"One must marry," my donkey-driver, Aostin, says respectfully. "It is necessary. Let your grace enjoy himself a couple of years more. But then marry!"
"Does enjoyment stop with marriage?"
Aostin chuckles softly. "When one has fifteen children."
"Fifteen. But six are dead," he adds calmly, "the last a half year ago. We went to Our Lady of Candelaria. But it didn't do any good."
"Does it ever do any good?"
"Of course. She often helps people. When the donkey was sick, we made a promesa. That time she helped us."
"Would your grace tell me a little about Our Lady of Candelaria?" Here everyone is your grace from the moment he starts to wear pants, or at least fragments of them.
"It would give me great pleasure. You see, before this island was Catholic and it's been Catholic a long time the Guanches lived here. They were giants, and they were heathens. Once, two of them went fishing below Güimar there, but they didn't catch a thing. When they came back to the beach, they saw a large woman standing on top of a rock. She was holding a child in her arms and a candle in her hand. It was the Mother of God. She was made of wood covered with gold. When one of the fishermen threw a stone at her, his arm immediately grew stiff and wouldn't move. They called the king. He worshiped her and wanted to bring her into a beautiful tent, in order to reverence her there. But after he had carried her a little way, she suddenly became incredibly heavy. The king cried out, 'Help!' And in memory of this event a hermitage named Socorro 'Help' was built at that place. It is there to this day and still has the same name. Eventually she was brought from there to a cave along the seashore that belonged to the king. Here the Guanches revered and worshiped her, celebrated festivals, and danced. Still today people dance there during the great processions. One fellow stands on another's shoulders. They clothe themselves so that they look like an old Guanche, for the Guanches were giants. Then they dance. When the Christians came, they found Our Lady in the cave and explained to the Guanches who she was. All of the Guanches were baptized. Then they built a great, beautiful church and a cloister and wanted to bring Our Lady inside it. But when they tried to move her, once again she became so heavy that they could not budge her. But in the end they succeeded and brought her into the church. What happened the next day? Those who came to the church found the place empty and Our Lady back at her old place in the cave. That happened twice. Finally she relented, and now she stands in the church. She is the protectress of Tenerife and of all seven of the Canary Islands. Pilgrims come to her from everywhere. Her festivals are the Purification of the Virgin (February 2) and the Assumption of the Virgin (August 15). On those occasions there is a great procession, and Our Lady goes to visit San Blas (Saint Blaise) in her old cave. After she left the cave, a small San Blas was set up in it."
"And who is more powerful, the Holy Christ of La Laguna or Our Lady of Candelaria?"
Aostin seemed never to have thought about this theological question before. In his opinion, most people went to Candelaria, and so did most of the money.
"I want to go to Candelaria, too."
In the cool, dim light of a fonda cafe we eat unpeeled potatoes and salted fish. A large cat lies on the table next to the breadbasket. Two more sit on the bench opposite it. All three contentedly watch my futile attempts to master the salted fish with knife and fork. Don Miguel pours the wine. What I am saying does not sound to him at all like Spanish which is in short supply here in the countryside and the stumps of words which he speaks sound to me like Chinese.
"How far is it to the church down below?" I ask.
"That might be possible," he comments, meaning well.
"Is that the way down to the church?"
"Wine? No, still only bananas. A lot of them!" he says and laughs.
I try a subject closer to his. "You have a pair of splendid pigs in the cavern below your house."
He almost chokes, then he laughs. "No. In our country pigs don't lay eggs. Hens do. Hens!"
He points to some feathery object by the cats.
