Close to Santa Cruz, there is a town called Candelaria, next to the coast this huge cathedral stands proud and magnificent. Inside the cathedral, depictions of scenes from the bible decorate the walls. In the center at the front in all her glory, the ‘Black Madonna’ stands, looking over the worshippers.
My immediate observation entering the church, was the silence, not in an uncomfortable way, but a peaceful meditative silence. This silence was respected by all as I walked around. The ceiling, with all the intricate gold embellishments, clearly symbolised heaven. To the right of the main entrance, are three doorways.
The first leads to a hallway with a painting of the crucifixion of Jesus on one wall. Against the wall were baskets of flower offerings to show gratitude. Through the hallway, is a room of candle offerings to say prayers for loved ones and donate to the church.
The next doorway leads you to the confession room. On each side of this room are the dark wood confession boxes typical for a cathedral such as this, but what isn’t typical is that in the center of the room is a large statue of Jesus on the cross with benches In front to sit and meditate. I found this interesting because Catholics believe Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins so sitting either waiting to confess or after confession, meditating on Jesus sacrifices, felt very apt for the room. The final room closest to the altar was a smaller prayer room depicting Jesus’ last supper with the disciples. Again with benches for services or to sit and think about life.
In the Main Hall, the alter holds the magnificent statue of the Virgin of Candelaria. She is the patron saint of the Canary Islands and is a black Madonna. Around her statue is my favorite painting of angels, admiring and protecting her. The stained glass windows were smaller than I expected so the hall felt dark and intimate. It felt almost like a grand theatre with an impressive amount of detail given to its decoration. I felt like I was waiting for a big performance, the star of the show taking center stage delighting me with a silent rendition of the past as I walked around looking at the scenes in the artwork.
I wanted to learn more about the story of the Black Madonna, so I purchased a book from the gift shop next door entitled “History- The Virgin of Candelaria” There are a few interpretations of the story often depending on the authors’ beliefs. This book starts with the Guanches (the ancient civilisation of Tenerife, see Guanche blog). They found the Black Madonna, or as she was named originally, Chaxiraxi (Mother of the sun). You can see large statues of Guanche warriors around the perimeter of the cathedral protecting Black Madonna as they promised. In the story, two Guanche shepherds found a wooden figure of a woman. Startled, they tried throwing rocks at her, but the rocks mysteriously made them bleed! Scared by the spiritistic nature of this figure, they ran away to the king to inform him. When the king heard, he concluded she must be a god and ordered her to be brought to his castle to protect her. The Guanches originally believed she was a sun goddess until one day, a young missionary visited the king and told him the woman was the virgin, Mary. This is when the Guanches learned about Catholicism. The book explains the statue we see today in the cathedral isn’t original but is a good representation of the Black Madonna with the emphasis being the light that illuminates from her.
Visiting this cathedral made me emotional. I felt a sense of togetherness with everyone present. Whatever the reasons were for visiting Black Madonna, everyone felt connected as if one community, one race, all equals that’s what, I believe, Black Madonna would want. I will never forget the Black Madonna, the beautiful cathedral, or the feeling of oneness. This was a fantastic memory to take from my trip to Tenerife.
Written by Charlotte Taylor