Nuestra Señora de Candelaria, La Morenita, the black Virgin Mary, is the patron saint of the Canary Islands with an official public holiday in Tenerife in February since she is also specifially Tenerife’s patron saint. And if La Morenita is associated with anywhere in Tenerife, it’s Candelaria itself, with the town’s fiestas patronales taking place from today until 18 August.
August 15 is itself a Canaries-wide public holiday for Asunción (Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven) and the focal point is the celebration and veneration in Candelaria of the Virgin in her personification as La Morenita in the basilica built on the site where the original Guanche inhabitants of the islands worshipped. The tradition is said to have started when two Guanche shepherds found a wooden image on a Güímar beach; the icon was identifed as a representation of the native goddess Chaxiraxi, and was worshipped devoutly. When the Spanish conquered the Canaries in the second half of the 15th century, they found this tradition alive and well in Candelaria. It was said to date back a hundred years, hence the traditional date of in 1390 given for the original Guanche vision.
The Christian invaders, however, told the Guanches that their goddess was really the Virgin Mary, and so Chaxiraxi was transformed and redeified as the Virgen de Candelaria. The current church dates to 1959, and is set to one side of the Dominican monastery built in the 16th century: the hermitage dates to 1803 after the original building was destroyed by fire. The cave where the Guanches worshipped their native goddess is still nearby, though the little wooden icon itself was lost during torrential rains in 1826. Next to the plaza outside the complex are the larger-than-life bronze statues of the nine Guanche Menceyes, rulers of the kingdoms of Tenerife before the Spanish arrived: it is one of Tenerife’s “Unmissables” – see HERE.
The celebrations on the 15th include a religious Mass televised live from the basilica and attended by public figures which have included even Spanish royalty, either in person or by representation. It is the evening of the 14th, though, that has become most famous for the annual re-enactment of the discovery of that original wooden icon. It is hugely popular, drawing massive crowds, and indeed the whole celebration in Candelaria draws groups of walkers from all over the island, who come over Teide, mountain paths, minor roads, and even along the motorways, to Candelaria in a famous and much revered pilgrimage. The video below is from Canarian television coverage in 2014.