Our Lady of Aires - the Legend and the Fair
The surrounding area of the Sanctuary of the Our Lady of Aires has vestiges of the Roman civilization, perhaps from a population named "Arês" or "Ares". In the past, when reference to the Saint was made, one wrote Ares ("ares" of the Blessed Maria, etymologica
lly) instead of Aires. The name attributed to the Saint can be consequence of the localization of the Sanctuary in the place of this possible old population named "Arês".
There are two legends told by the people. One that tells that in that farm, called the Herdsman, a rich farmer lived, hypothetically Martim Herdsman, that possessed a herd of oxen. In the farm existed a corral where every night the oxen were collected. At a given time the employees of the farmer had noticed that during the night the oxen leave the corral to go to graze, but in the next morning they were all inside, with the door closed. They told the mystery to their boss who decide to sleep one night at the door of the corral. In that night the Lady appeared to him in his dreams, and told him that She was the one who opened the door to the oxen and that it was Her will that in that place a house of God was build and She would help him to do it. The farmer gathered the necessary materials to begin the construction of the church, and as a lot of money was necessary he sold some of his oxen. However, when he count them again, after the selling, he had in the herd the same number, this being a miracle of the Lady.
The appearance of the image of the Our Lady of Aires also has a legend, that's expressed in an inscription in the portal of the Sanctuary. It's a verse in Latin, that tells that after the expulsion of the Moors from those lands, a farmer ploughed the field when he found inside a clay pot the image that it's in the altar. About this legend, one says that the image was discovered by Martim Herdsman when he tilled the land.
In 1748, existing in Évora an enormous epidemic of plague, the traders from this city had promised to the Virgin Lady of Aires a festivity if the plague disappeared. As such occurred, the traders made festivities during three days in honour of the Lady. In the following year the festivities were even bigger, with affluence of worshippers not only from Évora but also from the neighbouring populations. In that year they had mounted around the church many tents of nourishing and pottery. The festivities had great increment and the tents of merchants were so many, that the Vianense Senate got them the warrant in 1751, that declared the market near the church was considered a frank fair. This fair takes place every year in the fourth Sunday of September.
The popular faith is confirmed through the House of Miracles, whose walls are totally covered with ex-vows, composing one of the most curious "museums" of Portuguese popular art, where people place the payment of their promises to the Protectress. The oldest ex-vows, that are popular creations painted planks, canvas and cupric plate, dating the oldest from 1735. Currently the ex-vows assume the form of photographs, wax figures, embroidering, panels of tile, dresses and bouquets of brides, etc.. All the devoted of the Lady, spread through the entire country, travel to Viana of Alentejo in the fair time, and place here the payments of the promises and gratitude?s they made to the Our Lady of Aires.
Text and Translation: Sofia Quintas