Festival de La Virgen de la Cobre: The Festival of the Copper Virgin
Earlier in the month of September, we had the pleasure of experiencing a colorful cultural event in our current home town. San Clemente is a small fishing village of approximately 2,000 people located on the central coast of the Manabi Province. The celebration is one called “Festival de La Virgen de la Cobre”, which translates to the Festival of the Copper Virgin. This particular celebration is a wonderful collaboration of religion and folklore. Which of the two is the stronger influencer, I truly am not sure! I hope that by this time next year, my Spanish has improved enough to reveal my many curiosities. What I have learned is this; The Virgin of Copper is directly related to the devotion of the Virgin Mary. She is further resembled through a Catholic legend that tells the story of fishermen lost at sea who were then guided home by this entity. The Virgin of Copper appeared to them, after the men prayed to a golden medallion of the Virgin Mary, as worn by one of the fishermen. She floated near them, attached to a raft, with an inscription noting “I am the Virgin of Charity”. They followed her ashore, and then brought the statue home. It was notable that she lacked any signs of being wet, after being afloat at sea.
It was declared that she, this Virgin of Copper, had led the fishermen safely home. And so, for over 300 years, this legend adopted from Spain has lived on in Catholic cultures around the world. Statuesque shrines are known as either the Lady of Charity or as the Virgin of Copper are found in Spain, Cuba, France, the Philippines…and most certainly in this tiny fishing village in Ecuador.
As a non-catholic and non-native to this fabulous place that we now call home, I had no inkling about the significance of the weekend that laid out in observance of this holiday. A devout catholic region, Ecuador is keen on the practices of religious tradition. No parish, large city, or small village is exempt from lively celebrations. Each community finds a way to honor history, however humble or lavish it may be.
In our particular village, the streets were cleared of traffic for the better part of 4 days and nights. Vendors, musicians, and entertainers of all varieties set up shop to welcome thousands of participants including locals and tourists alike. The smells of traditional cuisine wafted through the air complimented by the thumping mix of modern and cultural music. Babies and children, teenagers, and elders, with the middle aged alike, all gathered shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip to immerse in the festivities. Cowboys wrecked through the streets on their dancing horses, glass bottles of moonshine sloshing poison past their spurs. Grown men guffawed from the street corners as clowns captivated the crowds with their crude and inappropriate, but hysterical antics. Children cried with laughter, pushing past each other, eager for the closest encounter possible to catapult them to the center of attention.
The merriment was intoxicating, luring us back to the town center over and over through the passing days. Normally indulgent in our solitude, we couldn’t help it, but to continually center ourselves in the commotion. Even through the late night hours, we lay in bed covering our heads with pillows and tapping our toes to the lingering beats. We could not escape it, and even without a drop of alcohol between us, we woke up dizzy with hangovers; finding it impossible to distinguish the minutes between the first day and the fourth. The mid morning hours were the only respite, as the celebrators stole a few precious winks to recharge for the next festivity.
Upon the exit of the memory saturated weekend, we came to realize that we had witnessed our first Ecuadorian holiday. After being stunned in the absence of the commercial celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July, we had finally experienced a true holiday! It was everything we had dreamed of in terms of living the vibrations of another culture, and was nothing in remote resemblance to our previous perceptions of holidays. We’ll be marking this one on the calendar, sure to not miss it next year. After all, it was something like Christmas in September!