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Oxalá and Iemanjá are deities as familiar to people from Bahia as Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are to the rest of Brazil, the largest Catholic country on the planet.

Candomblé temples, known as Terreiros, are around every corner: there are an estimated two thousand Terreiros in Salvador (as compared to approximately 280 Catholic churches).

Candomblé is descended from a religion practiced in Africa. Forced to convert to Catholicism, African slaves managed to keep their religious traditions alive in secret by associating their deities – the orixás, which represent forces of nature – with Catholic saints.

ln this way, lemanjá, queen of the sea, became identified with Nossa Senhora da Conceiҫão (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception), Oxalá, the god of creation, with Jesus, and lansã, the queen of lightning, with Saint Barbara.

Such combination of religious traditions is known as syncretism, and it was a strategy that allowed the slaves to successfully maintain their culture.

The annual festival in honor of Nosso Senhor de Bonfim is an excellent example of a spiritual celebration during which Christian and Candomblé practitioners unite in prayer. Led by mães-de-santo, also known as ialorixás (priestesses), Candomblé terreiros are attended by initiated members, though some are open to the public.

One of the most famous terreiros is Terreiro do Gantois (Rua Alto do Gantois, 23, Federaҫão). It is
open to visitors on Sunday nights between the end of September and the beginning of December, but is only open to non-initiates on specific dates during the rest of the year.

A National Heritage Site, Terreiro da Casa Branca (Avenida Vasco da Gama, 463, Vasco da Gama) was founded in 1830 and is the oldest Candomblé temple in the country. The most importtant building in the temple complex is the Casa Branca (White House), where rituals are held. Nearby are residences for the filhos-de-santo (priest-mediums).

On the outskirts of the city is another National Heritage site, Terreiro Ile Axé Opo Afonjá (Rua Direita de São Gonҫalo do Retiro, Cabula). The Ilie Axé Opo Afonja terreiro complex consists of a library, a school, several houses dedicated to different orixás, a museum with exhibits on the history of the terreiro and the Yoruba religious tradition, and the residence of the ialorixá.

The terreiro is open daily in the months of September, October, and November from noon onward.

Brazil Travel Guide – Candomblé and Umbanda Salvador Bahia

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