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Copacabana and the Basilica of the Virgen de la Candela

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Peru.

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On the southern shore of Lake Titicaca, the town of Copacabana is widely known for its Christian pilgrimage shrine, 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 boated to the sacred islands of the Sun and the Moon. According to Christian legends, in 1576 a few Inca fisherman were caught upon Lake Titicaca in a raging storm. While praying for divine assistance, Mary appeared and led them to safety. In gratitude they decided to build a shrine and install a statue of Mary. The native Inca craftsman, Tito Yupanqui sculpted the four-foot image, made of dark wood, in 1576. Placed in a chapel in 1583, the statue soon became famous throughout Bolivia and Peru as a miracle causing icon. The present cathedral, completed in 1805, is the most visited pilgrimage site in Bolivia with hugely attended festivals on the February 1-3 (Mary’s Day), May 23 (San Juan’s Day), and the first few days of August. The festival in August is extremely popular and Indian groups perform traditional dances accompanied by drums, flutes and pipes. During the festival periods a copy of the statue of Mary is adorned with colorful robes and precious jewels, and escorted on processions around the town of Copacabana. The statue is also taken by boat onto Lake Titicaca in order to bless its waters. The original statue is never taken outside because of fears that great storms may arise. Called La Coyeta by Aymara and Quechua Indians, the Virgen de la Candelaria is Bolivia’s patron saint. Some people associate the name Copacabana with nightclubs or the famous beach in Rio de Janeiro, not knowing that these places derive their names from the Virgen of Copacabana who once saved some Brazilian fishermen from another violent storm on Lake Titicaca.

Photos: Basilica of the Virgen de la Candelaria, Copacabana

Sacred Sites Information on Copacabana.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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