Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lisbon Story #1: Dr. Martins' got soul

Monument to Dr. Sousa Martins
Folk saints are a long-standing interest of LoS.  This type of saint includes those who have never been canonized, but are venerated just the same, often with a fervency unparalleld by the "official" saints.  Some of them may or may not have been canonized -- the origin of their sainthood is obscure; in some cases the church has de-canonized them or felt compelled to issue a statement clarifying that they have never been, in fact, official saints.  In some cases their very existence as historical personages is dubious and in more than one case the Church strongly disapproves of their cults, as in the case of Santa Héléna of Toulouse.

In Lisbon, there is a rather elaborate monument to one of these saints:  Dr. José Tomás de Sousa Martins.  Although not canonized, his cult is certainly not one which antagonizes the religious and civil authorities, as in the case of Héléna or that of Jesus Malverde in Mexico.  These humble cults don't have elaborate shrines or monuments.  Doc Martins, on the contrary, is honored with a bit more traditional lavishness.

Detail of monument with healing serpent (previously on LoS)
In the Campo dos Mártires da Pátria, outside the medical school of the New University of Lisbon, one finds a pillar atop which stands a bronze statue of Martins.  At the base a seated female gazes upwards.  Inside the low circular barrier surrounding the pillar, votive plaques in marble are piled haphazardly but knee-deep.  Many of these ex-votos refer to Martins as "Brother" -- apparently because he was a Freemason.  The familiarity with which Martins is addressed is consistent with the cults of other folk saints and indicates that the ongoing creation of saints is a response to the needs of worshipers for a more intimate ear.  We have seen how Santa Héléna serves as a go-between for the faithful and the Virgin Mary.  It's always useful, in the hereafter as in the here and now, to have a friend or family member in high places.

As with all popular saints, the monument cum shrine is adorned with flowers and to one side a large metal cabinet provides a place for the faithful to place votive candles.

Ex-votos piled knee-high

So who was he?

Martins was born in Alhandra in 1843, moving to Lisbon where he studied pharmacy and medicine, qualifying for the former in 1864 and the latter in 1866.  He practiced in Lisbon, specializing in tuberculosis.  His practice was in no way affiliated with church-related philanthropy, but he worked tirelessly for the poor.

According to Wikipedia, Martins was poisoned by an unknown person jealous of his popularity among the medical community.  This is a good example of why one needs to take care with Wikipedia (although I freely admit to using it frequently).  First of all, if the murderer is unknown, why is the motive stated as a fact, without a caveat such as "Many speculate that...." or some such?  More importantly, all the other sources I've consulted, including Portuguese Wikipedia, state that he committed suicide after contracting TB, knowing a protracted and painful death was inevitable.  Which -- along with his Freemasonry -- would preclude him from "official" canonization.

He was the author of numerous works and there are many resources out there on the internets, but my Portuguese is too limited to make out the details.  I did glean, however, that he was an adherent of spiritualism and after his death other spiritualists began to attribute "miraculous" cures to him via the intercession of mediums.  On March 7 (birth) and August 8 (death) thousands flock to this monument to pray.  Along with his suicide, these spiritualist associations probably also preclude canonization.

The monument itself was erected 1904; I can only imagine that no one would have guessed it would become the focal point of a new cult for an unlikely saint.

More photos here.

1 comment:

  1. We even have a special pray for asking for Dr. Sousa Martins to help during surgery. And it is believed that he can help preform the surgery.


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