Our Lady of Candelaria (Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria or La Virgen de Candelaria) is the patron saint of Tenerife in the Canary Islands (Spanish islands off the African coast of Morocco).
In the Colonial Period, many Canary Islanders moved to the Caribbean and South America. She has been adopted as the patron saint of many Black communities across the Americas including Cartagena, Colombia and Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. She’s also associated with candlelight, so is the patron saint of mining communities across the Americas, including Oruro, Bolivia.
Her feast is on February 2, Candelmas, the end of the Christmas – Epiphany season.
The Story of Our Lady of Candelaria
The legend is that her statue was found on a Canary Island beach by Indigenous Guanche herders, a North African Berber people. Being unable to destroy the statue, the Guanche began to worship it as a manifestation of God.
An enslaved and converted Guanche saw the statue and claimed it for the Spaniards as the Virgin Mary. After further adventures, the first Feast of Our Lady of Candelaria was held in 1497.
[From the Editor: Personally, we love and respect the Virgin in all her forms. Even had a mystical experience with Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria. However, considering the legacy of colonialism, her founding story reads more like a justification for the enslavement of humans, than genuine religious experience. That doesn’t take anything away from how much the people love her.]
Our Lady of Candelaria is Candelmas
The Catholic Candelmas is the 40th day of the Christmas – Epiphany season. It celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary. It may have evolved from the ancient Roman spring purification festival of Lupercalia.
In some parts of the Latin world, Candelmas is when we take down our Christmas decorations. In France, we celebrate Candelmas by eating crêpes.
La Fiesta de la Candelaria
Our Lady of Candelaria is a Black Madonna (La Morenita) who is the patron saint of the Canary Islands. She is also venerated in the central Philippines, Jacaltenango, Guatemala; Mexico; Puno, Peru; and parts of Puerto Rico.
After the Spanish took the islands from their Indigenous Berber peoples in 1496, they set up a sugar colony. During the colonial period the Canaries were an important stop for Spanish galleons on their way to the Americas. They carried Canary Island traditions to the New World and as far as the Philippines.
When in the 1700s, it became cheaper to produce sugar in the Caribbean, many Canary Islanders moved with their sugar-growing expertise and brought their traditions with them.
The Fiesta de la Candelaria in Puno, Peru is one of the big cultural festivals in South America.
Some Puerto Ricans have a Canary Island heritage. The Mascaras Festival in Hatillo, Puerto Rico is a Canary Island festival. It is wild. For three days and nights, locals roam the countryside reenacting the biblical massacre of the innocents in wild costumes on carnivalesque jeeps and trucks, blaring air raid sirens and fighting mock (and sometimes real) battles. The kids spray shaving cream on everyone. People die almost every year.
The Black Madonna
The way we see Black Madonnas is probably a vestige of colonial racism. Being educated in the United States, we used to think a Black Madonna made sense in Africa. We apologize for the poverty of our education.
Africa is a very large and very diverse continent. Skin color is a false flag. There are dark-skinned and light-skinned people all over the world. There are Black Madonnas all over Europe too. Some woods darken with age and exposure, especially to candle smoke.
Even so, for those of us with darker skin [this writer included], Black Madonnas offer a way to connect with the divinity in ourselves. We are tired of always seeing religious images represented as European. God looks just like you. The essential miracle is the miracle of being alive. That has nothing to do with skin color or religious choice. We are all God’s children.
Whatever she represents, and whatever you see in her, Our Lady of Candelaria is beautiful.