World's Largest Portuguese Feast - New Bedford Ma
Tradition and Transformation for the Next Century
Stephen L. Cabral, Ph.D.
Madeira Field becomes a pilgrimage site where Portuguese families celebrate their language, heritage and culture every August. The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament was established at the Church of the Immaculate Conception during the first weekend of August in 1915. This event commemorated the traditional feast observed in the village of Estreito da Calheta on the southwest coast of Madeira island.
Four Madeiran immigrants organized and celebrated the first festa in New Bedford. The first committee included Manuel Agrela, Manuel Agrela Coutinho, Manuel Santana Duarte and Manuel Sebastiao (aka Santinho). This traditional gathering of family and friends evolved into one of “the largest Portuguese feast in the world”. The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament is a premiere tourist attraction that draws several hundred thousand visitors to New Bedford every summer.
From 1915 – 1945, the feast committees were dominated by Madeiran immigrants who arrived at the turn of the 20th Century. Their American born descendants modernized the feast during the decades following World War II. Festeiros established the Clube Madeirense S.S. Sacramento, Inc. in 1953 to secure the deed to the dusty lot dubbed, Madeira Field. The chief purpose of the corporation was “to advise and to assist the committees in the promotion and celebration of the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament.”
The first fourteen Presidents of the Association were sons of Madeiran men. Madeiran committee membership was originally traced along paternal lines of succession. The sons of Madeiran daughters, who married outside the island group, were excluded from membership until 1998. The current standard requires that festeiros trace their Madeiran lineage through their paternal or maternal grandparents. The overall club membership nearly doubled as a result.
In 2015, the Clube Madeirense S.S. Sacramento made history when they inducted a new order of leadership that included several “Sons of Mothers.” The new President, David Lucio, along with his Vice-President, Paul Leconte and Treasurer, Richard Wilkinson, all trace their descent to their maternal grandparents. The Recording and Corresponding Secretaries, John Nunes and David Macedo represent the paternal tradition.
Mr. Lucio takes his new role seriously and with humility. He noted: “The club membership gave me this opportunity to make club history And work on behalf of our Madeiran community. I am proud to have a remarkable team of dedicated and talented guys backing me up on a daily basis”.
Mr. Lucio was the third son of a Madeiran mother to serve as a feast president in 2005. He also served as feast Vice-President in 2011 under David Macedo. His sons Matthew and Tim also became festeiros that summer. David was elected Vice-President of the club and mentored with Larry Jacques in 2014.
David Lucio relies on his Vice-President, Paul Leconte, to cover his back. David can always be found at ground level working on multiple projects. He refers to himself as “a hands-on guy”. Paul covers the office details, reviews calls, checks the correspondence and advises David on pressing matters.
“The feast has a way of turning us into family. We have our moments
of joy and conflict, but never at the expense of the feast,” Mr. Leconte concluded.