A month ago, the centre of Aveiro was host to one of its biggest festivals, which celebrates São Gonçalo. Aveiro is broken up into geographical districts, there’s Alboi, Glória, Vera Cruz, Barrocas and each one has its own celebrations, traditions and of course, church or chapel. For the São Gonçalinho festivities, the action takes place in Vera Cruz, right in the centre of town.
São Gonçalo, or São Gonçalinho as he is more commonly known here (inho is diminuitive in Portuguese), was reputed to cure illnesses of the bone and sort out marital problems, but today people pay homage for a variety of reasons personal to them. At the chapel dedicated to him, just next to Praça do Peixe, where the main fish market is, the locals gather with umbrellas, fishing nets and sackloads of a special bread, called cavacas. Cavacas are an oval shaped flat bread that is dusted with icing sugar. They are hard on the outside but soft on the inside, which when it comes hurtling towards you from a church roof, you’d find hard to believe! They’re shaped a little bit like a boat, very apt for this region of Portugal.
Local tradition dictates that in throwing the bread from the dome of the church, a prayer will be granted for the year. They call the wishes promessas here, but this sounds strange to the English ear, and so, having had the concept explained to me, I think wish or answered prayer, is a more appropriate translation. Day and night, people file into the chapel with their cavacas, heading up to the dome to stand and throw them at the crowds gathered below. The unique way in which the crowds catch the wishes, though, is what makes this such a fun festival. People are armed for cavacas battle with long fishing nets, metres high, upturned umbrellas, their bare hands and sacks to take them home in… and they’re trained, really trained, for action. It’s normal to see ten fishing nets waving about in the air as people catch the cavacas, with cheers from the crowds, clapping and the necessary dodging of these sweet flying saucers by debutantes like myself.
It’s not just about the art of throwing the bread, though, this is a festival for everyone. The festival takes place every year in January, on the Sunday which falls nearest to the 10th January, with fireworks every night in the five days running up to the Sunday, concerts and cavacas bread stalls – it’s perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth. They even do selection bags so you can test the waters, as it were, then go back for more.