The Virgin of Candelaria or Our Lady of Candelaria (Virgen de Candelaria, Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria), popularly called La Morenita, celebrates the Virgin Mary on the island of Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands (Spain). The center of worship is located in the city of Candelaria in Tenerife. Our Lady of Candelaria is depicted as a Black Madonna. The “Royal Basilica Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Candelaria” (Basilica of Candelaria), is considered the main church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the Canary Islands. She is the patron saint of the Canary Islands. Her feast is celebrated on February 2 (Candlemas) and August 15, the patronal feast of the Canary Islands.
According to a legend recorded by Alonso de Espinosa in 1594, a statue of the Virgin Mary, bearing a child in one hand and a green candle in the other (hence “Candelaria”), was discovered on the beach of Chimisay (Güímar) by two Guanche goatherds in 1392. This was before the Castilian conquest of the island (the island was not fully conquered until 1496).
One of the shepherds tried to throw a stone at the statue, but his arm became paralyzed; the other tried to stab the statue with a knife but ended up stabbing himself. The statue was taken by the local Guanche mencey, Acaymo, to the cueva de Chinguaro.
Later, Antón, a Guanche who had been enslaved and converted to Christianity by the Castilians, returned to Tenerife and recognized the statue as that of the Virgin Mary. He told the mencey of his conversion and the statue was thus venerated by the Guanches, who moved it to the cave of Achbinico (also known as San Blas – “Saint Blaise“).However, the statue was stolen and taken away to Lanzarote. It was later returned to Tenerife after various events, such as an outbreak of the plague, occurred on Lanzarote. At first, the aboriginals identified the statue with their goddess Chaxiraxi (the mother of the gods), but later the Christian conquerors explained that the image was the Virgin Mary.
The original image of Our Lady of Candelaria was a medieval gothic sculpture with dark color and clothing similar to that of the Virgin of Lluch (patron saint of Mallorca) and the Virgin of Montserrat (patron saint of Catalonia).
The first mass was celebrated at Achbinico on February 2, 1497, and the Adelantado Alonso Fernández de Lugo ordered the construction of a hermitage there, but it was not built until 1526, during the rule of Pedro Fernández de Lugo. This was the site of the Basilica of Our Lady of Candelaria. The basilica was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the 19th century. The statue itself was lost when a tsunami carried it out to sea in 1826; the present statue is a copy by Fernando Estévez. The image of the Virgin is dressed in rich robes of different colors and jewels.
Our Lady of Candelaria was declared patroness of the Canary Islands in 1559, by Clement VIII (and principal patroness in 1867 by Pope Pius IX). The Virgin of Candelaria is widely prayed to for protection against epidemics, plagues, droughts and volcanic eruptions of Mount Teide and other volcanoes, in a manner similar to the invocation of St. Januarius of Naples to stop the eruptions of Vesuvius and of St. Agatha of Catania to eruptions of Mount Etna in Sicily.
Between October 1964 and January 1965, the Diocese of Tenerife conducted the largest pilgrimage in the history of the Canary Islands. This time, the image of Our Lady of Candelaria walking across the towns, cities and municipalities of the island of Tenerife for the first and only time in history.
Every year on February 2 and August 15 is celebrated a big party in honor of the Virgin. These days there are thousands of pilgrims and tourists coming to Candelaria from all points of the Canary Islands and other parts of Spain and the world. The feast day is marked by a solemn procession and a religious ceremony, although its most famous component is a re-enactment of the discovery of the statue, with locals dressing up as guanche natives.
In addition to that this takes place every seven years, the tradition of transferring the image of the Virgin of Candelaria to the cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (capital of the island) and San Cristóbal de La Laguna (seat of the Diocese of Tenerife) alternating every seven years between the two cities. For example, in 2002 the Virgin was moved to Santa Cruz and seven years later in 2009 at La Laguna and so on.
The first great Sanctuary to the Virgin of Candelaria was constructed in 1668. After a fire destroyed the ancient basilica, a larger church (the current basilica) was built. The current basilica dates to 1959 and it was constructed on a former hermitage, and can hold 5,000 people.
The Cave of San Blas was the first Christian church of the Canaries. It was here the early inhabitants of the Canary Isles first revered the Virgin of Candelaria. The cave is located behind Candelaria’s Basilica and is a site of pilgrimage. Achbinico’s cave has historical significance as it was here that many baptisms of guanches took place.
The Jaro Cathedral (National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles) in Jaro, Iloilo City, Philippines, which is the mother church and is under the catholic Archdiocese of Jaro that oversees the whole Western Visayas region, is solely dedicated to the Virgin of Candelaria, the patroness of the whole Western Visayas region, Romblon and Negros Occidental (a part of Negros Island Region). The cathedral was built during the Spanish colonial times in the Philippines.
In the carved drapery of the Virgin of Candelaria original existed some strange letters whose meaning is still unknown. These were:
The cult of Our Lady of Candelaria swept America due to the emigration of Canaries. They brought the devotion as a symbol of their culture, somewhat similar to the diffusion of the cult of St. Patrick by Irish emigrants. On the other hand, the Candelaria image brought to the Philippines is a white image version with a child.
She is widely venerated in South America and the Caribbean, where she is the patroness of Oruro and La Paz (Bolivia), Medellín (Colombia) (which was founded as Villa de Nuestra Señora de La Candelaria de Medellín), Mayagüez (Puerto Rico) (which was founded as Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de Mayagüez), and Manatí (Puerto Rico) (which was founded as Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria y San Matías).
In the Cathedral of San Fernando of Texas (the oldest Catholic cathedral in the United States) is a replica of the Virgin of Candelaria, which is accurate to the venerated in the Canary Islands. This is because the city of San Antonio was founded by Canarians.
In the Philippines, she is the patroness of Western Visayas and Negros Occidental and a white version with a child is found in the Jaro Cathedral in Iloilo which was brought by the Spanish immigrants during the Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines. Her feast is celebrated every February 2 with a pageantry where the Fiesta queen is chosen from prominent Spanish-Filipino families in the district of Jaro. The image and statue is located atop the cathedral and is the only Marian statue crowned by pope and saint in the Philippines during the visit of Pope John Paul II.
The Virgin of Candelaria is identified or syncretized with other holy entities from other religions: