Celebrated toward the end of the month, the Romería de San Marcos is an event that is great fun for the whole family. Towns and villages all over the island hold their own romerías but the Pilgrimage of San Marcos in Tegueste is emerging as a traditional fiesta well worth experiencing.
The historical background of this particular romería comes from the old rural ways of life and customs of the people of Tegueste. In ancient times, spring was celebrated by asking the gods to bless livestock, pastures and crops. After the Spanish conquest and settlement in Tegueste, Marina Hernandez de Vera founded the first Church of St. Mark who became the Patron Saint of the town. From that time, each year around the end of April, the townsfolk would pay tribute to the patron saint beseeching his protection for their fields and animals. This coincided with the ancient guanche celebrations and in the beginning, it was just in essence little more than a cattle fair but over time, the fiestas got more lavish.
In the 17th Century, the plague ravaged the islands and by some miracle, Tegueste remained free. In thanks, the townspeople built wooden boats on wheels as an offering to the patron saint for once again not only protecting their livestock but also protecting them from the disease. Boats seem a strange choice to make in a area that is nowhere near the sea but no doubt someone, somewhere knows why this symbol was chosen.
In time honoured way, every year on the feast of San Marcos the celebrations include these boats with billowing sails along with elaborately decorated wagons drawn by teams of oxen and cows. It is a truly original festival.
As on other occasions, there will be herds of goats and flocks of sheep and from 13.00 the carts and boats will travel through the streets of the town. Local people wearing traditional white clothing and colourful hats with ribbons and feathers will dance the Flower Dance to the traditional island drum ‘tajaraste’. From the floats, they will hand out Canarian food to all comers. The party then moves to the square in front of the church where bands take to the stage and drinks are served well into the night.
This year, the Pilgrimage of San Marcos will be held on 27th April and the poster features the two most important elements of the romeria, the old boats and the Dance of the Flowers. The image dates back to around 1940. As you can see, the dancers are all men because women’s were not allowed to take part until the 1970s.
Many centuries have passed, but the festivities of the spring and the Pilgrimage of San Marcos, still reflect ancient beliefs, traditions and more importantly, the great joy of life. The only concession that has to be made today is to the height of the boat masts due to overhead power cables but otherwise for all lovers of tradition the village becomes the capital of folklore for another year.