Today is the first day in the festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria which is also Bolivia’s patron saint. It has been amazing to watch the beautiful costumes, the parades of dancers with bells on their boots, and the flower mosaics covering the streets all over town!
Apparently this town, Copacabana, is most well known for its Christian pilgrimage shrine of the Virgen de la Candelaria, also called the ‘Dark Virgin.’ Before the Christian use of the site there was an Inca Temple of the Sun, from which native pilgrims sailed to the sacred islands of the Sun and the Moon. According to Christian legends, in 1576 some Inca fisherman were caught in a raging storm upon Lake Titicaca. While praying for divine assistance, Mary appeared and led them to safety. In gratitude they decided to build a simple shrine and install a statue of the Madonna. The native Inca craftsman, Tito Yupanqui sculpted the image, made of dark wood and approximately four feet tall, in 1576. Placed in a chapel in 1583, which was enlarged in 1619, the statue soon became famous throughout Bolivia and Peru as a miracle causing icon.
Today they have been carrying a copy of the statue of Mary adorned in colorful robes and precious jewels, and taking her on processions around the town, to the music of marching bands, canons and fireworks. I have never seen a celebration so vibrant…seriously, the cymbals, flutes and drums have not stopped all day!