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Festivities & Processions for Candlemas

Rachel L. Lozowski
The Feast of the Purification, also known as Candlemas, invites Catholics to reflect on the rich array of symbols that permeate the feast. The light of the blessed Candlemas candles is a reminder of the triumph of Jesus, the Sun of Justice. The natural season in early February reflects this triumph as the hours of daylight increase with each passing day.

tenerife candlemas

The Virgen de Candelaria,
patroness of the Canary Islands

Catholics of the past acknowledged the symbolism of this light by participating in the ceremonious candle blessing and the candlelit processions that lit up the churches and the surrounding countryside on Candlemas morning, as can be seen here.


In addition to light, symbols relating to Our Lady and her Purification were found in the many processions and dramas that took place on this day. In the Middle Ages, Mystery Plays and dramatic ceremonies were performed to reenact the events of the Purification of Our Lady and the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple.

In more Catholic times, there was a beautiful ceremony at the Vatican. The people of Rome, assembled in order according to highest rank, processed to the front of the chapel of the Quirinal (Sant'Andrea al Quirinale) to kneel before the Pope, who personally handed a blessed candle to each person. (1)

The grand procession and ceremonies of Rome inspired cities all over Italy to honor this day with due pomp. Indeed, cities and towns throughout all of Christendom, but especially in Italy and Spain, have adopted Our Lady of Candlemas as their Patroness, thus causing this most venerable feast to be greatly cherished by the people.

In Serro, Italy, the people carry the statue of their patroness Madonna dei Cerei (invoked under her name of "Madonna of Candlemas") through the streets in a grand procession. The people of Frasso Sabino have a particular devotion to Our Lady under her title Madonna alla Candelora, because in the year 1703 they sought Our Lady's protection when a terrible earthquake occurred on her feast day, February 2. (2)

In Spain, the Candlemas processions include bonfires, pigeons and turtledoves, hymns to the Virgin of "Las Purificas," large cakes and blessed candles. The men of the city of Menasalbas ride horseback in courtly costumes through the streets at night in a torch lit procession known La Encamisada (the disguised ones).

del torres candlemas

Candlemas, with its grand bonfire in the town square, is an important celebration in Dos Torres, Spain

In many towns of La Alcarria, botargas (devil figures) accompany the processions. An old Castilian legend relates that Our Lady was embarrassed to walk to the Temple alone for her purification, so a botarga accompanied her to divert attention from the humble Maiden. (3) In some areas, the legend says that St. Blaise accompanied Our Lady making wild gestures to accomplish the same end.

Men dress as botargas every year in honor of this legend. In the city of Arbancón, the botargas wander through the streets chasing children and asking for their Epiphany gifts at each house.


Even young boys join the endiablados who dance and accompany the Candlemas procession

In Almonacid del Marquesado, the devil figures with tall red bishops mitres are known as endiablados and are commonly called the devils of St. Blaise. Men as old as 80 and boys as young as three join the fraternity of the Endiablada (the devils of St. Blaise) so that they can dance in the procession clothed in the traditional devil costumes of floral-patterned jackets and trousers with leather belts from which three or four large cow bells hang. Many of the men join the fraternity to fulfill a vow to Our Lady or St. Blaise after receiving a favor.

The endiablados begin Candlemas morning by dancing in front of the church and eating a festive breakfast of sweets and cakes collected by one of the endiablados from households in the city. Once nourished, they process to the church escorting the local authorities. Inside the church the endiablados perform a sacred dance before the altar with backward-and-forward steps accompanied by the ringing of their cow bells.

alkmonacid candlemas

The endiablados from Almonacid del Marquesado wear their bright costumes & cowbells

At the conclusion of the dance, a marzipan cake shaped like a serpent eating its tail is presented to the statue of the Virgin of Candlemas. Then the statue is placed on a float and carried out of the church in procession.


The large cowbells ring as the endiablados run and leap before St. Blaise

The endiablados from Almonacid del Marquesado wear their bright costumes and cowbells During the procession, the ringing of the cowbells can be heard as the endiablados run and leap before the statue of the Virgin of Candlemas seeking to show the homage that all creatures owe to the Queen of Heaven.

