The Virgin and the Saint

With the summer season well under way and celebrations taking place across the island under the heading ‘Fiestas Patronales’ that include concerts in plazas, parties at sea and a zillion other things for both residents and visitor to enjoy, it seems a good time to take a look at a couple of the popular traditional fiestas that are taking place in July.

There is a tradition in Tenerife that strongly impacts residents of coastal regions. The origins date back to the 17th century when people made their living from the sea and a bad year could result in disaster. In order to gain good fortune, the people honoured the Virgen del Carmen together with San Telmo as the patron saint of fishermen and sailors. Since that time on or around 16th July in towns like Las GalletasPuerto de Santiago, Playa San Juan and Los Cristianos in the south and Los Realejos in the north, celebrations to honour the Virgen have taken place.

Perhaps the most colourful of the celebrations takes place in Puerto de la Cruz. This year despite several weeks of cavorting, the main event Dia de la Embarcación takes place on the 15th.  To the sound of ‘Ave Maria’ locals, carry the Virgin and San Telmo through the town to the port. When they reach the water’s edge, the cry changes to ‘Viva La Virgin y Viva San Telmo’ as the saints are transferred onto a brightly decorated fishing boat and taken out to sea.  As well as the dozens of boats that accompany the procession, hundreds of people line the port to see the Virgin make her annual trip around the coast.  The festivities continue as the crowds transfer to the streets where locals and visitors alike share the good food, good drink, and party away to the ever present Latino band as fireworks explode overhead.  Once again, a great atmosphere at another wonderful Tenerife fiesta.

San Benito Abad is one of the most traditional and popular fiestas in the Canary Islands that takes place in July. It has been declared an event of National Interest to Tourism, thanks to the passion that the people of La Laguna have put into celebrating the event.

Its origins go back to a time when people in the countryside would worship San Benito Abad for protection of their land and crops and thank the saint for their summer harvest.  Over time, it became a meeting of two worlds the country and the town as residents of La Laguna still worship the saint every year. This popular festival that attracts thousands of onlookers takes place the second Sunday of July so this year 13th and starts at the San Benito Abad chapel and continues through the historical centre of the town.

Over the days prior to the event, (the celebration lasts fifteen days in total) there are a range of traditional activities such as the election of the Pilgrimage Queen, the Wizards’ Dance and the Seven Islands Festival. The day of the pilgrimage is the main event and highlights include a cortege made up of seven young women, each in the typical dress of one of the islands, wagons pulled by oxen and rondallas and parrandas (street musicians) parade through the streets in traditional costumes. Food such as wrinkly potatoes, gofio and other local produce is generously handed out to onlookers. This event is reminiscent of the Guanche Beñesmén (Harvest Festival) and is a colourful opportunity to learn about Canarian culture.

Images from La Opinion.

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