Source: August 11, 2018 / Original article in portuguese: by Rosa Ramos

This is a story of courage and resilience. Two brothers lived for almost 40 years in a monastery in ruins in Monchique. Alone, they faced the fire and saved the monument. 

Antonio is confused and intrigued these days: when the flames reached the Convent of Our Lady of Desterro, on one of the slopes of Monchique, they took everything they could ahead. But a red coat hanging from a rope at the entrance to the seventeenth-century building stood intact, while the rest burned. Now, Antonio is amused to magick that there may have been something very transcendental behind the “miracle.” Just can not figure out what and why. “It’s just that inside, things have always been very mysterious,” he says. 

He must know what he is saying: Antonio and his brother, Vidaúl, live in the convent, completely in ruins, almost 40 years ago. And if they had not made the monument home, the place would have been completely swallowed by the flames early Monday night, when the fire returned with the village and for the second time Monchique entered inside. 

Vidaul was alone, almost asleep, when he heard the flames bursting, raging up the slope. He got up in a hurry and filled a sulfate machine with spring water. He began to wet the imposing stone walls of the convent, and Antonio arrived in the meantime, exhausted. A few minutes later, when the fire came to the door, they bore him with brooms and shovels in a fight that promised to be unequal: two men alone in the middle of the night, face-to-face with a wall of flames with meters of height. But the brothers won: the fire burned everything, but did not dare to enter the monastery. Nevertheless, on the following day the newspapers and the televisions announced, with regret, that nothing had remained of the Convent of Our Lady of Desterro. The fake news had reason to be:  

Antonio rejects the label of hero. “I’m just a poor devil, I’ve always been here. I have a life of shit, “he shoots, in such a direct tone that he disarms. In the 1970s, parents cultivated the lands of a wealthy family in the middle of the Monchique Mountains. But they revolted against the bosses, who insisted on taking them two-thirds of everything they cultivated. One day they were fed up with the regime of near-slavery, packed their bags, and left. With no place to live and with three small children in their arms, they heard that there were poor people living in a convent abandoned to the top of Monchique. It was there that they walked on foot through hisses and cork trees. And it was there that they could shelter from the winter weather and the harsh heat of the Algarve summer. They began by occupying a small room, but in time, 

Except that the life of Solange and Fernando was never composed. The poor were born, the poor continued, and remained in the ruins until they died. Earlier, they still signed a contract with the monastery owners, who agreed to stay there for a rent. In order to pay, Fernando dug from sun up to sun for years. And so the family never lacked food. “My father said many times: we could not have money, but we would have plenty of land.”

Antonio, Vidaul and a sister grew up healthy. The first married, very young, with Grace, the daughter of a neighbor. They still live together and together they had two children: Marco and João, now in their 20s and who also grew up in the convent. Vidaúl also married, but had no children and eventually separated. He’s single now. In time, he left the convent and went to live elsewhere, but four years ago he returned. And lately he has been more alone: ​​a few months ago, the brother and the wife finally arranged a house in the village, although Antonio continues to spend practically all the time in the abandoned monument. He says that he likes to “listen to birdsong” and to see the “animals walking in” of the convent, almost completely taken over by the herbs. “I’m fine, it’s nature. They say that I’m the crazy one, but I do not know where the people’s judgment is … 

The reference to “crazy” has an explanation. A few years ago, because of an “intrigue” mounted by “people” of Monchique, Antonio lost his head. Someone hinted that the woman would have another man. Distraught, half with his glasses and “out of mad love,” he picked up a bundle of notes and left the convent, lightly. Already in the village, he offered money to almost everyone he met at the front, in exchange for information about the alleged affair – which never existed. He was eventually taken away by the GNR and the fire department and was admitted to psychiatry. And medicated. At that time, he was a chamberlain. But when he returned from the hospital, he was no longer able to work. “Those medicines they gave me, they gave me cape of the head and the body. I could not move or think. I had to stop taking them, but I was never again the man I was. ” 

His brother, Vidául, also does not work and lives on the tips of the many tourists who practically every day climb the mountain, curious and on foot, to visit the monastery in ruins, which is visible, imposing, from the center of Monchique. Treat them sympathetically, ask them where they come from, and give them a guided tour entitled to historical explanations. The same as it gives us, in a somewhat or enigmatic way: “The legend says so … the convent was ordered to build by two navigators who were very afflicted in the sea. In the midst of a great storm, they promised that if they arrived safely the earth would build a church in the first place they could see from the sea ».

The truth is that the Convent of Our Lady of Desterro was founded in 1631 by Pêro da Silva, who was to become Governor of Portuguese India and from there brought a small image of Our Lady in ivory. However, the two brothers prefer the version of the legend. And Antonio, who is given metaphysics, even believes that the walls of the monument were never lowered or overturned or destroyed because of the promise, which is almost 400 years old, of the two navigators. 

 Perhaps also by magical arts, and not long ago, the life of Antonio and Vidaul won a push of the good: they changed landlords. Now it is to the chamber that the brethren report, and the local authority has decided to stop charging them with money for the occupation of the convent. Neither of them knows for certain the reason for the change. Just as they do not know why the monument, whose walls threaten to crumble, is not recovered. But in the village of Monchique, the residents all offer the same explanation: the building has many private owners who can not reach a consensus with the chamber to make progress. And this is how a 17th century building, built in Manueline style, has been in a state of slow agony for decades and at the mercy of the bush. 

Antony also liked that “one day” the convent should rise from the whistles. And even wrote a poster that hung on the facade and says: «Give me your hand. I’m falling. ” The sentence sounds simple but has three layers of reading. It speaks of the ruin state of the monument. It’s about her mother, Solange, who died a short time ago and who, old lady, asked her to give him her hand so she would not stumble. And it is also a message of universal love and nature. “Have you ever thought what it would be like if we all gave each other the hand and the nature that created us?” Asks Antonio, before leaving an appeal. He says that he does not feel well, “of the head and the body” and that he needs to go to the doctor. But he’s afraid he’ll be hospitalized again if he goes to the hospital. “The only thing I liked was that they would help me and take me to a good head doctor, who is a specialist,” he asks.     

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