicia, to the north of the present Portuguese border, in the great pilgrim city of St. James - Santiago de Compostela, where his holy relics are still to be venerated. Such was the fame of this place that in 1049 the Bishop of Compostela was excommunicated by the newly-reformed Papacy for telling the truth - that he too, like the Bishop of Rome, was Bishop of an Apostolic See. Even though Santiago is today outside the present Portuguese border in Portuguese-speaking Galicia, the pilgrimage to the city of the Holy Apostle James has, as we shall see, marked the Portuguese soul throughout its history.
The first saint of Lusitania and Galicia, as Portugal was then known, is from the first century. This is St. Basil (23 May), the first Bishop of Braga, that city in the north of Portugal which became the spiritual heart of the country, giving rise to the Portuguese saying, 'tao velho como o sede de Braga', 'as old as the see of Braga'. He was followed by martyrs: Sts. Paul, Heracleus, Secondilla and Januarius of Porto (2 March) Sts. Verissimus, Maxima and Julia of Lisbon (1 October), all martyred in about 300, and St. Victor of Braga (12 April), baptised in his own blood for refusing to worship the idols in 303. In the fifth century, after the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by Germanic Suebs and Visigoths who adopted Arianism, another martyr came to adorn the Portuguese Church: St. Peter, Archbishop of Braga (26 April) And another, St. Mancius, Bishop of Evora (15 March) was also martyred in this fifth century after Christ. After these came the great Portuguese saint and monastic father, St. Martin, Archbishop of Braga (579), feasted on 20 March, known as the Apostle of Galicia, who converted the King of the Germanic Suebs from Arianism to Orthodoxy and who together with his disciple Paschasius translated the Sayings of the Desert Fathers from the Greek. And we cannot fail to add to his name that of another great monastic father, St. Fructuosos of Braga (665), feasted on 16 April, who, enlightening the Visigoths, wrote a monastic rule. To this period belong the still existing seventh-century churches of St. Fructuosos in Montélios near Braga, built for the relics of St. Fructuosus in the form of a Greek cross, of St. Peter in Balsemao and Santo Amaro in Beja.
This first period of history and of Portuguese spiritual prosperity ended in 711 with the invasion from North Africa of the Moors. They were to take over most of the Iberian Peninsula and even threaten the peoples then living on the territory of southern France, where they were stopped only at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. From this time dates the famous Iberian legend of seven bishops who fled across the Atlantic to 'Antilia', the Island of the Seven Cities, a legend which was to haunt the Portuguese conscience, as we shall see, for many long centuries. The Moorish Invasion provoked a Christian resistance movement in the ninth and tenth centuries which strove to free the north and centre of present-day Portugal from the Muslim Yoke. Two saints stand out in this period: St. Rosendus of Dumio (967), holy bishop and restorer of monasticism in Galicia, feasted on 1 March, and his relative, the holy abbess, Senhorina of Basto (982), feasted on 22 April. To this age also belongs the only other surviving Pre-Romanesque, or Orthodox, church in Portugal, that in Lourosa, founded in 913.
This second period of Portuguese history, that of the Muslim Yoke, beginning then in 711, was to last in much of central Portugal until 1064. It was in this year that a re-conquest began from the north, from the free northern region of Porto, which in 1139 would fix the borders of a new independent state named after it - Portugal. This Re-conquest would not be complete until the thirteenth century in southern Portugal, where the Arab presence is still recorded by many place names, such as 'Algarve', which in Arabic means 'the West'.
Gradually then, over 600 years, the Muslim Yoke was thrown off. But before this Portugal would have to face up to another tragedy, for the Re-conquest of 1064 had been sponsored by a new and foreign ideology - that of Roman Catholicism. By the 1080's this ideology, developed by the aggressive Pope Hildebrand and using French influence, had almost completely suppressed the much-loved Hispanic or Mozarabic liturgical rite which had conserved the old Roman and Western Orthodox liturgy of the first centuries. By 1147, when Lisbon was finally taken back from the Moors, it was clear that the liturgical conquest of Portugal and all Iberia was complete: the old Roman-Mozarabic Orthodox spirituality of the first ten centuries of Iberian history was gone. The age of the Muslim Yoke was all but over, but so too was the age of Portuguese spiritual greatness. It had been replaced by a new papal ideology spread by the elite from France, an ideology which grew ever stronger through the Middle Ages. The Portuguese faithful thus found themselves deprived of the faith of their forebears, in that state of spiritual deprivation which has been the bitter heritage and disease of Western Europe all these long years ever since the eleventh century.
By the thirteenth century then, the Portuguese soul and Portuguese history had been captured by a new ideology and a yearning for an absent Holy Spirit, for a lost Paradise, which their forebears had yet known, grew up among Portuguese people. Thus, with the Muslim Yoke ended, at this time began the third period of Portuguese history, which reached its apogee in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This is the period of great explorers, such as Henry the Navigator, Bartholomew Dias, Vasco da Gama, Alphonse of Albuquerque, Pedro Alvares Cabral, Ferdinand Magellan, when Portuguese influence spread not only to Africa and Brazil, but also as far as China and Japan. This period of great discoveries would end in the sixteenth century when Portugal began its sudden and enigmatic decline, the fourth period of its history. The enigma of this fourth period, of Portugal's decline, can only be understood against the background of the third period of worldly greatness. What was it that urged Portuguese and even non-Portuguese explorers, caught up by the same Portuguese spirit, to set out from Portugal to search for the unknown and thus lay the foundations of Colonial Empires? To understand the spirit of these explorers and why they set out, we can do no better than look at the most famous example, that of a non-Portuguese, who set out with Spanish backing - Christopher Columbus.
