Real Santuario Insular de Nuestra Señora de las Nieves (Royal Island Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Snows) – La Palma, Spain - Atlas Obscura
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Real Santuario Insular de Nuestra Señora de las Nieves (Royal Island Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Snows)

The oldest Marian image in the Canary Islands still impresses people nearly half a millennium later. 

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Like most places in Spain, the Canary Islands are filled with Christian churches both big and small that dot the landscape. These churches focus on Marian devotion and around terracotta statues of Maria.

The oldest of these statues can be found on La Palma and dates back to the late 14th or early 15th-century, predating the end of the conquest of the Canaries.

In fact, the effigy has been worshiped by the native Benahoritas in a cave not far from the current church. It’s unknown how the Maria ended up in the hands of the natives, or why it was worshiped. Theories range from it washing ashore via a shipwreck, to being brought over by Majorcan missionaries. Regardless, her presence in a cave was seen as a miracle and a church was built not long after, where Maria was pronounced the patron saint of the entire island to protect it from drought.

The Maria also plays a role in the largest holiday on the island, Bajada de la Virgen or the Descent of the Virgin, which has been celebrated every five years since 1680. During this event, the Maria is brought down to the capital and festivities are held for more than a month. This is also when the dwarves dance

Outside of this festival, the Maria can be visited in her church, where she stands adorned with jewels and gold— a collection that has continued to grow through donations. There is also a small museum behind the church which displays the various costumes and jewels of the Maria. 

Know Before You Go

The church is freely accessible. 

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