The Blessing of the Fleet is the culminating event in the annual Provincetown Portuguese Festival. In this maritime tradition, fishing boats receive a benediction to protect them from the dangers of the sea and to ensure good catches in the year to come. Part celebration of Portuguese heritage, part religious devotion, and part homage to the local fishing fleet, this blessing ceremony can be found in several Massachusetts' fishing communities.
It was 1947 when Arthur Bragg Silva, a Provincetown native, attended Gloucester's Blessing of the Fleet. Inspired, Silva worked with members of the Portuguese community to establish a similar event in Provincetown the following year. Today, the Blessing of the Fleet has become a major community event in Provincetown, and is held on the third weekend in June.
As is typical of other Catholic-based feast day celebrations, parishioners parade their patron saint through the street. In Provincetown, this is St. Peter, the Roman Catholic patron saint of fishermen. The Blessing of the Fleet begins with a fishermen's mass at St. Peter the Apostles' Church. Inside, a mural depicts a fisherman sailing in rough waters. The reverend speaks of the dangers of the sea and issues facing the fishing community. Once mass has concluded, the statue of St. Peter, which has been decorated for the occasion, is carried out of the church and through the streets by strong bodied fisherman and parishioners to McMillan Wharf.
During the procession, musicians and dancers belonging to various Rancho Folcloricogroups and dressed in Portuguese folkloric costumes follow directly behind the saint. The streets are lined with people watching the procession. It ends at McMillan Pier, where the priest, local politicians, parishioners, and tourists wait for the boats to appear around the sandbar in the harbor. At one time, the fishing fleet was 60 draggers strong. Today, the "fleet" is likely to include more recreational craft than fishing vessels. All are decked out with lines decorated with colorful triangular flags, in what is called "dressing ship". Some boats have replicas of a St. Peter statue visibly displayed. One by one, boats come back inside the breakwater and slowly motor in to receive a blessing and a splash of Holy Water.