Born in 1451 in Genoa but almost certainly of Iberian Jewish origin, Columbus, or Colón as he preferred to be known, knew the Mediterranean very well as a sailor and was renowned as a cartographer. Aged 25 he settled in Portugal, took a Portuguese wife, and lived for some time in newly discovered Madeira, on whose shores he would often find driftwood and plants from some mysterious country to the west. From Madeira and Portugal he sailed to Africa, to England, where sailors told him of Newfoundland, to Ireland and to Iceland, where he again heard of lands to the west. From the 1480's on, Columbus became fascinated by the idea of exploring to the west, becoming convinced not only that he would find there a new land, but a New World, the Earthly Jerusalem. Of unstable character, sometimes verging on insanity, this man of Jewish origin, felt chosen by God as a Messiah for the mission to discover a New World. In this he was driven by a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah 11, 10-12, which reads:
'And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people from the islands of the sea. And he shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth'.
Columbus was further inspired by many writings and traditions, some of which dated back to Ancient Greece. Apart from the most ancient of these, there was the well-known legend in the sixth-century life of the Irish St. Brendan the Navigator, that he had sailed to a land to the west across the Atlantic, the entrance to the earthly Paradise. This land was called 'Brazil', meaning in Gaelic 'the great island'. Secondly, Columbus well knew from Portugal the story of Antilia, the Island of the Seven Cities, whither had fled seven bishops after the invasion of the Moors in 711. Thirdly there was the fact that in A.D. 1492 (the symbolic year 7000 from the Creation of the World, which Columbus understood not symbolically but literally), the Re-conquest of the Iberian Peninsula had been completed and many were looking to further this Re-conquest by taking Jerusalem and thus beginning the eighth and final millennium in which the world would end.
Indeed it was in 1492, the first year of the eighth millennium, that Columbus went out to find 'the New World', discovering what we now call the West Indies. In 1493-4 he returned there with seven vessels and over a thousand colonists. Columbus was convinced that in these islands he had found not only 'Antilia', the Island of the Seven Cities, but also 'Cipango' (Japan) and India. It is on account of these errors that the name 'West Indies' was given to these islands, that the word 'Indians' was used for all the native inhabitants of the Americas and that the West Indies are also known as the Antilles. On a third expedition, in 1498, Columbus discovered South America. Finding a huge gulf of fresh water at the mouth of the Orinoco, he decided that this was one of the four rivers flowing from Paradise, as described in the Book of Genesis: 'And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good' (Genesis 2, 10-12). Returning to Spain, from 1500 on Columbus became more and more obsessed with finding this Paradise, the earthly Jerusalem, whose discovery would be followed by the end of the world. In 1502 he set out on a fourth expedition, seeking a non-existent passage through what is now Panama into what lay beyond - Paradise. In 1504 Columbus would return, exhausted and bitterly disappointed, not having found that Paradise. The settlers who had gone with him had revolted against him, finding gold in insufficient quantities, and slaughtering and exploiting the primitive Indian peoples. Columbus had not lived up to his name: Christopher Colón - the Christbearing Colonist.
Even though he had not himself been born in Portugal, Columbus illustrates Portugal's historic tragedy, the result of a number of specific factors. Firstly, as a result of losing the Orthodox Christian Faith, Portugal lost the Holy Spirit, the Spirit Whom had been brought to the Portuguese territory by St. James the Apostle. Secondly, Portugal had for centuries been frustrated in its ambitions by the Muslim Yoke. And thirdly, its geographical position was such that at the extremities of Europe it had always looked out with curiosity to the setting sun across that mysterious Atlantic Ocean, the source of so many legends. And not least of these legends is that the Old Faith of Portugal was still to be found across it, among the seven bishops in the Island of the Seven Cities. The national idea and spiritual ideal of the soul of Portugal, a pilgrim soul ever since the age of St. James the Apostle, came to fruition in the fifteenth century when it set out in a quest for the Holy Spirit, for Jerusalem, for Paradise. Deprived of spiritual orientation and without guidance, it confused the earthly and the heavenly, and those who set out found not Paradise, but gold, power and the lands of primitive peoples. They found not Jerusalem but Babylon, they found not an Empire of the soul, such as the great St. Martin of Braga had once described to them, but an Empire of the earth.
Only this poison can explain why, after two centuries of heroic exploits between 1384 and 1580, Portugal went into rapid decline. Portugal found not the Holy Spirit, but gold, power and territory, Portugal found not the spiritual, but the material and so forgot and forsook its pilgrim soul, betraying its spiritual ideal and essence, its heavenly pilgrimage becoming a mere earthly attachment. Portugal stopped developing, stopped working on itself, losing its great idea, its spiritual destiny and insight, and declined, becoming the nation forgotten by Europe.
And today all this is recalled not only by the Portuguese word 'saudade', meaning the nostalgic yearning and sorrowful longing of a people whose pilgrim soul is caught between the earth and the sky without the Holy Spirit, but also by the haunting and melancholy yearning of traditional Portuguese music, of the 'fado'. And yet we believe that when the Portuguese soul does awake to its Old Faith, then great will be the feats of its pilgrims as they find anew the Faith of St. James the Apostle and that of the seven bishops on the Island of the Seven Cities.
All the Saints of the Portuguese Land, Pray to God for us!