It’s fair to say the average Tinerfeño (native of Tenerife) is not much of a walker. Take to any of Tenerife’s popular hiking trails and the 4X4 you see parked at the furthest point it’s possible to drive to will belong to a Tinerfeño who is guaranteed to be no more than 50 yards away from the spot.
For most natives of Tenerife, the days when they had to walk all over the island are a long way behind them, except for one day a year. On August 14th thousands pick up their walking staffs, don their boots and take to the forest trails to make the annual pilgrimage to Candelaria to pay homage to their Patron Saint, the Virgin of Candelaria.
Before the Canary Islands were conquered by the Spanish at the end of the 15th century, they were inhabited by primitive people known as the Guanche who had not developed beyond the Stone Age. Living in caves, dressing in animal skins, they worshipped a Gothic statue of a Black Madonna and Child which two shepherds discovered on a beach in 1390.
Known as The Virgin of Candelaria, she is the Patron Saint of the Canary Islands and August 15th is her feast day. On the eve of the day itself, pilgrims set out from their homes all over Tenerife to walk to their spiritual capital of Candelaria to hear mass and to lay tributes at the feet of the statue which is housed in a grand Basilica. Some of the pilgrims end their journey by crossing the plaza on their knees.
The Madonna and child was allegedly discovered by two shepherds who were driving their goats along the shore. Finding their way barred by the woman and forbidden by law to speak to a female on her own, one of the shepherds picked up a stone to throw at her and as he did so, his arm apparently locked. Shocked, the other one armed himself with his knife and accidentally almost severed his own finger.
Terrified, the two ran back to their Mencey (King) who declared the whole affair a miracle, took the Madonna and child to a nearby cave for safekeeping and put the word of the discovery out. From that day forward, Guanche travelled from across the archipelago to worship her, as pilgrims still do today.
As part of the celebrations, the discovery of the statue is re-enacted in the main Plaza Patrona. It’s fair to say the standard of acting is nothing to get a Hollywood Director interested, nor indeed is the ‘plot’ worthy of nomination in the Best Screenplay category but there’s a good display of ‘salto de pastores’ (the pole vaulting used by shepherds to negotiate the island’s wide ravines); the atmosphere is buzzing, food stalls and shops stay open late into the night and there’s a big fireworks display to celebrate the arrival of the pilgrims.
If you’re planning on being in Tenerife on August 14th, jump on a 111 bus from Playa de Las Américas and Los Cristianos late afternoon and head up the east coast to watch the drama and enjoy the scene.
Category : about tenerife
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