The walls of the Historical Villages of Portugal contain many legends and stories. Today, we take you to Almeida to know the legend of Nossa Senhora das Neves. An event that is so important to the locals that it inspired the municipality’s main festival.
The legend dates back to the French Invasions, an event that definitively marked Almeida’s History and still lingers in the memories of all the natives of Almeida today.
As taught in schools, the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte tried to conquer Portugal three times, aiming to isolate England in the war that the two powers waged in Europe. However, his troops were rejected three times by a mixture of Portuguese and English military and civilians.
The third invasion, commanded by marshal Massena in 1810, was the most powerful. An immense French army of 16,000 men entered Portugal through Ciudad Rodrigo, near Almeida. The Historical Village, with its imposing walls and a garrison of nearly 5,000 men and over 100 pieces of artillery, was the first obstacle that the invaders faced. And what an obstacle!
The siege of Almeida began on July 24. For over a month, the Anglo-Portuguese forces resisted without great difficulties since they were equipped with provisions. When, on August 26, the French decided to devastate the adversaries with an incessant artillery strike, which began before sunrise. Throughout the day, more than 6,000 grenades fell over Almeida, opening important gaps in the wall. But the worst was yet to come. When the afternoon was almost over, a grenade hit a barrel of gunpowder that exploded and triggered the explosion of the entire gunpowder magazine in a tremendous catastrophe. A significant part of the location was stricken, 500 men lost their lives, and Almeida surrendered to the French, who then proceeded into Portugal until sizing up forces with Wellington at the Battle of Bussaco.
The castle and the parish church were some of the buildings that were destroyed, to the desperation of Almeida’s population. The weeks that followed involved cleaning, with the people setting up an enormous fire for all the wreckage that they could burn.
Legend has it that suddenly, in the warmth of autumn, snow began to fall and extinguished the fire. And then, as if it was a miracle, the people of Almeida saw an image of Nossa Senhora emerge from the ashes and wreckage, the only survivor of the destroyed church.
To this day, there is an image of Nossa Senhora das Neves in the altar of the parish church, a testament to the French strike, the deaths of Portuguese and English people, the destruction of their original church, and the snow that put out the fire…