Son of Zechariah, a Jewish priest, and Elizabeth, distant cousin of Mary, mother of Jesus, Saint John the Baptist, the Precursor (for having announced and prepared the coming of Christ), aged twenty-four, leaves for the desert on a spiritual retreat , feeding only on locusts, herbs, roots, fruits and honey. Later, he baptizes Jesus Christ in the waters of the Jordan River in Palestine, presenting Him to the people as the Messiah.

He was beheaded in the year 31 at the request of Salome, a Jewish princess, who requested the head of the saint from her uncle Herod Antipas – tetrarch of Galilee, who judged Jesus Christ. According to tradition, this request was made at the request of Herodias, Salome’s mother and Herod’s sister-in-law.

The beheading of São João Baptista is celebrated on the 29th of August.

This date associates the saint, once again, with ritual and prophylactic baths, already marked in the celebration of his birth: June 24th.

The feast of São João Degola, which takes place in Manta Rota, on the 29th of August of each year, dates back more than 200 years. According to tradition, the inhabitants of the mountain area – “the mountaineers” – would go down to the beach on the 28th of August, mounted on their donkeys or on foot. They camped on the beach and on the 29th, at dawn, they dressed for the holy bath of “São João da Degola” which was based, in some way, on the reenactment of the martyrdom of São João Baptista.

In the water, afraid of the waves, they gathered in a ranch and formed circles, holding hands, and thus having fun. On that day, they also took the opportunity to bathe the animals to ward off ailments. In this practice of holy baths, the symbolic value of water as a purifying element for the body and soul should be highlighted. After the bath, they had lunch on the beach and returned home.

The importance of these festivities is linked to the faith in bathing, but also to the reunion between the populations of the interior and the coast, providing all kinds of cultural, social and commercial exchanges.

The tradition of holy bathing in São João da Degola lost strength from the 70s onwards but was recovered by associations and groups of friends who recreated this custom as a way of transmitting to future generations one of the cyclical festivities of the region that was beginning to disappear. These holy baths at the end of August also take place in other areas of the Algarve coast, and the date usually coincides with the last full moon before the Autumn Equinox.

The holy bath maintained and disseminated by popular devotion and accepted by Christianity, continues to enjoy all the devotion of a society, yesterday predominantly rural, today to include an increasingly urban aspect.

Algarve Imaterial. (2022). Banhos de S. João da Degola. Accessed on 17th February, 2022. URL:

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