Madeira lies 400 miles west of Morocco, approximately 700 miles southwest of mainland Portugal. Madeira means "wood" in Portuguese and is named after the forests and dense vegetation that makes up the island ( we hope it still does, although Unesco has named these forests a world treasure protecting them). Forests comprise 16% of the island which is an evergreen cloud forest. Madeira is 36 miles long and 15 miles wide. However, much of Madeira is volcanic and mountainous so travel distances vary widely. Madeira is not part of the Azores.
The archipelago of Madeira is mountainous, composed of volcanic rock which are summits of submarine volcanoes. Madeira makes up 93% of the land mass of the archipelago, some of the smaller islands not even inhabited. A verdant volcanic extrusion, Madeira rises from the floor of the Atlantic ocean 16,500 feet below sea level to a height of 6,109 feet at Pico Ruiva where the peak cuts through the clouds, its ravines plunging into the sea. According to legend, the Madeira archipelago may be the mountaintops of the fabled lost Atlantis.
It was in this beautiful island that three of my grandparents were born. Joseph Nunes Souza and Delphina Viera shared this heritage with many School Street villagers and their links to each other remained strong all their lives. Delphina and Joseph were natives of Arco da Calheta a beautiful village sitting atop a volcanic mountain side which dips down into the sea.
This is an aerial view of it.
Arca da Calheta was the first area to be colonized in Madeira sometime in the 1400's. Talk about ancient! Who knows how far back the Souza and Viera family go... When we went to the village in 1985 , it was a daunting ride from Funchal through breathtaking gorges and winding roads which often took us through tunnels carved through mountains. Note how the sea can be viewed from the Village: amazing fact, so near and yet so far. My grandfather, Joseph Souza, never learned to swim growing up in this Village. This would mean the loss of his life, at his prime, in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. For all of my grandparents the move to the dreams of a new world would end in tragedy. When we visited the higher country of Madeira, we learned that many people never travelled down to the coast, this being in the days before motor cars for most of them. This was from the front page of the Taunton Daily Gazette in July of 1927, 22 years after Joseph left his home village of Arca da Calheta with his young wife Delphina and their firstborn following soon after. That first child would not live to adulthood,
Back now to focus of this village, a natal village for my family. Our histories are all entertwined with the places our ancestors originated, the facts of their youths
coloring the history of all the family to come.
The Village Church
You can see the bell tower of the village Catholic Church clearly in the first photo on this page. We visited there in 1985 and my nephew David and his wife, Linda in the 90's.
David and Linda took these photographs. The Church, as shared by another reader is
Igreja de Sao Braz.
Igreja de Sao Braz.
There is an amazing similarity here. This church is so like the Church that would be built in the School St. Village: St. Anthony's: same blue color, same domed saint's altars...did this vision stay in the mind of the Madeiranceans that lived in the Village? For a small Village it is quite an astounding Church. It was in this Church that many of my ancestors were baptized, confirmed, married and had their funerals. When we were there a woman cleaning in the Church remembered our grandmother Delphina doing the alter linens. We know she took that task right on to St. Anthony's in the Village. For her it was a task of worship, I am sure.
Below a view of leaving the Church and the choir.
Above is the tiled courtyard of the Church which I recall very well. It was very peaceful.
My grandmother Delphina Viera Souza went to school up to the third grade in this Village. She told a cousin of mine that she had a slate hung from a tree in the family yard so she could practice her sums.
This was in the 1800's. We know so little about her and Joseph growing up, including how much schooling he received. It must have been a fair amount as he had
much success as a businessman in Taunton.
It is a blessing to visit one's roots, I wish I knew then what I know now. I would
have done much more research there in that Village. I would also have scoured the area
for photographs. Luckily, the younger generation took over: as they should.
On top of all that I have lost most of the photos I took on that trip.
I am hoping others on the trip will contribute theirs.... Luckily, the younger ones
took over when they went.
took over when they went.
Next post: Funchal and the last grandfather of Madeira.