The procession ends in the church where it began. A solemn Mass is said, attended by all of the endiablados and other townspeople. A similar procession is held on the following day, the feast of St. Blaise. (4)

In the Canary Islands, the people have a special devotion to the feast of Candlemas because their patroness is Our Lady of Candelaria (Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria). This devotion was brought to the Philippines by Spanish missionaries.

jaro candlemas

The Virgen de la Candelaria in Jaro that miraculous grew

In Jaro, the grand Candlemas celebrations honor a special statue of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria that was found centuries ago by a fisherman on a riverbank. The fisherman called his friends to help move the statue, but the statue would not move.

Finally one man suggested to take it to Jaro; only then did Our Lady allow herself to be moved. Although the statue was only one foot tall when it was found, it is now seven-feet high, a phenomenon that the people of Jaro consider a miracle and a proof of Our Lady's special protection. (5)

In Peru, the people of the city of Puno have a special devotion to Our Lady of Candelaria. The Virgen de la Candelaria miraculously saved Puno from an invasion of troops of Tupac Amaru in 1781. When the city was in its gravest danger, all of the people processed through the streets with lighted candles and accompanied by sikuris (panpipe blowers).

The attacking army fled with various stories of a great army on horseback charging at them, some soldiers saying that they fled out of deference to Our Lady.


In Puno the Virgen de Candelaria is honored with a grand procession through the streets

The people from Puno show their gratitude to Mamacha Candelaria (the endearing name which they have given Our Lady) by having a grand procession with her statue which is adorned with 105 mantles made of the finest fabrics and embellished with precious gems and gold embroidery.

Townspeople dressed in bright regional costumes and wearing elaborate masks dance before the statue of Our Lady in their respective groups as she is processed through the streets. (6) Devils are vanquished in her presence and sikuris (panpipe blowers) play their ancient melodies before Our Lady.

La Diablada (the Dance of the Devils) is the most important dance of the festival. The costumed men wear colorful horned masks as they reenact the fight between the good and bad angels.

The origin of this dance is attributed to miners trapped underground when the walls of the mine collapsed. There the miners had a vision of an army of demons who took them to Hell to see its flames. The miners invoked the Virgen de la Candelaria and were saved from the demons and rescued from the cave.

la diablada

La Diablada - a street drama showing the fight between the good & bad angels

Ever since this miracle, La Diablada has been performed every year in Our Lady's honor. (7) Unfortunately, the modern processions and dances have adopted pagan aspects and many of the performers are in revolutionary immodest attire.

In some countries, the liturgical processions at church inspired the people to perform similar ceremonies in their own families and communities. Children in Luxembourg carried extra blessed candles from the church to older members of the community who were unable to leave their homes. The children, carrying their lighted candles from house to house, sang a traditional "Song of Lights":

candles of luxemburg

The candles of Luxembourg carried by children through the streets

Open, open, we come with your candle.
The wax we hold is blessed.
None of us will be naughty today,
For each child brings sacred vows.

We hope that all your life
You will see the light of the sun.
Open, open, here is the light
With each child's sacred vows.

We hope that in this life
Neither mind nor soul will darken,
And that for you in heaven above
There will be everlasting light. (8)

The children were given special gifts and treats for their generosity.

All of these unique and colorful customs show the fervor and tenderness for Our Lady that the true Catholic spirit awakened. Each nation, each region, and at times each family had their unique ways to honor Our Lady on Candlemas Day.

May Our Lady continue to inspire her devotees to honor her by devoutly celebrating her feast days.



The panpipe blowers & drummers of Puno honoring Our Lady

  3. Cristina García Rodero (photo) Caballero Bonald (Text), Festivals and Rituals of Spain (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), p. 34.
  7. Dorothy Gladys Spicer, Festivals of Western Europe (New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1958), p. 114-115.

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Posted January 29, 2022

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