In the village of Camara dos Lobos, poverty is the constant companion, walking beside the mangy dogs as they skulk around the gaming tables down by the fishing harbour.
Yet here there is not one but two churches, each plastered in bling.
To walk inside from the world of rotting fish and cigarette ends is an experience rather like visiting Santa's Grotto in the department store of a run-down industrial city during a general strike. All is tinselled disillusion. On the high altar celluloid dolls masquerade as Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Outside, children made in God's image run, scruffy and painfully thin, through the alleys.
I think of all the horrors perpetrated in God's name, from the Crusades to Northern Ireland and add this to my list...
Later in the week, we visit Curral das Freiras, an amazing hidden valley, named as the refuge of a religious order who fled there from the depradations of pirates on the coast. Having spent the morn in the company of a very charming latter day pirate, complete with gold ear-ring, dreads and the statutory gap between teeth to allow him to test the authenticity of gold dublooms, I'd rather question their judgement in fleeing...but then, we've already established my attitude to mountain roads. The valley is best approached by the old route, which includes 2 chillingly narrow roadtunnels, cut through the rock, and enough hair pins to control a junior ballet class.
We snake down, down, to the tiny square at the centre of the village, - and are greeted enthusiastically by a passing local, who begs us to visit "our so beautiful church".
So, here we are in a crater surrounded by breath-taking psalms in rock, expressing God's majesty and creative genius as perfectly as anything can here on earth...and we bow to pressure and enter one of the ugliest churches I've ever encountered,- complete with piped organ music to welcome tourists.
How bizarre is that?
Outside everything shouts praise...inside is artifice, the gilding of lillies, darkness and constraint.
Why? Why do we still insist on containing God, on fashioning the ark of the presence for ourselves again and again? How long will it take us to learn that, in the face of our own inadequacy we might do better simply to celebrate his gifts? It was a relief to emerge into sunshine, to sit and marvel. I hope those 16th century nuns had opportunity to do just that, and to really see.
Somehow, it's much easier to do that when I'm away from my normal environment. Perhaps that's what holidays are really for.