There is nothing quite like taking part in a local tradition and learning its century’s old history to feel connected to a place as a traveler.

And in Salvador, the wish ribbons from the Bomfim basilica are just that tradition. But, how exactly did this now-ubiquitous ribbon get its famed ability to perform miracles?

History of Bomfim wish ribbons

If you aren’t familiar with the wish ribbons, it’s a colored ribbon, about a foot long, with the words “Lembrança do Senor do Bomfim da Bahia” ( “souvenir from the church of Bomfim in Bahia”) printed on it. And wearing the ribbon is said to bring you luck.

You see, the church of Bomfim (Bomfim means ‘good ends’ in English) in Salvador and has a long history of creating miracles. The alcove tucked in the right back corner of the church is a testament to those miracles. It’s filled with notes, photos, and even prosthetics from families and groups that made the pilgrimage in search of a miracle. These notes are embued with gratitude and hope, and even the miraculous cures that occurred after the visit.

Whether the miracles predate the ribbon or vice versa is up for debate, but the ribbon itself dates back to 1809. The ribbon, which is now worn as a bracelet, was initially worn as a necklace, dyed gold or black, and had small charms attached. The length of these original ribbons (known then as the “measurement of Bomfim”) was 47 centimeters, the exact same length as the right arm of the statue of Christ that sits on the altar of the church. These ribbons were blessed by the church priests and were said to result in miracles for the wearers.

Reviving the wish ribbon tradition

With time the tradition disappeared, and the ribbons were more or less forgotten. Then, in the 1960s the ribbons were revived, but this time as a souvenir for tourists. And with that revival, the tradition also changed slightly. In the current incarnation, the ribbon is now worn around your wrist. Someone ties the ribbon on your wrist — slowly tying three knots. As each knot is tied, you make a wish. With time the bracelet will naturally fall off (my first fell off after three months, the second after three years), and when that happens, your wishes will come true.

two women tying on a wish ribbon at Bomfim church

While it is said to be a “tourist thing,” I do see Brazilians wearing them as well. They may joke about it, but there is a strong belief in Salvador in a higher power, and I believe that many believe in the power of this humble ribbon. Personally, I find it to be a lovely remembrance, and much like people do affirmations or wear jewelry to set an intention, I believe that the ribbons offer this same gift.

Where to get your wish ribbons

The best place to get your wish ribbons is from the sellers right outside the Bomfim church. They sell them in packs of 10 for just a few reais.

There are many street vendors in and around the Pelourinho that will offer you one as a “present”, but that present usually comes further attempts to sell you something.

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