Let us start in the beginning. And in the beginning there is the legend. And as in all legends, this also begins with Once upon a time! Once upon a time… many, many years ago there was a Moorish king, a cruel tyrant that lived at the top of Mount Carrascal that forced the Christians to pay very high taxes and in order to humiliate them further, imposed the “damsels’ tax”: it was with the king that the damsels spent their wedding night.
For years, the subjects lived in fear, hopeless and were unable to stop the atrocities of the king. But one day a brave young man decided to end it once and for all and promised his fiancée that she would not be subject to such a humiliating situation. Fearing for her lover’s life she asked Our Lady for protection and vowed to build a chapel in her honour if her fiancé escaped alive from such a difficult endeavour.
On the wedding day everything went according to plan. However, when it was time for the young man to pledge his allegiance to the king, he drew his dagger and killed him. Suddenly all the other young men, that were his accomplices, drew their swords and daggers and attacked the Moors that were there. Their cries were heard by the other Moors in the vicinity that appeared from all sides to avenge the death of their king. The battle soon became unbalanced: the young Christians, wounded and tired began to slow down. But then a lady dressed in white appeared and treated their wounds with a balsam she took from a vase she was holding in her hand. The young men felt immediately better and recovering their breath surprised the Moors that fled downhill, frightened by their renewed attack. The population that had understood what was going on stood at the foot of the hill holding their arms ready to help the young fiancé. Surrounded on all sides and unable to run away the Moors succumbed to the attack. And this marked the end of a reign of injustice and terror. A small chapel was then built on the place where the Moorish castle had stood, and this way the vow of the young damsel was fulfilled. In honour of the Lady that has helped them, they decided to call the chapel “Our Lady with the Balsam in her Hand (Mão)” that later on was shortened and became Our Lady of Balsamão, and Chacim to the place near Balsamão where the Moors had been slaughtered (chacinados).
The Balsamão monastery belongs currently to the Congregation of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, founded by Friar Casimiro Wyszynski, a Polish priest that came to Portugal in the middle of the 18th century with the aim of establishing a religious order. At the time there was a community of hermits in Balsamão that accepted the presence of Friar Casimiro. He arrived on the 6th September 1754 and established the first community of Marian Fathers in Portugal. Friar Casimiro died of malaria on the 21st October 1755, but the order went on existing in Portugal until 1834, when it was expelled by the liberal government. The Balsamão property was auctioned and was bought by a private family. The monastery decayed but the Chacim parish took care of the church. In 1954, the Marian fathers came back to Balsamão. Restoration works were carried out and in 2010 the renovated shrine was inaugurated. The church underwent extensive modifications and so did the surrounding areas. There are those that look for the paradise on earth. Balsamão is not it (yet). But it is a place where you can hear the silence…