Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 31, 2005
Canary Islands ancestry lives
Original 1738 San Fernando church renovated as a San Antonio peoject
Our Lady of Candelaria — February 2
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
San Antonio, Texas
Visitors to the newly renovated San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas can't help but be impressed with the results of the multi- million dollar City Center project.
Inside and out, the walls of the 1868 Gothic nave have a fresh, clean appearance and the raised Vatican II main altar area is designed for maximum visibility from all sides.
Behind the altar, the original 1738 colonial church has been improved to display three ornate 18th century retablos, designed in 2002 by Mexico City artist Leonardo Soto Recendiz.
Central of the group is Jesus Christ, Word and Sacrament and it, like the others, replaces retablos destroyed in an 1828 fire. The left hand wall displays a 1770 painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, co-patronness of the original church.
Mystery of the third retablo
Visitors however are often mystified by the third retablo. It is the backdrop for a statue of the other patron of the church in La Villa de San Fernando, La Virgen de la Candelaria.
Who is this embodiment of Our Lady and why is she so honoured in the principal cathedral of old south Texas?
The explanation requires a step backwards into the early history of New Spain (Mexico). The 18th century colonial government, searching for people fearless enough to settle on the untamed northern (Texas) frontier, recruited about 200 families in the Canary Islands, the Spanish archipelago off the west coast of Africa. The first, and only group of 15 subsidized families of islanders arrived at the future site of San Antonio in March 1731.
Six years later, they built a parish church, La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria y Guadalupe. The new arrivals brought with them a great devotion to Our Lady of Candelaria, patron of their native islands and honoured her with an ornate retablo in the small church sanctuary.
Years before, a wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin had washed ashore on Tenerife island in the Canary Islands. Although the image may have been a figurehead from a shipwreck, its miraculous appearance in 1392 was greeted with great joy by the inhabitants and a shrine was established in a cave to house the statue.
Statue washed away
In 1826, the image was washed out to sea in a violent storm but was immediately replaced with a replica which is now in the 1959 basilica in the nearby town of Candelaria. In recognition of her expatriate citizens, the government of the Canaries donated another replica statue to the San Antonio church.
Naturally enough, Our Lady is honoured on the Feb. 2 feast of the island town's namesake, Candelaria or Candlemas, the celebration of the semifestive liturgical office of the Presentation of the Lord and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This scriptural event (Luke 2:22-40) records Mary and Joseph's attendance at the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after the birth of Jesus to fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic Law. Here, aged seer Simeon prophesized that the child would be "a light to enlighten the pagans."
Candles were used in processions on the ancient feast in reference to Simeon's words and candles for use during the coming year are sometimes blessed at Mass on this day, thus Candlemas. The event is also the theme of the fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary.
The San Antonio shrine is well patronized since the cathedral is open daily and many local residents trace their ancestry back to the Canary Islands. Visitors leaving the great cathedral are greeted with another reminder of the area's history as they enter the city's landscaped Main Plaza, Plaza de las Islas, the square of the Canary Islanders.
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