Venerated as a Christian martyr in many countries, Saint George is one of the most popular saints in Brazil, particularly in Rio de Janeiro. A soldier of the Roman Empire, “the warrior saint” - as he is called by Cariocas - has so many devotees in the city that he is claimed to be the unnoficial patron of Rio (the city’s oficial patron is Saint Sebastian).

In a country so diverse, Saint George is worshipped not only by Catholics, but also by practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions such as Umbanda and Candomblé. During colonization period in Brazil, slaves coming from all over Africa were forbidden to practice their faith and forced to conversion to Catholicism. Syncretizing Catholic saints with their spiritual entities (orishas) was a way to disguise their faith and keep their religious traditions. In Umbanda and Candomblé, Saint George is syncretized with Ogum (identified as Ogum).

It is not unusual to meet Brazilians who attend both Catholic churches and Afro-Brazilian temples (terreiros). Every April 23rd, when Saint George is celebrated, a crowd of different creeds gather peacefully to honor him. The streets around Saint George's church in Downtown Rio get packed since early hours. And by the time the sun rises, the lines to get inside the church building go around blocks.

Right outside, though, is where Brazil’s religious syncretism can be seen. Some people light candles, while others light their cigars (an Afro-Brazilian ritual); a mass is celebrated on an outdoor stage, and priests bless Catholics while steps away pais-de-santo and mães-de-santo (Afro-Brazilian male and female priests) bless devotees with prayers, salt and herbs.

Luciana Queiroz © All rights reserved.
Using Format