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(Portuguese Acores, "Falcons")

An archipelago situated in that tract of the Atlantic Ocean which is known to mariners as the Sargasso Sea. The islands lie, approximately, from S.E. to N.W., about a diagonal of the quadrilateral formed by the 37th and 40th parallels of north latitude and the 24th and 32d meridians of west longitude. Their distribution may be considered as forming three subgroups: the relatively large islands of São Miguel and Santa Maria, to the extreme south-east; Fayal, Pico, São Jorge, Terceira, and Graciosa about midway, Terceira being about 880 geographical (1012 English) miles from the Portuguese coast; Flores and Corvo on the extreme northwest. These nine islands, aggregating in area about 922 square miles, vary greatly in size, from São Miguel, with an area of 288, to Corvo, with an area of not more than 5 square miles. The Formigas and other tiny islets throughout the archipelago are of no importance except as perils to navigation.

Physically, the Azores are in general characterized by the bold and irregular conformation usually found in islands of volcanic origin. The snow-capped volcano which is the predominating feature of Pico rises to a height of 8500 feet; the Vara, in São Miguel, is more than 5500 feet; but the crater of the Sete Cidades volcano, also in São Miguel, is said to be not more than 866 feet above the sea level. The volcanic character of these islands is also unmistakably shown by the recurrence in their mountain-formations of more or less extinct craters (locally called caldeiras — "kettles"), one of which, the Caldeira of Graciosa, forms a steaming lake of pitch. Almost all the islands contain mineral springs, the best known of which are in São Miguel, Terceira, Graciosa, and Flores. As might be expected, the Azores are specially subject to earthquakes; in 1522 the city of Villa Franca, in São Miguel, was destroyed, with, it is said, 6000 of its inhabitants, by an earthquake, and another earthquake, in June, 1811, is memorable for the birth, about two miles off the coast of São Miguel, of the little island which was named Sabrina after the British warship that was present at, and reported, the phenomenon. The climate, through mild and equable, is extremely humid, the number of rainy days in the year averaging about 163, or not far from 50 per cent, and producing a rainfall estimated at very nearly 39 inches; snow never falls, except on the highest mountains; the recorded minimum temperature is about 39°F., the maximum only 81°F. (very exceptionally as high as 86°F.), and the mean for all seasons 63°F.


The existence of this archipelago was not generally known to the inhabitants of Europe before the fifteenth century of our era, although there is evidence that Phoenician, Scandinavian, and Arabian navigators visited it at different periods. In 1432 the Portuguese, Goncalo Velho Cabral, discovered the island of Santa Maria, and by the year 1457 all the islands had been visited by either Portuguese or Flemish explorers, none of whom found any aboriginal inhabitants, wild animals, or reptiles. In 1466 Affonso V of Portugal granted to the Duchess Isabel of Burgundy, his aunt, some sort of feudal privilege in the Azores, in consequence of which the colonists for some time were mostly Flemings, and the Portuguese themselves in those days called the islands As Ilhas Flamengas (the Flemish Islands). The first Portuguese colonies of any importance in the Azores were those of São Miguel, and Terceira, and at the end of the fifteenth century a certain number of the Moors, driven from Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella, took refuge in the islands.

It was not until 1534 that the ecclesiastical organization of the Azores was effected. Until then they had been under the jurisdiction of the Grand Prior of the Order of Christ. The Bull of Pope Paul III, dated 5 November, 1534, immediately after that pontiff's accession to the Apostolic See, formed a diocese with its metropolis at Angra do Heroismo, is the island of Terceira, to include the whole of this archipelago. The See of Angra was made suffragan to that of Funchal, but in 1547 it was removed from this jurisdiction and placed under that of the then Archiepiscopal (now Patriarchal) See of Lisbon. From 1580 to 1640 the Azores, like the rest of the Portuguese dominions, had to submit to the rule of Spain, and during that period the neighbouring waters were the scene of many hard fights between the Spanish and the English sea-rovers. The commercial prosperity of the islands declined after the recovery of Portuguese independence and the accession of the House of Braganza in 1640. The city of Angra attained some slight historical notoriety in 1662, when Affonso VI, deposed by his brother Dom Pedro, was imprisoned there. Material prosperity began to be restored to the Azores immediately after the period of the French invasion of the Peninsula and the flight of João IV to Brazil (1807), when the former restrictions of commerce were removed. In the Portuguese revolution of 1828-33, the Azorean populations took a decided stand against the absolutist Dom Miguel, repulsed an attack upon the island of Terceira by a Miguelist fleet, and contributed largely to form the Progressista army which landed at Oporto in 1833, driving Dom Miguel into exile, and establishing on the throne the Queen Donna Maria da Gloria, who for two years preceding had resided at Angra.

Present conditions

The Azores are not a colony, nor a foreign dependency of Portugal, but an integral part of the kingdom. His Most Faithful Majesty is represented in the islands by a governor residing at Angra, which is regarded as the political capital; at the same time the inhabitants are on a legislative and fiscal equality with those of the Portuguese mainland, being regularly represented in the Cortes at Lisbon. The total population of the archipelago in the year 1900 was 256,291 (i.e. 277.9 to the square mile), mostly of Portuguese origin, though of course with considerable intermixture of Flemish and Moorish blood, with traces of immigration from the British Isles, and a sprinkling of negroes.

Economically, the people of the Azores depend chiefly upon agriculture, this term being taken as including the production of wine. Most of the wine produced in the archipelago comes from the island of Pico, and, under the name of Fayal wine, derived from the port whence it was shipped, used to be famous in bygone days. The area exclusively devoted to vineyards is about 9500 acres (nearly 15 square miles), producing nearly 1,000,000 gallons of wine annually. Wheat and a large variety and abundance of fruits are grown in the valleys. Some 6000 men are employed in the fisheries, and the value of their annual catch amounts to about $175,000. The populations of Terceira, São Jorge, and Graciosa, numbering about 72,000, manufacture cheese, butter, soap, linens, woolens, bricks, and tiles; in Fayal, Pico, Flores, and Corvo a population of 58,000 are chiefly engaged in basket-weaving and the fashioning of small fancy articles from the pith of the fig tree. The latest available statistics give the total of shipping annually clearing and entering all the ports of the Azores as 2,052,792 tones, with a total value of exports and imports $1,050,000.

The people are, with rare exceptions, Catholics. Werner (Orbis Terrarum Catholicus, s.v.) says that there are only about 100 Protestants and 30 Jews in the whole Diocese of Angra. This diocese contains 110 parishes and many subsidiary churches and chapels; the cathedral of Angra, under the invocation of the Saviour (São Salvador) has its full staff of dignitaries and a chapter of twelve canons, and there is a seminary which prepares 120 students for the priesthood. The secular clergy number 353 besides which there are eight religious houses in Terceira and fifteen, including four convents of female religious, in São Miguel. The population of the cathedral city is about 11,000, that of Punta Delgada, in São Miguel, exceeding it by about 6000.


Welte in Kirchenlex., I, 1776; Werner, Orb. Terr. Cath.; Grande Enc. s.v. Acores; Enc. Britannica (1902). III and XXVI; Mees, Hist. de la decouverte des Iles Fortunees (Paris, 1901).

About this page

APA citation. Macpherson, E. (1907). Azores. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Macpherson, Ewan. "Azores." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Susan Birkenseer.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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