The Canary Islands Black Madonnas of Tenerife and Candelaria

Our Lady of Candelaria is the Patron of Tenerife

Tenerife is a predominantly Catholic island although it was once inhabited by the mysterious Guanche people. The Black Madonna that is housed in the Basílica de la Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria is regarded as the patron saint for the Canary Islands and her history is said to involve the Guanches as well as the conquering Spanish Catholics.

The Black Virgin of Candelaria has become an object of religious devotion for many thousands of people and pilgrimages are made to worship her. The main time for this takes place every 14-15 August in what is known as the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria.

There is a branch of Santeria active on Tenerife as well and the Black Virgin has been adopted as a saint for followers of this religion too. Santeria has its origins in West Africa and the Carribbean.

The story goes that originally, over a century before the Spanish conquest, some Guanche shepherds came upon the statue of the Black Madonna on a beach and she was taken to a cave that was the stronghold of the local mencey (prince). She became known as Chaxiraxi and was worshipped by the Guanches who belived she had miraculous powers. There are variations on this story in the island's folklore.

The current statue in the basilica dates from around 1830 and is not the original one. It is said that someone from the neighbouring island of Fuerteventura stole the first statue but later replaced it. Also it is told that either the original or its replacement was damaged by fire in 1789 and again replaced or repaired.

That statue of the Black Madonna was washed out to sea in a storm in 1826 but replaced in 1830 by the present version.

The origins of the Black Madonnas

But what is the real origin of the Black Madonnas, and not just here in Tenerife? It has been suggested that they represent pre-Christian pagan Earth-goddesses. The Black Madonna has been associated with the Egyptian Goddess Isis and she also bears a likeness to the Hindu Goddess Kali Ma, who is portrayed as a dark-skinned female deity.

Whatever the truth is of the matter, she is venerated throughout the islands and in many ways marries the pagan past with the imposed Catholicism that the Spanish brought with their conquest.

In Candelaria, which is on the eastern coast of Tenerife, there are statues of the nine Guanche menceyes on the seawall that stands overlooking the main square right next to the basilica. Many visitors to Candelaria like to get photos of the menceyes, the basilica and the Black Virgin inside.

On the other side of the island in the mountain town of Santiago del Teide stands a church with yet another Black Madonna. It is a very beautiful church in a very beautiful location, surrounded by mountains and valleys.

In Tenerife a very commonly found medicinal herb that grows wild is the Milk Thistle or Cardo de Maria (Mary's Thistle) in Spanish (Silybum marianum). The Virgin Mary, as the Black Madonna known as Our Lady of Candelaria, is the Patron Saint of the island so it seems very apt that this flower grows so well there.

As religious icons Black Madonnas are certainly mysterious but it is just as much a mystery to me as to why nobody finds it odd that the baby Jesus is portrayed as black when in his mother's arms, but on statues and in paintings as a grown up man he has become white! Anything is possible with faith!

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Tenerife's Black Madonnas

Santiago del Teide's Black Madonna
Santiago del Teide's Black Madonna
Basilica of Our Lady of Candelaria
Basilica of Our Lady of Candelaria
Candelaria Black Madonna
Candelaria Black Madonna
Candelaria Black Virgin
Candelaria Black Virgin
Guanche menceyes on the Candelaria sea wall
Guanche menceyes on the Candelaria sea wall

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Comments 16 comments

Alex 7 years ago

i think your last sentence was the best and really needed to be expanded on. you said somewhere else you find sense in pantheism, so why not throw some pantheistic light on this story? perhaps speak out that this really is a religious non-story. worshipping a statue gets nobody anywhere. why not help pantheism to flourish and dispel some of these insane superstitions sooner rather than later? anyway, as jesus was allegedly from the middle east i guess that makes him roughly halfway between white and black, so he or his mum could just as easily have been portrayed as black or as white.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

On this island there are even religious statues that once a year get taken out for a boat trip around the bay and then brought back to the churches they live in!

Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

Thank you. I had often wondered about the Black Madonna but never researched. Fascinating.

wabond profile image

wabond 7 years ago from England

The explanation i favour is that the Black Madonnas were originally the Goddess Isis. She was a very popular Goddess in the Roman Empire before it became Christian. Also i believe they have discovered that religion of the Guanches before the Spanish conquest, was very much like the Ancient Egyptians.

But this throws up another controversy. Why was the Goddess Isis black? Some African scholars have claimed that the Ancient Egyptians were originally a black race. This is off course, is disputed by European scholars.

2uesday profile image

2uesday 7 years ago from - on the web, I am 2uesday.

I have heard of black Madonnas; picked up a book once and skimmed through it: a woman was on a quest to go to the different places they were to see them.

I've seen statues from catholic churches 'paraded' through the streets in Italy the men of the town carry these incredibly heavy statues on their shoulders through the town and then back to the church. Everyone turns out to watch and there is a band playing a sombre march. I think being picked to carry the statue is regarded as an honour.

Thanks - Interesting hub... lots of information and easy to read.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for your comments, Peter, William and 2uesday!

bingskee profile image

bingskee 7 years ago from Quezon City, Philippines

The Catholics will be interested reading this piece of hub. It is always the history that becomes interesting. Faith differs from one person to another.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for posting, Bingskee!

fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 7 years ago from Southern California

Very interesting article. Now let me show my ignorance, I've never heard of the Black Madonnas. So thanks for the info. Very good and informative hub.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Fastfreta!

CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Are the black madonnas of Tenerife associated with the cult of Mary Magdalene, like the French and Spanish black madonnas? Great Hub as always, Bard of Ely!

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

It's all the same Goddess with different names I think! The ones here are objects of worship for Catholics but the figure is far more than just a Catholic deity.

Pamela 6 years ago

There is also another rumour, which claims that the original Black Madonna in Candelaria wasn't really washed out to sea, but was taken to Adeje, where it still is.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I had not heard that rumour, Pamela! Thank you for posting!

roc6 profile image

roc6 6 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

I spent some time in Tenerife a few years ago and visited Candelabra and was searching online when I discovered your hub. Thank you, for memories of a very special place.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I am glad you enjoyed it here, and my hub!

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