El Sauzal, the Little Town with the Big History

Mon, September 14th, 2015 - By Andrea Montgomery

The cruise season begins later this month, and thousands of cruise passengers will be disembarking almost weekly in Santa Cruz to spend the day in the capital or take to tour buses for island tours. Amongst them, a good number of those buses will be heading to a surprising destination, to the little town of El Sauzal on the north west coast whose history is nothing short of miraculous.


Sister Maria de Jesús, El sauzal


At the little Museo Casa de La Sierva de Diós curator Agustín is gearing up for a busy season of tour groups arriving off the cruise ships to see the house where the miraculous Sister Maria de Jesús was born. A fervent Dominican nun, when Sister Maria died an old lady in 1731, her body never decomposed. Housed in the Convento de Santa Catalina in La Laguna, the corpse is now one of the most revered religious relics in the Canary Islands and every year on the 15th February thousands of pilgrims travel from across the world to see it when it’s taken from its tomb.


Casa de La Sierva de Diós, El Sauzal


In El Sauzal, they come to see the house that has been so beautifully restored and preserved as a testament, not just to Sister Maria’s life but to a way of life that in many ways, still reflects the agricultural priorities of the town today. Free to wander around, tiny doorways lead to a rudimentary bedroom, a pretty drawing room, a kitchen and various outhouses. Alongside the house, Agustín presides over a small museum dedicated to the municipality as well as to its miraculous citizen who is currently under consideration for sainthood.

Prior to the Spanish conquest, it was the King of Portugal who first sent an emissary to the town in the form of Pedro de Oporto, and it was he and his fellow artisans who first settled the area and planted the sugar cane that brought its first wealth post conquest.
“El Sauzal is not Spanish, it’s Portuguese,” Agustín proudly asserts having recounted its early history and now pointing to the Portuguese style of mudejar ceiling in the Palacio de Salazar, and the Byzantine dome of the San Pedro de Apóstol church, “the only one in Spain…”, Agustín assures us, “…and a mini replica of the dome on the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.”


Iglesia de San Pedro Apóstol, El Sauzal


It’s certainly like no other church I’ve ever seen in the Canary Islands. But then, this is the church that was once the seat of government for the entire Canary Islands when, in 1582 the bubonic plague arrived on carpets imported from Flanders. With fatalities in La Laguna and Santa Cruz rising, the Government moved its operations to the San Pedro church in El Sauzal. By the end of the outbreak, an estimated 5,000-9,000 out of a population of just 20,000 had perished. Remarkably, given its proximity to many of the worst hit centres, the pestilence never reached El Sauzal.


El Sauzal


To wander the streets of the town today with its wine museum, its über chic Terrazas del Sauzal restaurant, its magnificent views and its Los Lavaderos park where water cascades through terraces brimming with endemic flora, the most miraculous thing about the place is that there aren’t even more visitors.

Posted : Monday, September 14th, 2015 at 11:09 am
Category : about tenerife
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