Madeira Cathedral (Exterior)

Cathedral of Funchal, Madeira, Portugal


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Cathedral of Funchal
Location: Madeira, Portugal
Date of visit: Tuesday, 26 October 2010, 11:15am

The building

The Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Assuno, from the late 15th century, is one of the few structures that have survived virtually intact since the early period of colonisation of Madeira. The exterior is of dark stone but much of it is covered with white stucco. The overall impression is of a very plain simple structure. The interior, however, features extensive woodcarving (including the ceiling), rich color, and a baroque Blessed Sacrament chapel.

The church

During Portugal's colonisation of the New World following Christopher Columbus' discoveries, all lands claimed by Portugal were made a part of the Diocese of Funchal. Thus, for a time, the diocese was the largest in the world, with the cathedral at its head. The cathedral seems to be well-used (see below).

The neighborhood

Madeira, one of two autonomous regions forming part of Portugal, is a popular year-round holiday resort and is the second wealthiest region of Portugal, after Lisbon. It is perhaps best known for the wine that bears its name. Funchal, the capital of Madeira, was named for the fennel (funchal in Portuguese) that once grew wild in the area. The cathedral is in the heart of Funchal, facing the boulevard with its park like wide center area. The sidewalks, and many of the smaller streets, are paved with miniature black and white cobblestones forming mosaic patterns (see illustration below).

The cast

These were not announced, and I don't know enough Portuguese to ask.

What was the name of the service?

Weekday Low Mass.

How full was the building?

Too many to count – I estimated that the cathedral could squeeze in 300 and that there were at least 200 there. I consider this exceptional for the third mass on a Tuesday morning.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We arrived about half an hour early, just to look at the cathedral, but decided to stay when we saw the schedule. There was no formal greeting, but there were some friendly nods.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a plain wooden pew, and not at all remarkable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

When we arrived there were a few people around (mostly not looking like tourists), some waiting in line at the confessionals. We spent some time in the Sacrament chapel, as did others, all quiet and reverent. When we went back into the main area, it was still quiet but well filled. We found a place in the transept, facing the altar from the side.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

They were in Portuguese, of course, but I recognized them as the equivalent of "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None that I could see.

What musical instruments were played?

None; it was an entirely said service.

Did anything distract you?

The eucharistic minister was an older woman with a rather bird-like voice. She seemed to chirp "Corpus Christi" as she came to each communicant, which took my attention away from the actual communion for the moment. I was also amusingly distracted when the server got out a box of matches to light the altar candles, and again at communion time to light candles in the Sacrament chapel while the woman retrieved the ciborium to give communion.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

A pretty straightforward Vatican II low mass with most of the congregation joining in responses; not stiff, but not much opportunity for happy clappy either.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

3 minutes (it was an ordinary weekday after all).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – It's hard to rate a sermon in a language I do not understand, but he spoke clearly and with some feeling.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Once again the language barrier intervened, but I could pick up just enough to tell that he was speaking about the gospel: the parable of the pharisee and the publican in the temple.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The sense that there were a lot of people there simply to join in worship.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Envy! In nearly 50 years of ordained ministry I have never come close to filling even a much smaller church on an ordinary weekday – and they apparently did it three times a day!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I did have some rather halting conversation with some attendants – whose English was only slightly better than my Portuguese.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

No coffee hour – I didn't even find out if they did one on Sundays.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – Even though I am an Anglican, I really enjoyed worshiping there, and if I ever do revisit Funchal I would plan to go again.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes – I always enjoy worshiping with others who also take it seriously.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The beauty of the interior, the sense of devotion, and, yes, that bird-like chirp.

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