On the night of the 31st of October, 1755, the citizens of the fair city of Lisbon lay down to sleep, in merciful ignorance of what was awaiting them on the morrow. The morning of the 1st of November dawned, and gave no sign of approaching calamity. The sun rose in its brightness, the warmth was genial, the breezes gentle, the sky serene. It was All Saints’ Day—a high festival of the Church of Rome. The sacred edifices were thronged with eager crowds, and the ceremonies were in full progress, when the assembled throngs were suddenly startled from their devotions. From the ground beneath came fearful sounds that drowned the peal of the organ and the voices of the choirs. These underground thunders having rolled away, an awful silence ensued. The panic-stricken multitudes were paralyzed with terror. Immediately after the ground began to heave with a long and gentle swell, producing giddiness and faintness among the people. The tall piles swayed to and fro, like willows in the wind. Shrieks of horror rose from the terrified assembly. Again the earth heaved, and this time with a longer and higher wave. Down came the ponderous arches, the stately columns, the massive walls, the lofty spires, tumbling upon the heads of priests and people. The graven images, the deified wafers, and they who had knelt in adoration before them—the worshipped and the worshippers alike—were in a moment buried under one undistinguishable mass of horrible ruins. Only a few, who were near the doors, escaped to tell the tale.
It fared no better with those who had remained in their dwellings. The terrible earth-wave overthrew the larger number of the private houses in the city, burying their inhabitants under the crumbling walls. Those who were in the streets more generally escaped, though some there, too, were killed by falling walls.
The sudden overthrow of so many buildings raised vast volumes of fine dust, which filled the atmosphere and obscured the sun, producing a dense gloom. The air was full of doleful sounds—the groans of agony from the wounded and the dying, screams of despair from the horrified survivors, wails of lamentation from the suddenly bereaved, dismal howlings of dogs, and terrified cries of other animals.
In two or three minutes the clouds of dust fell to the ground, and disclosed the scene of desolation which a few seconds had wrought. The ruin, though general, was not universal. A considerable number of houses were left standing—fortunately tenantless—for a third great earth-wave traversed the city, and most of the buildings which had withstood the previous shocks, already severely shaken, were entirely overthrown.