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Washing of Bonfim

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Secular-Religious Celebration in Salvador
Washing of Bonfim
Alberto Coutinho/Agecom

Jan. 2, 2014

One of the top celebrations in Brazil, the washing of the steps of the Nosso Senhor do Bonfim Church in Salvador takes place in January. It is considered the city's second largest feast, next to Carnival only.

The festivities, which draw about 1 million people, have their origin in the work of slaves preparing the church for the Catholic feast of Our Lord of Bonfim. Home to an image of Our Lord of Bonfim since 1754 - the wooden statue was brought over from Setúbal, in Portugal, by a military officer called Theodósio de Faria - the church used to be washed with water from a nearby spring, carried on donkeys.

A great number of the women who washed the temple were adept of the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé religion. In the late 19th century, the festivities were forbidden by the local Archdiocese and persisted on the outside area - with the washing taking place on the forecourt and the 10 steps leading up to it.

During the washing itself, women in traditional attire liberally sprinkle the ground with a banho de cheiro, an infusion of herbs in water which has purifying and ritualistic attributes in Candomblé and which they carry in clay jars. The infusion is also sprinkled on people.

Today's Washing of Bonfim still takes place before the official date for the Catholic celebration of the patron saint. It starts with an ecumenical rite at the Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia, followed by a parade of 8 kilometers to the Bonfim Church. Besides the syncretism of Catholicism and Candomblé, the parade has popular music such as samba, capoeira and other secular forms of expression as well as a religious focus.

There are often side parties timed to the event. One of the most famous is Enxaguada du Bonfim (the "Bonfim Rinse"), hosted by musician Carlinhos Brown at Museu du Ritmo.

In 2014, the Washing of Bonfim will be on January 16. 

See more photos of Washing do Bonfim on the Bahiatursa Flickr.

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