Volcano Fiesta

The annual pilgrimage to Mancha Blanca in honour of the Virgin de los Dolores is Lanzarote’s most profoundly Canarian celebration – an unforgettable spectacle for anyone who attends.

The Romería de los Dolores celebrates Lanzarote’s only miracle.”

“It’s an enormous event,” says Carmelo, one of the staff at Tinajo Ayuntamiento when asked about the annual Romería de los Dolores, which sees thousands of pilgrims converge upon the pretty black and white church at Mancha Blanca to celebrate the island’s only official miracle.

Nevertheless, if you’re a tourist in one of Lanzarote’s main resorts, it’s possible to pass the whole weekend without knowing that the island is holding it’s biggest and most important festival of the year. For visitors, Lanzarote is about sand, sunshine and sea, but for islanders the rural interior has always been the island’s heart and soul.

Fishing communities have celebrated their own fiestas in honour of the Virgin del Carmen for centuries, but they too have always made their way to Mancha Blanca, bringing small models of boats to offer to the Virgin. Their presence is represented each year by Los Buches, one of the oldest folk groups on the island, composed of Arrecife fishermen who carry inflatable fish bladders.

The name of the Virgin being honoured also reflects the seriousness that lies behind the Romería. Dolores means “sorrows”, and the island’s agricultural workers have seen many of those over the centuries, tirelessly working an arid island where famine, drought and changing global markets ruined many livelihoods and drove generations of islanders to emigrate.

Although no one died during the volcanic eruptions that created Timanfaya from 1730 to 1736, 20 small villages, hundreds of homes and vast areas of fertile farmland were destroyed beneath the lava and ash. The scale of the destruction and the desperate fear of the islanders explain why the miracle at Mancha Blanca, when the lava flow stopped just short of the village after a cross was thrust into the ground before it, will never be forgotten.

A fragment of that pine cross can still be seen in a glass case set into the solid lava near the church at Mancha Blanca.

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Like all island fiestas, Los Dolores begins with weeks of local sporting contests, craft workshops, and children’s activities, and this year will see the usual complement of bowls tournaments, bouncy castles, excursions and other fun events.

However the festival starts in earnest on Friday 15th with the pregón – the formal announcement of the fiesta. This is followed by the Nanino Díaz Cutillas Festival of Music, which gathers specially invited Canarian folk groups and is followed by an open air dance until 2 pm.

Saturday, however, is the main event, as thousands of islanders dressed in Canarian outfits make their way to Mancha Blanca. The LZ 46 from La Vegueta and the LZ 56 from La Geria are closed to traffic, and instead are filled with pilgrims, many of whom arrive with donkeys, camels or horse-drawn carriages.

September is usually hot, and the pilgrims take their time, with plenty of rests by the wayside to refresh themselves. As they approach Mancha Blanca, the atmosphere becomes more festive, and once they arrive in the large marketplace they’ll find plenty of food, with stalls offering the traditional hearty soups and pucheros (stews) to reward the weary pilgrims. Local wine flows freely.

By 6pm most pilgrims have arrived and the packed square is one of Lanzarote’s most unforgettable spectacles. Just after 6pm a parade, led by horses, will set off to honour the Virgin, whose image will be taken from the church for pilgrims to offer their prayers.