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The Canary Islands Black Madonnas of Tenerife and Candelaria

Updated on February 24, 2013

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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