One of the biggest and most spectacular religious and popular festivals in Brazil  is Círio de Nazaré (www.ciriodenazare.com.br ). It’s held during the second Sunday of October, and millions of Paraenses throng the streets of Belém  to join in the procession carrying the statue of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré from the Catedral da Sé to the Basílica de Nazaré.
Considered the patron saint of all Paraenses and protectress of Belém, the cult of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré dates back to 1700 when a caboclo named Plácido found a statue of the Virgin lying in a creek located in the present-day bairro of Nazaré . Plácido took the statue home with him. But when he woke up the next morning, he was astonished to discover that it had returned to its original spot.
After taking the statue home once again, it reappeared at the creek. The amazed caboclo built a small chapel (later replaced by the Basílica de Nazaré) to house the Virgin. Word of the miracle got around and pilgrims and supplicants from all over Pará  came seeking Nossa Senhora’s blessing and divine intervention.
By the end of the 1700s, her popularity had become so great that a public festa, the Círio de Nazaré, was organized so that the entire city could pay homage to the Virgin. The first procession took place in 1793. The image of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré, splendidly arrayed and covered in flowers, was carried in a chariot through the muddy streets by bulls.
By the 20th century, Belém ’s streets had become paved and bulls were no longer necessary. Instead, the thick rope attached to the carriage—measuring 350 meters (1,150 feet)—was now pulled by penitents who, to this day, jostle ferociously for the chance to grip their hands around the rough sisal and literally bleed (by the procession’s end there is blood in the streets) for the honor of transporting the Virgin.
Although the Sunday procession constitutes the most important event, the festa actually kicks off on Friday afternoon with Nossa Senhora de Nazaré’s departure from the Basílica to a church in the nearby town of Ananindeua. As the Virgin glides by in an open car, Belenenses hovering in decorated windows and spilling into the streets toss rose petals and confetti. The following dawn, the Virgin once again takes to the road, this time in an open truck, surrounded by a cavalcade of cars and motorcycles, en route to the town of Icoaraci. Here, the image is loaded onto a spectacularly decorated boat.
Since Nossa Senhora de Nazaré is also the patron saint of river navigators, the Virgin’s crossing of the Rio Guamá to Belém  is accompanied by a fleet of hundreds of festively adorned wooden boats. This river spectacle is best viewed from the ramparts of the Forte do Presépio . The Virgin’s arrival in Belém is greeted with a fireworks display. Much merrymaking then ensues throughout the Cidade Velha , lasting all night until the climactic procession that takes place on Sunday morning. The Virgin’s return to the Basílica is usually completed by midday.
Afterwards people get together with family and friends and feast upon favorite dishes such as pato no tucupi and maniçoba. If you want to be in town for Círio, make sure to book a hotel far in advance.