Nossa Senhora da Nazaré is an image carved in wood, about 25 cm high, representing the Virgin Mary sitting on a low bench breastfeeding the Baby Jesus, with the faces and hands painted in a “dark” color. According to oral tradition, it was sculpted by St. Joseph when Jesus was still a baby, with faces and hands painted, decades later, by St. Luke. She is venerated at the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, at Sítio da Nazaré, in Portugal.
The history of the image was published in 1609, for the first time, by Frei Bernardo de Brito, in the book Lusitanian Monarchy. This monk from Alcobaça, chronicler of Portugal, reports that he found a territorial donation from 1182 in his monastery registry, which included the history of the image, which was venerated in the early days of Christianity in Nazareth in Galilee, his hometown. From Maria. Hence the invocation of Nossa Senhora – da Nazaré. From Galilee, it was brought, in the fifth century, to a convent near Mérida, in Spain, and from there, in 711 to the Sítio (of Our Lady) of Nazaré, where it continues to be venerated.
The story of this image is inseparable from the miracle that saved D. Fuas Roupinho, in 1182, an episode that was conventionally called “the Legend of Nazaré”.
During the Middle Ages, hundreds of images of Black Virgins appeared throughout Europe, most of which, like this one, were carved in wood, of small dimensions and linked to a miraculous legend. Today, there are about four hundred of these images, ancient or their replicas, in churches across Europe, as well as some more recent ones in the rest of the world.
The true and sacred image of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré has not yet been subjected to a laboratory test to date it scientifically and in parallel to obtain confirmation of being in front of a bi-millenary image, or of a replica produced later.
Legend of Nazaré tells that at dawn on September 14, 1182, D. Fuas Roupinho, mayor of the castle of Porto de Mós, hunted along the coast, surrounded by a dense fog, close to his lands, when he saw a deer that immediately started chasing. The deer headed for the top of a cliff. D. Fuas, in the fog, isolated himself from his companions. When he realized that he was on the top of the cliff, on the edge of the cliff, in danger of death, he recognized the place. He was right next to a cave where an image of the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus was venerated. He then pleaded, out loud: Our Lady, Help me! Immediately, the horse miraculously stopped, sticking its paws in the rocky boulder suspended over the void, the Beak of Miracle, thus saving the rider and his mount from certain death that would result from a fall of more than one hundred meters.
D. Fuas dismounted and went down to the cave to pray and thank the miracle. Then he sent his companions to call bricklayers to build a chapel over the grotto, in memory of the miracle, the Hermitage of Memory, to be exposed there to the miraculous image of the faithful. Before the cave was trapped, the masons undid the altar there and among the stones, unexpectedly, they found an ivory safe containing some relics and a parchment, in which the relics were identified as being from São Brás and São Bartolomeu and the story was told of the small image representing the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1377, King D. Fernando (1367-1383), due to the significant influx of pilgrims, ordered the construction of a church, near the chapel, to which the image of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré was transferred. of origin, the village of Nazaré in Galilee.
The popularity of this devotion at the time of the Discoveries was so great among the people of the sea, that both Vasco da Gama, before and after his first trip to India, and Pedro Álvares Cabral, came on a pilgrimage to Sítio da Nazaré. Among the many pilgrims of the Royal family, we highlight Queen D. Leonor of Austria, third wife of King D. Manuel I, sister of Emperor Charles V, future Queen of France, who stayed at the Site for a few days, in 1519, in an accommodation of wood built especially for this occasion. Also S. Francisco Xavier, Jesuit priest, the Apostle of the East, came on a pilgrimage to Nazaré before leaving for Goa. In fact, the Portuguese Jesuits were the main propagators of this cult on all continents.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the cult of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré was widely disseminated in Portugal and in the Portuguese Empire. Even today, some replicas of the true image are venerated and there are several churches and chapels dedicated to this invocation around the world. It is worth mentioning the image of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, which is venerated in Belém do Pará, Brazil, whose annual party was named Círio de Nazaré and is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world, reaching two million pilgrims in one day.