I have had enough Spanish for the moment. I leave the salted fish to the cats and seek out the narrow rocky path, which wends its way a thousand feet down the mountainside through banana fields to the shore below. Looking around, one's gaze takes in the peculiar surroundings. One might almost call them uncanny. Up above rust-brown rock plunges to the valley in gigantic waves, interrupted by horizontal crevices and clefts. It is made up of basalt, sharp lava, and cracked layers of pumice one on top of the other, jutting upwards, crushed by ever new streams of the erupting fiery mass, split, compressed. It presses and plunges downward, sits there as if it had congealed from the fiery flood only yesterday, then disappears into the sea, which spreads out to the horizon, a whitish gray in the radiance of the midday sun. Here and there an isolated tree or shrub is growing in this peculiar soil, as peculiar as the soil itself: prickly opuntias, those wonderful, ridiculous elves of the plant world; huge spurges, which grow up to four meters in height and try to look like cactuses; tamarisks, with their dusty, hanging greenery; and dragon trees, which dot the landscape like gigantic, fat paintbrushes, nature's primitive attempt to solve the tree problem . In the early tertiary they were quite modern and up to date, but today they look ridiculous and out of fashion.
"Ingleses! Ingleses!" This watchword has quickly made the rounds, and all the youth of the village are pressing hard around us. Most of them are below the your grace rank, for the reason mentioned above. Still, all of them wear shirts, which always stop, according to some secret maxim, where they would first begin to be of real significance. "A little dog, sir! A little dog!" Spanish copper coins bear the image of an animal bearing arms with a long, annulated tail. Because of the great similarity in form, people here take the animal to be a poodle, and they expect that every foreigner will have and give away as many of these little dogs as possible. But we do not give any away, and we take refuge in the peace of the cloister. The large white building is still; the cells stand open and empty; the monks have left long ago. It leads to a great, stately church with three naves, once the most beautiful church on the island. It has collapsed. The windows have fallen out, the altars are demolished. Following this is an empty, seemingly poor, elongated structure, where the sanctuary is found today. A long, brocaded curtain conceals the high altar, above which a large, empty space opens up. Because of some oversight, the priest is away on a journey, and his housekeeper has let us in. Now she lights two candles, and slowly the curtain rises.
This image is more splendid and accomplished than any that I have seen in my entire life. The color of the face is somewhat brownish, with very beautiful, rosy cheeks. But actually, one cannot talk about the colors so precisely, for the image is accustomed to change color and to appear to be now this color, now that. So wrote old Alonso de Espinosa in his book on the origin and miracles of Our Lady of Candelaria. We could find nothing of this magnificence and these miraculous colors. We were simply looking at one of the world's hundreds and thousands of sacred images. It was similar in every way to all the Mothers of God, from pillars, the Graces, and the Maries of Einsiedeln and Czestochowa to the more venerable and ugly images of the Eastern Church: the Mother of God from Kazan, the blacherniotissa, the Iberian of Athos and Moscow (der iberischen vom Athos und von Moskau). It is wrapped in the familiar, conical garment, and it holds in its left hand a large, silver candle which denotes that the image originally depicted the churching or purification of Mary.
The curtain comes down, and we hear once again how the image really, the Virgin herself appeared to the Guanches. We hear of its miracles and its great festivals, which thousands cross the mountains to attend. We hear of the visit of the Mother of God to San Blas in the cave below. We hear of the decorative flags and colors which all the islands contribute and of the dances and the fireworks. And we receive a picture along with two red and gold bands that have come into contact with the image and bear the inscription:
In the meantime, another visitor has arrived, an old woman, dressed entirely in black. She kneels down at the portal and now laboriously, step by step, traverses the entire church on her knees, up to the altar. She bows three times, kisses the steps, gets up, returns to the entrance, and begins traversing the church again.
"What does that mean, señora?"
"A promesa, señor."
The beautiful old church, the shabby new one, the cloister, the entire complex is crowded up against, almost stuck onto, the powerful lava rock, which here plunges down and leaves room for only a narrow strip between itself and the sea. The buildings actually look as if they are trying to clothe the rock. And the rock itself must have had a special impact on the feelings of the builders, for otherwise one cannot understand why, when the sanctuary was removed from the cave, it was situated in a location right by the mouth of a barranco gorge that was not protected from flash floods. As I still have to report, this location would be very fateful for Our Lady of the Candle.
