The legend of Our Lady of Balsamão and the Knights of the Golden Spurs – Macedo de Cavaleiros

It tells how a handful of Christians defeated a cruel Moorish king and his people, with the help of Our Lady of Balsamão.

Around the 9th and 10th centuries, at the turn of the first millennium after Christ, the lands of what is now Portugal were populated by people of different faiths and beliefs.

At that time, in the Serra de Bornes, on Carrascal Mountain, 12 km from Macedo de Cavaleiros, there was a Moorish settlement with a mosque and a castle ruled by a cruel emir called Abdel-Ali.

The emir was tyrannical and despotic. He had a ferocious hatred for the Christians in the neighbourhood and never missed an opportunity to humiliate them with unjust rules and laws.

These Christians suffered much, enduring the oppressor’s constant wrath and the resulting aggravation. Secretly they murmured against him. But the villain replied to the rumours of revolt that the murmurers had their tongues cut out!

It was in this state of affairs that Abdel-Ali, never satisfied with the humiliation he inflicted on his vassals, decided to institute the “Tribute of the Maidens”, which consisted of forcing brides to spend their wedding night in the harem of the ferocious Moor, with the Moor being the first to lie with them.

More and more discontented voices were raised against this new affront, especially on the part of young people of marriageable age. But how to change yet another injustice, being few and poorly armed?

The wedding day then became a torture for those people and we can even imagine that many were postponing the date in order not to pay such a vile price for conjugal happiness.

It was then that the wedding date was set for Casimiro, a young Christian from the neighbouring village of Alfândega, son of D. Pedro Rodrigues da Malafaia, chief of a group of warriors who were called the Knights of the Golden Spurs. The bride was also a Christian and very devoted to Our Lady. Her name was Teolinda and she was the daughter of another important chief of the area, D. Rodrigo Ventura de Melo, Lord of Castro (Castro Vicente, today a parish in the Mogadouro county).

Casimiro soon refused to pay the infamous maidens’ tribute and managed to gather a group of rebels to fight against the emir. Teolinda then promised the Virgin that, if she escaped that dishonour, she would have a chapel erected in her honour.

Some say that the bridegroom addressed the oppressor with a large veil, disguised as a bride. Others say that the Moorish tyrant, knowing that a revolt was being prepared, went to meet the insurgents. What seems to be certain is that the fight between the two parties began on the field of Chacim and was hard and terrible.

The numerical inferiority of the Christians meant that they quickly began to lose ground. They never gave up, but they fell, wounded and exhausted, surrounded by the Moors, who were more than numerous.

Then, in the midst of the fighting, a light gradually appeared. And the Christians saw that Our Lady was there, and that she held in her hand a jar of balm which she applied to the wounds. And the Lady encouraged them while she was treating them:

– Face to the Moors, face to the Moors!!!!!!

The wounds then healed, the pain passed and the knights advanced again against the stupefied infidels. And the end of the fight was soon decided.

The emir was killed, as were many of his warriors. The Moorish castle was set on fire and razed to the ground, and the mosque destroyed.

The battlefield was cleared and, as Teolinda (meanwhile already married to Casimiro) had promised the Virgin Mary, a chapel was built over the remains of the mosque in honour of Our Lady of Balsam in the Hand, which over time became Our Lady of Balsemão or Balsamão. A pilgrimage is held there on March 25th.

The place of the battle came to be called Chacim (meaning pig or swine), from which comes the name of the slaughter that took place there.

It is also said that, due to the bravery shown by the Knights of the Golden Spurs of Alfândega, the town earned the honour of being called Alfândega da Fé.

Next to the Hermitage of Senhora de Balsamão, there is also the Convent of the same name, which dates back to the first half of the 18th century and now belongs to the Marian Congregation of the Immaculate Conception. It is also a retreat and rest house.

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