A small rock in the Atlantic

All about the island of La Palma, in the Canaries.

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Friday, 5 June 2009

Flemish Art

16th century Calvary in the church of Las Nieves

When La Palma was conquered (or invaded, depending on your point of view) in 1493, the Spanish empire also included what is now Portugal, Belgium and Holland. So settlers arrived from all these countries, quite often with surnames like Groenenberg or Van de Walle. Some of them became very rich, and spent a lot of money on their local churches. they used local builders, but the statues of saints were mostly imported from the Low Countries. This was the Renaissance, the time of Michelangelo, and not that long before Rembrandt. Many of these statues are gorgeous, even if you're not religious.

Most of them are carved from wood, and then painted to look very lifelike indeed. And you don't just find them in the bigger churches. Quite often, villages had much bigger populations in the past, and little out-of-the-way churches have amazing statues.

Our Lady of Monserrat, Los Sauces
Our Lady of Monserrat, Los Sauces

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Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Anguish and Waxworks.

The Sanctuary of Anguish (Santuario de Las Angustias)

The Church of Our Lady's Anguish lies near the bottom of Las Angustias Ravine, where the river Taburiente runs out of the Caldera. (Well, they take a lot of the water for irrigation, so in the middle of summer it trickles. That still makes it the only year-round river in the Canaries). To find it, take the road from Los Llanos to Tijarafe. Just north of the bridge over the river, take the side road towards Puerto Tazacorte. The church is on the left, about 200 yards from the junction.

Inside view

The inside of the church is beautiful. The main statue in the altarpiece is Mary holding her dead son, by a Flemish artist from the 16th century. That's where the name of the church comes from. She's flanked by St Michael (16th century) and St Ambrose (17h or 18th century). But personally, the bit I find really striking is the painted ceiling.

That amazing ceiling

Beautiful carving is surprisingly common in churches on La Palma. It mostly dates from the days when the island got rich supplying sailing ships for the trip to America. This church has two other claims to fame.
The first is that for some reason, it's traditional for older couples to marry here. I mean couples over about fifty, who won't be having children short of a miracle.
The other is the collection of votive wax offerings on either side of the altar. Some were left by Canarian emigrates about to leave for Cuba or Venezuela. Others were left in gratitude for a cure, and to my English eyes, these look almost surreal. So if you prayed for a baby and finally got one, you'd leave a little waxwork baby. If your prayer for arthritis-free hands was granted, you'd leave a waxwork hand. There are at least two wax hearts, and at the top right, there's a breast. I can only imagine that somebody survived cancer.

The wax offerings

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