A hundred and fifty meters from the church the original sanctuary, the Cave of Saint Blaise , pierces the rock. An ancient entranceway, older than every other construction at the site, surrounds the mouth of the cave and protects the interior. It is locked, but a huge knothole provides a view of what is inside: a calm, dim light beneath the brown-red dome; simple images of the four kings of the Guanches engaged in worship; in the background the altar on which Saint Blaise is now enthroned. The entire complex is much more impressive than the church and the sacred image. And apparently the cave retains its dignity even today. People take its stones along with them, and when they pour water over them, it has the power to heal.
As we are speaking, the curate comes home, tells us once more what we already know, then adds a piece of information that Espinosa could not yet have known. At the beginning of the preceding century one of the uncanny flash-floods that come up infrequently but with devastating force in these barrancos demolished the great, beautiful church built at its mouth and washed its contents out to sea, including the sacred image.
"Including the sacred image?"
"But how was it ever found again?"
"It was never found again. We made a new one."
"Made a new one?!"
"Certainly. Just like the old one. It was sent to Rome and blessed, and a new church was built for it."
Only slowly did I recover from my horror. I said nothing, but inwardly I doubted whether it was possible to make images sacred in Rome. If in other matters the people had acted so simply and practically, they would have been spared this effort altogether. They would have left it to Our Lady of Candelaria to determine how she wished to transfer her gracious presence into the new image.
Then I asked about the meaning of the inscription on the hem of the garment.
"Latine loqueris?" [Do you speak Latin?]
"Loquor." [Yes, I do.]
"Favoriscas mihi papyrum." [Please give me a piece of paper.]
I thanked him and disappeared into the interior of the old church to reflect upon what I had seen. It is completely empty. The blue sky shines through the open roof, just as the blue sea is visible through the vacant windows. Inside it is still, and only the calm roar of the returning tide on the beach pierces the silence.
The entire cult is instructive and illustrative of so many events in the history of religion. Consider the legend that was later attached to the spot in order to explain its name and location. Socorro is nothing more than an epithet applied to countless sacred places, images and crosses that possess the ability to perform miracles. Certainly the Socorro here was nothing more than that. But the legend adds a new explanation. As in our legends about the Wartburg or Achalm, the Guanche prince is summoned. The term appearance ("Erscheinung" [apparicion]) is also instructive. It is the name typically used when the numen becomes visible or detectable (fühlbar), whether in the form of gods, angels, or spirits (cp. Greek epiphania 'manifestation'). The term apparition refers to the same thing when we apply it to the appearance of ghosts. What is most instructive is the special relationship that the numen has to the means in which it appears. These images, sacred rocks, holy objects, these houses of the heavenly are more than images or houses. They are actually the heavenly itself; then again, they are not. By the standards of the time, that Athenian philosopher who claimed that Phidias's image of Athena was, after all, only her image, not the goddess herself, should have been stoned for blasphemy. And as far as religious feeling is concerned, the queen of heaven herself really appears in the image at Tenerife, too. She disdains the heavenly palace, humbles herself, assumes the form of wood, and dwells at Tenerife. Our dogmaticians have formulated the artificial doctrines of the communicatio idiomatum, the union of the two natures of Christ, and of the unio sacramentalis [sacramental union]. That teaching applies precisely to Our Lady of the Candle and to every similar sacred image . It also applies to every divine image, every fetish , and every stone that the heathen consider sacred.
The cult here is also instructive with regard to the distribution of the numen among a countless number of appearances . On this point, too, dogmaticians in every religion have created the most refined and subtle teachings. Luther taught ubiquitas, the ability of the heavenly substance to be in many places at once, whole and without division. The Middle Ages also spoke of the ability of holy things to be present in many places. (Consider, for example, the twenty-six heads of John the Baptist.) Yoga teaches that every fully realized being has the ability to multiply the personality and be in several places simultaneously. Tibetan Buddhism has developed this point very sublimely. Oh thought, do not wander too far!
