Nacimiento de la Virgen
December 8th each year, Spain celebrates one of its national holidays,
the Immaculate Conception. This was the day when Mary was conceived
in her mothers womb, without the stain of original sin. Nine
months later to the day, on September 8th, towns and villages all
over Spain celebrate fiestas in honour of her birth, el Nacimiento
de la Virgen, and Maro is among them with its annual fair in honour
of its patron, Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, Our Lady
There will be
the usual goings-on for such occasions: a Mass in honour of the
towns patron saint, a procession through the streets, fireworks,
fairground rides, music, dancing, and plenty of food and wine to
help things along, and its been that way for as long as anyone
Elsewhere, the Virgin has a whole stack of names on
this day: in Málaga she is Santa María de la Victoria,
Saint Mary of Victory, and is the citys patron. But she may
also be Our Lady of the Castle, of the Crown, of Light, of the Chestnut
Grove, of Mercy, of the Melons even... there is a very long list,
just as there was for the Assumption back in August and many other
days. The belief in the influence of Marys powers is very
deep-rooted in Spain.
raise all sorts of objections. What evidence do you have, they will
ask, that Mary was born on this day? Theres nothing in the
Bible (theres very little about Mary, full stop); all you
have to go on is a story from some apocryphal book, written by someone
who wasnt there, in the second century. Whatever, comes back
the answer, its a good story.
the story, as told by somebody claiming to be Saint James, goes
as follows. A couple called Joachim and Anna had been married twenty
years, yet had not been blessed with children. Joachim was a wealthy
sheep farmer who gave regularly to the poor, but this did not avert
the disgrace and shame of reaching old age without offspring. So
he went off into the desert, did forty days of penance, received
a visit from an angel. Anna meanwhile prayed fervently and finally
conceived, thus becoming one of a number of women in these old stories
to conquer their barrenness through divine intercession.
The child was
named Mary, though this was originally spelt Miryam, or Mariam in
the Islamic tradition. She was born maybe in Bethlehem, maybe in
Nazareth, maybe in Jerusalem by the pool of Bethesda, where her
Son would one day cure a sick man. Some say the spot is beneath
the church of Saint Anne. Wherever it was, she would grow up to
be part of one of mankinds great stories and religions. And
Joachim would give his name to the old sugar factory, that of San
Joaquín, near Maro, which used to receive its water via the
splendid Águila aqueduct.
part of the month is also notable for the bonfires that light up
the night around the 7th and 8th of September all over the Axarquía countryside. The idea seems to have its origins in the end of the
grape harvest, when theres a symbolic clear-out of junk to
burn with autumn just around the corner. People gather round the
bonfires to sing, dance and so on. The name of this fiesta? Las
Candelarias. Listeners whove been paying attention over the
last few months and with long memories will rightly point out that
weve already had a fiesta by that name, back in February.
Indeed, but that was La Candelaria, singular.
is the plural version, Las Candelarias.
You can listen to the episode below