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Every five years, between the months of June and August, in Santa Cruz de La Palma, the Descent of the Virgin of the Snows, the patron of the island, is celebrated. For just over a month, an extensive programme of ludical and religious events fills the streets and squares to mark this ancestral celebration, vibrant with colour, magic and devotion.
The Descent has its origin in the deep religious fervour shown by islanders towards this Marian image, and to whose help they have turned in all kinds of calamities: volcanic eruptions, droughts, plagues, famines, fires and shipwrecks. The first edition was held in 1680, as a result of the image’s miraculous intercession in a drought occurring four years earlier. Popular fervour led to this devotional act being repeated every five years. And that’s why local islanders measure the passage of time not in years, but in lustrums or lustra (periods of five years). After various centuries of complex evolution, the Descent has seen some of its events modified and their celebration dates held back, until arriving at its present format. For two weeks, the preparatory tasks for transferring the image from its sanctuary into the heart of the historic town take place. While the Descent lasts, the Virgin resides in the parish church and matrix of El Salvador, in the Plaza de España. Also located there are the Town Hall and main houses of the island’s nobility and bourgeoisie. Towards this urban heart, pilgrims from the entire island make their way on the last Sunday in June. Dressed in their traditional costumes, they carry the forty two pieces of silver making up the Virgin’s throne, on which the image will later be placed..
But the magic is reserved for the most popular number of the whole celebration, the performance which popular wisdom has managed to convert into its seal and symbol of identity: the Dance of the Dwarfs. In the first part, the dancers represent diverse characters who move to the rhythm of a changing melody: monks, Japanese men, sailors, astronomers, pilgrims, old men, students, friars, Dominican brothers, Athenians…but in the second half of the show, in a matter of seconds, the dancers are transformed into dwarfs, and the dancing of a frenzied, exciting polka commences, played by the San Miguel Band. From the stage area, the entourage of dwarfs moves into the crowded, cobbled streets of the capital, where they continue to repeat their lively choreography all night long, until the first rays of dawn.
On the morning of the Sunday in the Big Week, coinciding with the entry of the Virgin into the city, one of the simplest and, at the same time, most emotive traditional acts takes place: the Dialogue between the Castle and the Ship. This is a number which demonstrates like few others the close maritime ties of Santa Cruz de La Palma. It is fitting reminder of the prestige of its harbour, in its day an obligatory call for all maritime traffic bound for the West Indies.
- Santa Cruz de la Palma