What’s a little rain? Nothing can stop Lovelock’s Portuguese Festa – certainly not Mother Nature. Not even the absence of livestock could put a damper on the day.
For economic reasons, the oxen remained in the Central Valley of California again. Some missed their soulful eyes and squeaky wooden carts loaded with barrels of homemade wine.
But the beasts were latecomers to the celebration anyway. They first showed up a decade ago, at the 75th Festa.
On Sunday, May 26, the sopas were just as juicy and the children just as proud to represent Queen Isabel and Saint Anthony.
First, dozens of people filled the pews of Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church. They came for the Festa Mass, celebrated by Father Mark Hanifan.
This year Rosalyne Soares and Kellan Moura represented Queen Isabel and Saint Anthony. But, between cape bearers and attendants, nearly two dozen children paraded in costume.
The parade symbolizes release from hardship – and the fulfillment of a promise.
In 1323, a drought caused famine in Portugal. Queen Isabel, a devout Catholic, used all her resources to feed the people. Her generosity wasn’t enough to stave off their starvation.
According to the legend, soon the queen had only one valuable left – her crown. So she made a vow to the Holy Spirit.
“I will give the crown to my church if you send me a miracle so my people will be relieved of their hunger,” she promised. As Isabel descended the church steps and looked toward the sea, she saw her answer.
Boats laden with wheat and corn approached the harbor. Isabel kept her promise and the people rejoiced.
Ever since, all over the world, people have remembered the Holy Spirit, Queen Isabel and the end of hard times. In many places, including Lovelock, the Festa is the oldest religious and cultural ceremony the general public still observes.
The tradition came to Pershing County directly from the Azores, an archipelago of nine islands off the coast of Portugal. In the late 1890s Manuel and Maria Moreira emigrated to the United States. Their ship sailed from Santa Maria Island, a voyage of over 5,000 miles.
In 1910, Maria gave birth to a daughter, Virginia. Six years later, the family bought land in the Upper Lovelock Valley. They began a ranching dynasty now in its 102nd year.
Along with other Azoreans, Manuel and Maria Moreira introduced the Festa to Lovelock. The first celebration took place in 1935. Beatrice Mancebo represented Queen Isabel.
In 1942, Virginia Moreira married a fellow Azorean, Manuel Moura. Their son, Tom, marched as Saint Anthony, the patron saint of Portugal in 1950-1951.
In 1989 Tom’s son, Mark, did the honors. This past Sunday, Mark’s son, Kellan, donned the brown robe.
Before the parade, the three generations of Saint Anthony stood shoulder to shoulder.
For decades Tom Moura and his wife, Darlene, have kept the Festa alive. But they couldn’t do it alone. The people of Lovelock fully embrace the tradition – remarkable because there are few Portuguese families left in Pershing County.
Even at the time of the first Festa, the newspapers called for participation from the whole town, regardless of nationality or faith.
“There are but a few families of Portuguese ancestry in the county,” reported the May 17, 1935, issue of the Lovelock Review-Miner days before the premier event. “For that reason, the organizers need the support, already generously given, in larger measure.”
Amid the Great Depression, the community came together for the first Festa. They’ve come together ever since never missing a beat.
After Sunday’s parade, families gathered in the community center for free sopas. Most stayed for an auction that raises funds for next year’s event.
For 85 years the community has supported the Festa through feast, famine, war and peace. Festa 2019 was no exception.