Tenerife’s Saint: Hermano Pedro

Sat, March 24th, 2012 - By Linda

What, or who, do you think links Guatemala – a Central American country bordering Mexico, Belize and Honduras; an archipelago in the North Atlantic, namely, the Canary Islands and the Vatican City? The answer is a saint by the name of San Pedro Betancur.

It’s a name which crops up again and again in the south of Tenerife. You find bars, streets, cafés and alleyways named “Hermano Pedro” – that’s Brother Peter in English – not to mention statues and paintings, and you may wonder who he is. He is, in fact, no less than Tenerife’s own saint, and the island is immensely proud of him.

Hermano Pedro’s short, memorable life was to touch scores of others, and does so to this day. He was born in the south of Tenerife in Vilaflor de Chasna, Spain’s highest village, only minutes from what is now the Teide National Park. Records show he was baptized in March of 1626. From a poor, farming family, from 12 years old he worked as a goatherd, tending the animals, and leading them down the mountain to warmer pastures in the winter.

When wintering the animals his home was a cave in the municipality of Granadilla de Abona, close to the present-day resort of El Médano. Today the cave has been turned into a shrine. It’s a simple affair, with a row of chairs where visitors can meditate, and full of offerings left by the faithful – rosaries, icons, crucifixes, and pictures – and a smaller room for prayer. Outside, the valley floor resembles a Zen garden, following the natural lines of the rock formations. Every time I’ve visited there have been people, asking for favours or giving thanks, I don’t know. It’s one of those places which urge you to quiet respect, and you have no wish to intrude. Whilst there is a small gift shop it isn’t in the slightest touristy. Leaving El Médano take the first road left which leads to Los Abrigos, and then take the first right, a flat, open road, where you will find the cave situated on the first bend. The only sounds to disturb your meditations there, unfortunately, might be the planes leaving Reina Sofia airport from time to time.

Presumably it was to escape from poverty that in 1649 Brother Peter set sail for Guatemala, where he had family. He landed first in Havana, Cuba, and having run out of money, worked for a year before continuing his journey.

Some say that it was the severe illness which took hold of him next which made him decide to devote the rest of his life to the poor and needy. His first move was to study to become a priest, but for whatever reason his studies weren’t successful, and he became a lay helper, working with the destitute, the ill and the homeless, and going on to found hospitals, schools and shelters, and eventually the Order of los Bethlamites y de las Bethlamites. He died at the age of 41 and is buried in his adopted country.

There was some discussion about whether or not miracles had been performed, and his road to sainthood was long, but in 2002 he was, finally canonized becoming not only the first Canadian saint, but also the first Central American saint.

Posted : Saturday, March 24th, 2012 at 9:54 am
Category : about tenerife
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