The Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria commemorates the Patron Saint of the Canary Islands every August and lasts for two days. This is one of the most important events on the island and you need to arrive early as the town is packed to the rafters. Thousands of people not just from Tenerife but from all of the islands arrive in town. Many spend the night on the roads following the old traditional pilgrimage routes from La Orotava, Tacoronte and beyond and make their way on foot so they can pay tribute to their Patron Saint.
On the night of the 14th not only are there hundreds of people partaking of the food stalls, market stands and fairground attractions but this is when for the non-religious amongst us, the main event takes place, the re-enactment of the first appearance of the Virgin to the Guanches, the ancient inhabitants of the island. Naturally, this is followed by the ubiquitous firework displays that light up the Basilica where the Virgin resides.
For the pilgrims the most important day is still to arrive. The 15th is a time of great devotion and religious fervour, a solemn mass, military parades and the traditional floral offering to the virgin accompanied by folklore groups.
So what’s it all about? According to legend, a statue was washed up in Tenerife at the end of the fourteenth century. Like all good stories, it starts with….
Once upon a time there were two shepherds who each evening locked their sheep in a cave for safety. One evening the animals refused to go in and looking around the shepherds saw what they thought was a woman at the water’s edge. Since Guanche men were not allowed to have contact with women outside of their settlements, they tried to wave her away. However, when she didn’t respond, one of the men threw stones at her and as he did so, his arm became paralyzed. The other became angry and pulled his knife, but only managed to cut himself.
The shepherds were very frightened and ran to the king of Güímar, Acaimo, to tell of the strange events. As nobody dared to touch what on closer inspection turned out to be a wooden statue, the king ordered the shepherds to take the statue to his palace. The moment the injured men touched the statue they were healed and the king realised this woman was supernatural so decided to carry her himself. After a while, he had to ask for help because she was too heavy to carry alone. She was given the name Chaxiraxi or Sun Mother and placed in a cave where she was worshipped as a goddess.
Today there is a cross and shrine at the place where the Virgin was found and a chapel dedicated to The Virgin of Candelaria at the place where the Guanche king asked for help,