• 2020.11.11
  • The tragedy of Dia de Todos os Santos
The number of coronavirus cases is steadily rising here in Portugal—to the point that we’re getting almost 3,000 new infections a day. Of course, the number is ten times less than places like France (which are seeing more than 30,000 cases a day), but if you think about it relative to the population, it’s still a serious number.
The Portuguese government has responded by escalating the current State of Emergency declaration, which has been in place since October 15, to a State of Disaster. Gatherings along public streets, shopping centers, restaurants, and similar places are limited to five people, while weddings, baptisms, and other family events can have no more than fifty participants. They’ve also ramped up enforcement of health and sanitation measures in public spaces and commercial facilities.
They also decided on October 22 to prohibit Portuguese citizens and residents from crossing municipal borders for the five days between October 30 and November 3. The purpose of that was to restrict events and limit people from going out on the November 1 public holiday, Dia de Todos os Santos.

Dia de Todos os Santos (All Saints’ Day in English) is a holiday celebrated by the Catholic churches throughout Europe. It is a day to commemorate saints, and is also The Day of the Dead. The Celtic version, Hallow’s Eve, apparently went to North America, where it became Halloween.

The same day 265 years ago was a tragic one in Portuguese history.
On November 1, 1755, an 8.4-magnitude earthquake struck Lisbon. Three tsunami then rushed up the Tagus River, eventually ending in a huge fire that destroyed the city. The candles that had been put out in the churches and all the family homes to honor the saints and the dead caused the fire that ended up incinerating 85% of Lisbon. Some 275,000 people died, making it a catastrophic day indeed.

The event makes Dia de Todos os Santos an even more important day of remembrance for the Portuguese people. The county has been heavily influenced by American Halloween (costumes) in recent years, but mass is still held and the graves are still bright with flowers from families honoring members who have passed.

What will my village do this year with the pandemic?
Pope Francis has cancelled regular mass ceremonies this year for Easter and even Christmas, so I wonder if the mass on Dia de Toso os Santos will be canceled at the village church as well?
If kids come by to get candy, coming as a healthcare worker, a ghost covered in a sheet, or a skeleton in tights from head to toe is probably the smartest choice given the virus control measures this year.

Carmo Convent, Lisbon
The ruins have been left to show the damage from the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755.


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

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