The legend of Peninha

On my last post I showed you some bits and pieces of the sanctuary of Peninha, in Sintra. Naturally, being both a religious monument and in Portugal, its origins are closely connected to a legend. What’s the fun of saying a church was built somewhere odd just because? No fun at all!

According to legend it was during the reign of king John III (1502-1557) that a miracle happened in a place called Almoínhas Velhas – a miracle which would be the origin of the sanctuary of Peninha.
A mute shepherd girl was herding her sheep on the hill, as usual. Suddenly, she noticed one of her sheep was missing and desperately tried to find it, looking everywhere she could.
After a long search she saw a beautiful lady carrying her lost sheep. The poor girl, being mute, used gestures to thank the lady. The mysterious lady then asked the girl for some bread, to which the girl replied that there wasn’t any because the crops had been very bad that year (how she managed to explain all this using only gestures I have no clue).

The lady then told the girl to go home, call out for her mother and ask her for some bread. The shepherd girl tried to explain that both things were obviously impossible but the mysterious lady insisted on her requests.
As soon as she got home, lo and behold, the shepherd girl was able to speak and call out for her mother. Despite this miracle the mother told the girl there would obviously be no bread, as she was well aware. Still, they went looking for it and, you guessed it, they found bread enough for themselves and the whole village.

On the next day everyone in the village went up to the hill, wanting to thank the mysterious lady but on the place where the girl had seen her, there was now a cave with a small statue of Our Lady. On that same place a chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Peninha, would later be built.
Whether or not you believe in legends (and in this one in particular) I always find them interesting because I see them as important cultural aspects of a country and its people.
You’ll find this pattern of legend in other places, both in Portugal and in other countries, mostly connected to religion and religious monuments. Are they just pure invention, stories that somehow travelled from one country to another and were altered as time went by? Are they somehow the remains of a time of miracles and heroes and actually have some truth to them?
What do you think?


  1. What we call legends today are accounts of a glorious past when we did not call them miracles, but day to day events… he tend to mystify that which we fear and is bigger and uncontrollable to us…

  2. Wonderful legends, like you I love to discover them as thy do share so much about a place and the people. Thank you for sharing this one.

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