The ghosts of conquistadors haunt Candelaria

Candelaria is a small city where the past oozes from its volcanic pores. Situated a few miles down the east coast from Santa Cruz, it is a small settlement where the first Spanish ships would have made landfall. Back in 1390 it was an empty, deserted area inhabited by island shepherds. The story goes that two natives found the image of one of their gods on a rock on the seashore. They moved her to local caves. They identified her with the appearance of their mother of all gods. The early Christian conquerors insisted she was the image of the Virgin Mary and constructed a hermitage in which to house her and then a basilica. The Basilica de Candelaria has been a place of pilgrimage ever since. The current one dates from 1959 and has space for 5,000 pilgrims.

The large square outside, the Plaza de la Patronas de Canarias, is the meeting place for pilgrims and the space where festivities and celebrations take place.

Around the sea edge are statues of the Aboriginal kings who ruled the nine guanches, the native kingdoms of Tenerife, that existed before the Spanish arrived. They look remarkably European to me.

Behind the basilica its the Cave of Blas. This is the first temple of Christian worship in the Canary Islands and was built over the spot where local guanches undertook their ceremonies. It is a remarkable place. A chapel has been constructed around the entrance to the cave, giving in a spiritual atmosphere whether you’re a Catholic settler/pilgrim or a native inhabitant.

I can feel these early Hispanic conquerors landing here and setting up churches and abbeys to gain God’s protection on their next huge leg across to the new kingdoms in the Americas. The streets and the local population seem to merge seamlessly with their history.

Men & women sit around chattering, leathered and charred by sun and salt spray while a few plaster-torn buildings give impressions of past times.

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