But what was the meaning of the peculiar, old cults of hill, rock, and cave, the ancient worship of nature itself, that we find among people of all times and places, just as we find it here? How did human beings develop this sort of worship? And what gives it the power to establish itself at various stages of religious evolution, even better, to arise over and over again? The answer seems easy, especially here at Candelaria. Just look around. What do we ourselves experience?
The sun has sunk deeper. Its rays fall obliquely, no longer with a blinding white radiance but with a shimmering light that is golden and brown. Everything is filled with shades and colors. The yellow-brown rock, which was previously uniform, is now alive. The deep blue-black of the heavy, massive basalt frees itself from the red and yellow and dark brown of the lava and from the bright green and white of the broad strata of pumice, ash, tufa, and lapilli. The restless jumble, the almost chaotic rumble, of the landscape in front of us assumes the shape of an enormous relief rich in lines and shapes. The contrast of light and shadow highlights fold upon fold, and one form after another emerges in the free space. In a beautiful, broad, flat curve the plunge of the rock, which elsewhere falls precipitously into the sea, recedes before us, and gives way to this still bay, on whose gentle, black shore the sea, now a deep blue, continuously casts broad, silver strips of foam. In every nook, in every possible cranny there presses forth what was not visible from above: the colorful splendor of this fabulous, wondrous plant life. Here golden wheat, heavy with ears already ripe and ready for the harvest, nods in a hundred tiny scraps of soil, laboriously encircled with stone pebbles. There bananas raise their elegant, large, emerald leaves, at the same time that their massive, violet, flowering stems hang down to the ground from the weight. All about one sees graceful cineraria, circular, broad sempervivum, roses of every color, on the heights the vast heath in tree tops, in white flowery splendor, under the mighty branches of the ancient Canary pine, the proud laurel, and the towering palms. But most of all one sees the favorite flowers of our mothers, the bright pelargonium and the dark-red geranium. Vegetation climbs and proliferates around the rock, clambers uphill in high, long copses with clumps of thirty blossoms, winds itself around the clumsy cactus, forces its way through the undergrowth of the three-meter tall euphorbia, plunges down in graceful wreaths from the tall rock-face, a stationary waterfall of dark green and purple. Thus clothed, the enormous slope soars upward in great, bold lines to the two-thousand-meter high crests and ridges of the cumbre 'crest' [in this case, the rim of the crater], which spreads out endlessly. But that itself is only the base of the towering, snowy peak and the enormous, craterous mountain, around which an ever-changing sea of silver clouds, blown by the trade winds, flutters and rolls.
Is it not obvious that when primitive peoples, with their childish and impressionable minds, viewed such magnificence, they would intuit and discern the divine, that they would worship and pray to it as manifested on the towering heights of this mountain, in the powerful cleft of this ravine and rock? Do we not find here the root of religion?
No. We do not find the root of religion here. Maybe those primitives were children. But then again, listen to the children outside. They are interested in little dogs and our chocolate bonbons, in the traps with which they catch the gray-green canary birds, and in their musical tops. But they are indifferent to the divine splendor that surrounds them. A child does not notice the greatness and the beauty of nature and the splendor of God in his works. Human beings do not experience these things at the beginning but at the end of their lives, when they have become mature and deep in the course of their personal histories. Furthermore, there are probably a thousand different ways in which the aesthetic experience of nature modulates into religious experience, for it is related to religious experience in its very depths. But aesthetics is not religion, and the origins of religion lie somewhere completely different. They lie . . . anyway, these roses smell too sweet and the deep roar of the breaking waves is too splendid, to do justice to such weighty matters now.
Down below the broad, roaring waves of the sea break against the deep foundation of the rock. But high above the mountain, the sea, and the peaks of rock the eternal ornamentation blooms silently from the dark depths of the universe.