Backwards Glance: A Century Old, The B.D.E.S. Hall Still Going Strong
As far as we are able to determine, the spirited group hanging off the balcony in this 1920 photo—pun intended—is almost certainly composed of members from the Irmandade do Divino Espirito Santo organization, a Portuguese Catholic social group. The owner and driver of the vehicle in the foreground is Mr. Milo Passalacqua. The I.D.E.S. Hall, or B.D.E.S. Hall as it was later called after the organization changed its name to the Benicia Divino Espirito Santo, still stands today at 140 West J Street with no discernable changes to the exterior since its completion in 1915. Still owned and operated by the B.D.E.S., the building has been used over the years as a venue for Benicia school dances and graduations, the Fireman’s Ball, and a skating rink; and is now leased by the Benicia Old Town Theatre Group for their performances.
The primary focus of the B.D.E.S. organization is the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Ghost, which originated with Isabel, the sixth Queen of Portugal. The feast proclaims the faith of the Portuguese people and their devotion to the Holy Ghost, now referred to as the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of the Catholic and other Christian churches. It was brought initially from Portugal to Hawaii in the late 1800s, by immigrants who came to work in the sugar cane fields and thence to California. The entire event features a series of processions over seven consecutive Saturdays, culminating in Domingas, the Blessing of the Meat and Bread, a three-day festival in which a portion of beef and bread is blessed and distributed to everyone present on Friday night, followed on Saturday by the decoration and dressing of religious statues. A young lady chosen by the group to represent Queen Isabel and her court join a procession, which finishes at the church on Sunday. At the conclusion of the mass, the priest crowns the Holy Ghost Queen. In Benicia today, this same feast is still on the calendar, and is scheduled for the fourth Sunday in July—I will definitely be on that bus!