We weren’t expecting much from Candelaria, whose main claim to fame is a large Basilica. But we really enjoyed the day we spent here, learning about the Guanche kings, checking out an ancient cave chapel, and visiting the Basilica… and that was just within the first couple hours.
The Miracle of Candelaria’s Virgin
Candelaria is named for the virgin which supposedly washed up on its shores before the arrival of the Spanish. (Get ready for some skepticism, cause I simply don’t buy this story.) Supposedly, the heathen Guanches of the time discovered this holy statue on the beach and, in their attempts to harm it, harmed themselves instead. “Wow, it’s a miracle”, and in recognition of its glory, they installed it in a cave, and worshipped it as though they were Catholics, even though catholicism had yet to arrive to the Canary Islands.
We parked at the port, and visited the tourist information office, then walked toward the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Candelaria. Along the way, we encountered a row of the Guanche kings, or menceys. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, Tenerife had been split into nine kingdoms, or menceyatos, each with their own ruler… and Candelaria has honored them with nine noble statues along the shore, in front of the Basilica.
Holy Caves along the Shore
Before checking out the Basilica, we walked past it toward the Caves of Achbinico and Los Camellos, both bordering the sea. The latter was used to shelter the guanches’ camels during stormy periods, while the former was the home of the aforementioned holy virgin. There’s a small chapel there, now, with a replica of the virgin… because of the heavy emigration from the Canary Islands to the New World, also enjoys a huge following in Latin America, acting as patron saint of cities like La Paz and Medellín. This cave is considered the earliest Christian “church” in the Canaries, and was the baptism site for loads of guanches.
The Basilica itself is, of course, impressive, and way too big for a town of this size. It’s not the most historic of churches, having only been consecrated in 1959, but it was built atop other, older structures. 5000 worshippers can fit into its pews, and as a site of pilgrimage, the Basilica receives over two million annual visitors.
After getting our fill of religion, we walked into the old part of Candelaria, and were finally won over by the town’s charms. Find out more in our next post!