The Virgen de la Candelaria in Copacabana is a statue of the Virgin Mary sculpted by an Inca craftsman in 1576. Believed to work miracles, the statue of the "Dark Virgin of the Lake" is the most important pilgrimage destination in Bolivia.
History of Virgen de la Candelaria
The Black Madonna was moved from its shrine to a chapel in 1583, which was enlarged by the Spanish in a Moorish style in 1619. The statue soon gained a reputation throughout Bolivia and Peru for working miracles. The present Basilica de la Virgen de Candelaria was completed in 1805.
The far more famous Copacabana, the beach in Rio de Janeiro, derives its name from this one: the Brazilian beach was named after the home of the Virgen de la Candelaria after she saved some Brazilian fisherman from another storm on Lake Titicaca.
Myth and Mystery
According to a local legend, in 1576, some Inca fisherman were caught in a terrible storm on Lake Titicaca. As they prayed for help, the Virgin Mary appeared and led them to safety. In gratitude, they built a shrine containing a statue of the Virgin, which was sculpted by the Inca craftsman Tito Yupanqui the same year.
Another account of the statue's origins focuses on the sculptor. It is said that the Virgin of Copacabana who had appeared to the sailors appeared in a dream to Tito Yupanqui, who was not a sculptor. But he was so affected by the vision that he set out to Potosí (then one of the most important art centers in the world) to learn to sculpt.
With his new skill, Tito hand-carved the Virgin from the wood of a maguey cactus and carried her by foot for the 400 miles from Potosí to Copacabana. She was placed in an adobe chapel in 1583. Soon afterwards, the crops of those who doubted her power were mysteriously destroyed.
What to See at Virgen de la Candelaria
The Basilica de Virgen de la Candelaria dominates the town with its gleaming white exterior, Moorish-style domes and colorful azulejos (Portuguese-style blue ceramic tiles). During festivals, the courtyard is filled with colorful flowers.
The venerated statue, Camarin de la Virgen de Candelaria, is made of dark wood and stands approximately four feet tall. The silver ship at the bottom of the altar represents the moon, while the gold statue above the Virgin's head symbolizes the power of the sun.
The Virgin stands in a mechanical niche high above the altar. On weekends, the priests rotate the statue so that she faces the main chapel; on weekdays, when there are fewer pilgrims here, they spin her around so that she looks over a smaller chapel on the other side.
The statue of the "Dark Virgin of the Lake" is never removed from the cathedral, for popular belief says this would cause a devastating storm and flood of Lake Titicaca. A finely-dressed replica is taken out on festival processions.
Believers have bestowed millions of dollars worth of gifts upon the Virgin. In 1879, the government of Bolivia sold some of her jewelry to finance the War of the Pacific against Chile. The cathedral also houses European and local religious art, much of which is in the Museo de la Catedral. The museum's collection includes hundreds of paper cranes donated by a Japanese woman in the hope of bearing an intelligent child.
Festivals and Events
A Benedicion de Movildades (blessing of automobiles) occurs daily at 10am and 2:30pm in front of the cathedral for a requested US$1.35 donation. On weekend mornings, cars, trucks and buses park in front of the basilica to receive a more elaborate cha'lla, or ritual blessing. The owners deck their vehicles in garlands of flowers, colored ribbons and flags, and make petitions for protection to the Virgin. A ritual offering of alcohol is poured over the vehicle, consecrating it for the journey home. The vehicle blessing is especially important to pilgrims and long-distance bus companies with new fleets between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
The Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria is celebrated from February 2 to 5. Pilgrims and dancers come to Copacabana from Peru and across Bolivia. There are traditional Aymara dances, music, drinking and feasting. On the third day of the fiesta, 100 bulls are gathered in a stone corral along the Yampupata road, and the some of the more brave and/or drunk revelers jump into the arena and try to avoid being attacked.
Another huge festival occurs in the first few days of August, to celebrate Bolivian Independence Day. It is celebrated with pilgrimages, music throughout the day and night, parades, brass bands, traditional dancing, and astounding alcohol consumption.
On Good Friday, thousands of pilgrims journey to Copacabana—some on foot for the entire 158km distance from La Paz—to do penance on Cerro Calvario. At dusk, a solemn candlelit procession begins at the Basilica de Virgen de la Candelaria and winds through town, led by a statue of Christ in a glass coffin and a replica of the Virgen de Candelaria. At the summit of Cerro Calvario, they light incense and buy mini replicas of various material possessions, in hopes of being granted the actual item by the Virgin during the year. A local priests speaks to the crowd through a microphone and a military band plays dirges.
Quick Facts on Virgen de la Candelaria
|Names:||Virgen de la Candelaria|
|Styles:||Spanish Colonial; Moorish|
|Dedication:||Virgin Mary (Candelaria)|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||16.166125° S, 69.085615° W|
|Hours:||Camarin de la Virgen de Candelaria: Mon-Fri 11-noon, 2-6pm; Sat-Sun 8-noon, 2-6pm|
Museo de la Catedral: Daily 8am-noon, 2:30-6pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Virgen de la Candelaria|
- Basilica of the Virgen de la Candelaria, Copacabana - Sacredsites.com
- Lonely Planet Bolivia, 92-93.
Map of Virgen de la Candelaria, Copacabana
Below is a location map and aerial view of Virgen de la Candelaria. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.