Mother Teresa of the Azores and ‘Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles’
The cause for the canonization of Mother Teresa de Jesus da Anunciada was initiated in 1738 but stalled until its revival a few years ago.
When people hear the name Mother Teresa, they likely think of the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity who served the poorest of the poor throughout the world beginning in India. But there is another Mother Teresa who lived during the late 17th and early 18th centuries in the Azores Islands. She sparked a devotion that continues to this day: the cult of the Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles. It has grown to spread across the Azores and throughout the world including the U.S, Europe, South and Central America and Canada. I became acquainted with this other Mother Teresa (1658-1738) while visiting the city of Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Island, the largest of the Azores’ nine islands.
My husband’s retirement was the inspiration for a cruise with stops in the Azores, Portugal and Spain, all containing Catholic places of interest. From our last stop in Barcelona, Spain, we will continue on our own pilgrimage to include a total of nine remarkable Catholic places ending in Fatima, Portugal, on May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
The Azores Islands are an archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, about 870 miles west of Lisbon and 3,500 from Tampa, Florida, from where we departed. The islands were known to Europeans in the 15th century and largely settled from mainland Portugal. Today it has the status of an autonomous region of Portugal. Tourism is its largest industry, with fishing and agriculture just behind. Census numbers show that 90% are Catholic in these islands of 240,000 people with 140,000 on São Miguel and 45,000 in the city of Ponta Delgada where we visited. Pope St. John Paul II visited and said Mass at the church of St. Sebastian on May 11, 1991.
Geographically, this is an active area with volcanos and earthquakes, which is what brings us to Mother Teresa of the Azores (she wasn’t a mother superior but was affectionally called that).
Beginning in 1700, Mother Teresa influenced city leaders to authorize processions to petition God to calm the earthquakes. She took the wooden bust of the image of Jesus from her convent to be processed through the city. The image of the Ecce Homo (Latin for “Behold the Man,” the words of Pontius Pilate in John 19:5) is a portrayal of the half-figure of Christ depicting him scourged and wearing a crown of thorns.
It was the procession of Dec. 17, 1713, that is especially remembered. Unceasing earthquakes were plaguing the island. A stretcher used to carry the Christ image was richly decorated in flowers by Mother Teresa. Many of the poor walked alongside the nobility, all barefoot in humility and sacrifice, as the statue was carried in a circuitous route stopping at churches and convents along the way. Upon departing the Church of the Jesuit College, headed toward the Convent of Saint Andrew, the statue fell and immediately the earth’s rumblings ceased, which was believed to be divine intervention. The procession continued with joyous praise and thanksgiving. The statue became known as “Lord Holy Christ of Miracles.”
My husband and I viewed the wooden image of Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles where it is displayed in the Convent of Our Lady of Hope across from the large and breathtakingly ornate Church of St. Joseph. The statue in the chapel is opposite the main altar separated by glass and an iron grate that runs through the Church's nave. While there, people came and sat in the benches provided, reverently bowed or looked toward the statue in silent contemplation and prayer. On the adjoining walls are painted tiles depicting Mother Teresa’s birth, religious profession and veneration of the image of Christ, and her death from illness at age 80 on May 17, 1738.
On the day of our visit, April 21, the tourist season had not officially begun, but preparations for the May 14 celebration were in full force. The feast is always scheduled for the Fifth Sunday of Easter. We watched as an immense circle of lights was lifted in sections by a crane and placed high on an outer church wall. Benjamin Avery, a resident of the city, watched and explained the feast coming up to a few curious tourists who had just come to look in the church.
Avery recently returned home to São Miguel Island with his wife and children after living in Rhode Island for 30 years. “We love it here,” he said, noting that many religious celebrations are exuberantly celebrated on the island. According to him, the upcoming feast is the second most celebrated one in Portugal after Fatima. “There is going to be over 150,000 lights all around the church and convent,” Avery said. Pointing to the circle overhead, he noted, “There will be 5 ,000 lights just in that. Carpets of flowers will be laid all along the main street and people will come here from all over the world.”
The image of the Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles continues to be brought out for the annual procession. Between Saturday and Sunday morning, many faithful gather and stand watch in adoration of the image before the afternoon procession.
Life of Mother Teresa of the Azores
Biographical writings reflect that Mother Teresa continued serving the poor throughout her life. She is quoted as saying: “Through the poor and their blessings, I am helped by God, for I am a wretch.” She also dedicated her life to promoting the devotion to the Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles.
Teresa was born on the island and baptized the same day and named for St. Teresa of Ávila, a Spanish Carmelite and mystic and religious reformer who was canonized March 12, 1622. As a girl, Teresa was often found in her backyard in a small grotto, praying and calling on Our Lord and on the Blessed Mother.
Together with her biological sister, Joana de Santo António, Teresa entered the Sisters of Hope Convent as a Franciscan in November 1681. In 1683, she took her perpetual vows, taking the name Teresa de Jesus da Anunciada (“Jesus of the Annunciation”).
At the convent, Teresa had a strong devotion to the image of the Ecce Homo. She believed that it was miraculous and encouraged others to venerate it. Through her encouragement, the image was adorned both during and after her lifetime with regalia associated with a monarch. The treasures include various capes that have been draped on the torso decorated with twine of gold and silver, and precious stones donated from the faithful including Portuguese nobles and royals.
Mother Teresa’s cause for canonization was initiated in 1738 by the Franciscan province in the Azores but, as sometimes happens, it stalled. A few years ago, a petition circulated among the Azorean population, addressed to the Holy Father, to move forward with her cause. It included the following:
Since 1700, above all, the cult of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres has become so great that, since then, it never slowed down. Graces and miracles have been a constant. Mother Teresa da Anunciada was an instrument to help remind us that God is in solidarity with his people.
A nun of austere and intrepid life in her faith, through intense prayer, for her love for Jesus and the Eucharist and for her devotion to Holy Mary, she is seen as a model of holiness and considered the great intercessor with the Lord she loved so much.
For this reason, I add my voice to that of many priests and faithful, imploring Your Holiness to be granted the ‘nihil obstat’ for the organization of the Beatification Process of the Servant of God in order to be elevated to the honor of the altars, so I hope.
Mother Teresa’s remains are preserved in a small urn that is kept in the convent chapel.
- mother teresa of the azores