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12 August 2013 / leggypeggy

Wishing for a good ending in Salvador

Church Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks

At first, you don’t notice the ribbons on front fences of the Church Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks

We may not have made it to Nosso Senhor do Bonfim—Salvador’s most important shrine and house of worship—but we got a taste of the magic the church inspires.

Nosso Senhor do Bonfim translates as Our Lord of a Good Ending, just one of many ways that Salvadorians refer to Jesus, and the church has a reputation for granting miracles and wishes.

Its success rate for ‘endings’ is so good that the church has a Room of Miracles decorated with photos and testimonials thanking Senhor do Bonfim for his ‘efforts’ that range from curing the sick to getting someone a promotion or elected to office.

The miracle room’s ceiling has a macabre display of wax and plastic body parts—from skulls to spines to boobs to feet—representing those who have been cured or who have ailments that still need attention.

Bonhim ribbons, fitas

It will take awhile for the uprights to fill with ribbons

But as I already confessed, we didn’t see any of this. I read about it and saw some pictures.

We didn’t see the ribbon-clad fences out the front of the church either, but this is how what we did see comes in to play.

Nosso Senhor do Bonfim is almost completely covered with Bonfim ribbons, also known as fitas. These colourful ribbons are the beginning of many a ‘good ending’.

Today tourists and locals alike buy (or better still are given) ribbons to tie around their wrists, ankles or the church itself. But the Bonfim church fences are full, so people have had to branch out and have started tying their wishful ribbons on the fences at a church we visited as part of our walking tour in Salvador.

As a dominant structure in the Largo do Pelourinho square, the Church Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks, also known as Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos in Portuguese, is a great new ribbon location.

It’s on the edge of the main tourist circuit—the Nosso Senhor do Bonfim is almost eight kilometres from Pelourinho. Plus it’s a pretty church with a heart-warming and appropriately African history.

Work on this church began in 1704. It was built over 100 years, by the enslaved members of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men of Pelourinho.

All construction work was done at night, so the job did not interfere with the slaves daily duties.

Bonhim ribbons, fitas

Ribbons starting to take shape at the Church Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks

The ribbons, which came into use about the time this church was completed, combined the superstitious nature of the African faiths with the miracle-granting powers of the Catholic saints.

In those early days, the ribbons were made of silk and wish-makers tied them around their necks and hung medallions or holy images from them.

Today’s ribbons are made of nylon and come in many colours. You see plenty of tourists wearing them, and even more tied around the cast iron uprights at the Church Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks but it will be a long time before the spaces are filled up.

The story goes that ribbons are to be tied with three knots and a wish should be made as each knot is made. The wishes supposedly come true when a ribbon falls off of its own accord—no helping it along with a pair of scissors.

Poor John and I didn’t buy any ribbons and I suppose it’s too late to wish we had. 🙂

Largo do Pelourinho square, Salvador

Largo do Pelourinho square was in festival mode on the day of our walking tour


Leave a Comment
  1. Joanne T Ferguson (@mickeydownunder) / Aug 12 2013 1:31 pm

    G’day! What a great tradition, TRUE! Too bad you and Poor John were there and did not get to make your wishes too! Thank you always for enlightening me with your travels and what you experience and view! Cheers! Joanne


    • leggypeggy / Aug 12 2013 1:52 pm

      Thanks Joanne. It is a great tradition and I was tempted by the ribbons, but in the end I decided they were just a bit too gimmicky. Maybe next time. 🙂



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