chapter  2
PORTRAIT OF THE NORTHEAST
Pages 28

As Nossa Senhora da Conceigao (Our Lady of the Immaculate Concep­ tion), the Virgin Mary has lived on the Morro since 1904, longer than any other resident. Except for the coats of paint that have slightly rounded her iron form over the years, and a surrounding walkway that hides her original granite base and allows pilgrims to climb to her very feet, she looks like she did at her inauguration so many decades ago. A silver-painted cupola shelters her. A painted blue robe, lined in pink and gold, still drapes from her shoulders and covers her white dress. Her hands are folded in prayer and hold a rosary, her crowned head is tilted slightly forward and to her left, her eyes are soft, and her down­ ward gaze is benevolent, even gently pained, or perhaps puzzled. She balances on a globe while serenely crushing a serpent underfoot. When she was first carted to the top of the hill and placed on her pedestal, she dominated an expanse cleared of the tropical forest native to the region, a space created to accommodate her and a city’s worth of dig­ nitaries, church officials, and citizens who celebrated her arrival. The year 1904 was a hard one in Recife, though not novel for the trauma; a dysentery epidemic had claimed more than 3,000 lives, no doubt up­ ping the number of people who trekked to the Morro to pay homage to Our Lady.