Religion, devotion, wooden horses, fried food sales, and pieces of sugar cane, are all intermingled on February the 2nd during the traditional procession of the day of the “Virgen de La Candelaria”, patron saint of Cartagena de Indias, and worshiped in many places of the world. This symbol of Christian faith, also known as the “Virgen Morena” (the Brown Virgin), is located in the convent of the “Cerro de La Popa”, the starting point from where the Virgin parts towards the “Iglesia de la Ermita”, located near the hill, in the company of hundreds of parishioners who, marching beside her with songs and prayers, give her thanks for the favors received and, at the same time, they make requests for another miracles.
This is the fifth time I come to Cartagena de Indias. For the last five years I have been enjoying my vacations in this magical city, which every day I love more and more. Although I had already visited the “Cerro de La Popa” to appreciate the imposing edification and enjoy the wonderful sights that can be seen of the city, the truth is that I had not noticed much in one of its key aspects, the religious. Since all of my previous trips had been for the end of December and the beginning of January, the plans that I usually looked for and caught my attention were the ones with sun, beach, and nightlife entertainment. This time, perhaps by divine intervention, I was forced to wait until the beginning of February to take my vacations period, and thanks to the invitation of a local friend and her family, I was able to get closer to one of the most fervent and spiritual celebrations of “La Heroica”.
Men, women, children, elderly people and entire families united around an image that, as its name implies, radiates light and warmth, and, at the same time, fills with hope everyone who entrust themselves to her.
From the same moment of its construction at the time of the colony, the temple of “La Popa” has been the home of this Virgin that has placed under her protective mantle hundreds of boats and sailors, pirates included, making them always arrive safe to the port. In 1965 it was declared as “Protector of the city and its surroundings”, and in 1986, with the visit of Pope Juan Pablo II, the current image was crowned. Whether on water or land, the people of Cartagena count on her and put on her hands the fate of their lives.
Although the procession is the highlighted moment of the celebration to the patron saint, during the previous days there are playful activities that seek to involve families and the community in general in a gathering of peace, love, and plenty of spirituality. Lessons on how to prepare delicious fried foods, workshops to create wooden horses, religious novenas, cultural displays, conversations, among others.
You can also be interested: Check all the events in Cartagena de Indias for 2019.
This agenda, promoted by the different parishes of Cartagena, headed by the priest of the convent, Father José Beltrán, is a latent test of the roots and love that is felt for the Virgin in the city, and, as the locals say “she protects them during their pilgrimage to get to heaven.”
It was still dark when they woke me up to go to the procession. My friend’s family was very exited and that fervor was contagious. They told me that last year there were restrictions to climb the hill, given the possibility that the terrain of the hill could collapse. So this time they would not miss the opportunity to accompany the journey of the Virgin through this sector of Cartagena de Indias.
It was not even five o’ clock in the morning when we arrived at the base of the hill, where hundreds of people were already waiting for the moment when the Virgin came down and the tour to “La Iglesia de la Ermita” began. Despite the fact we had a permit to get there in a car, it was not easy to get to the convent as the road was full, not only with parishioners, but also with merchants who set up stalls to sell fried foods and the unmissable sugar cane, typical of this procession. On the road we also stopped to watch the beginning of a gorgeous musical dawn that opened the day of special activities, so when we arrive at the top, the Eucharist, that is done before marching with the Virgin, had already begun.
It was really curious to see this overflowing joy and passion, typical of other type of festivities, in the midst of a religious celebration. This is the definitive proof that happiness is innate in the people from Cartagena, and that even at moments of recollection, the merry attitude is also a gift shared with the Patron Saint of the city.
During the descent, I was really touched by the immense and endless signs of affection towards the venerated “Virgen de La Candelaria”. People who had just met me, stopped seeing me as a tourist and receive me as a member of their family. A feeling of complete happiness and optimism seized me. I stopped caring about my aversion to the crowds, and I left my self be taken by this sea of the faithful who, despite the great physical and even economic effort, did not stop encouraging this journey of peace and solidarity with all the positive attitude.
Although I could not stay for the field Mass that was held in the afternoon, I thank the Virgin for allowing me to live this experience and being able go go back to my city, now with her company, full of good vibes, with my heart in peace, and with the firm intention to return to Cartagena and visit her again.