Tenerife has its very own “Camino” – maybe not as long or dramatic a journey as Santiago de Compostela but it has a loyal following, who make the journey evey year. From all points of the island people walk to the town of Candelaria, to take part in the Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria, who is the patron of the island.
Legends swirl around the statue of the black madonna which occupies pride of place in the local basilica.
The most generally published myth is that the native population, prior to being conquered by Spain (in 1495) found this statue on the beach. In awe they took her back to their camp inland, but in the morning she was found on the beach again. This happened several times, and it was taken to be a sign that this was where the mysterious lady wished to remain, so she was placed in a cave on the sea shore.
The troops of the Crown of Castille finally conquered the fierce Guanche warriors (Tenerife was the last island to fall to the sword) they were amazed to find the statue being worshipped by the natives. Some historians recorded the locals as being already Christian.
In time a lovely church was built, close to the cave, and the statue was removed, and didn’t stray again. Although there is a report that during the 19th century a terrible storm flooded the church and washed her out to sea, never to be seen again, and that the statue presently gracing the church is a replica. A copy of the statue now resides in the original cave too, which is just beyond the church in the picture to the right.
There are other versions and embellishments to this story, so you can probably choose which one you like best. This is what Wiki has to say: –
Whichever version you prefer, there is no doubt that this is an enormous celebration. It’s several years now since I went, and of course it has grown and grown over time. Back then it was a heaving, sweaty, noisy and bright crush of humanity, the fairground in full swing, processions and music, fireworks and churros.
This year the festival falls on Friday, tomorrow, so what is always a huge holiday time is even more huge! As I drove home from work tonight I noticed a couple wearing yellow, reflective jackets walking along the hardshoulder of the autopista. “Car broken down” was my first thought, but seconds later spotting a couple of guys walking in similar attire I remembered, and sure enough as I drove along I passed more and more pilgrims. They will be walking through the night to reach Candelaria tomorrow for the feast day. I had the stongest urge to park up, jump out and join them!
I don’t know what made me feel that way. For sure the idea of organized religion has turned me off for years now, so it wasn’t a conscious, or even unconscious throwback to my Catholic leanings in my teenage years.
It could be the challenge of course. I noted every person I saw walking was young, it would be great to be able to say I did it along with them. No doubt for some of them it’s the challenge too.
But perhaps more than that it is the sense of coming together, the community feel achieved from this or from Él Camino de Santiago, and just maybe, this feeling of community, this sense of togetherness, oneness is the true spirit of religion.
Most religions are long-since lost in their own dogma, but maybe traditions like this have the capacity to open them up to broader thinking, to the memory of the lost, original meanings of the teachings of Jesus Christ? He didn’t, afterall, set out to found a religion. He set out to gently explain to people the errors of their lifestyle. It was the folk who came after who used the power their positions in the early church gave them for their own ends. It was they who wove curses and threats into the dogma, who used those curses and threats to subjugate the ordinary citizens of their countries, and who abused and misused the name of Jesus.
Not that my particular piece of vitriol there is aimed purely at the Catholic church, even after the breakaways, which resulted in numerous other branches of Christianity, the rebels, too, managed to behave in exactly the same way, right up to the present day.
But these pilgrimages this sense of togetherness, this seems to me a spiritual sensation which, actually, transcends a particular religion and brings people together in the spirit of brotherhood to which we should all aspire.
For years now I have wanted to do the Camino de Santiago, but never really thought about our local version. Perhaps next year!