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de Carmen, Playa de Santiago, La Gomera, Canary Islands
Ermita de Carmen, Playa de Santiago, La Gomera, Canary Islands.
Roman Catholic, Diocese
of San Cristóbal de La Laguna.
This whitewashed church is hewn into a southerly facing vertical
cliff. On stepping through the entrance, you find yourself in
the centre of a small church, the body of which is parallel
to the road. Immediately facing you is a large statue of the
Virgin Mary, adorned with flowers, and backed by a rocky wall.
To the left is the altar, a simple communion table with a crucifix
and two candles. Behind the altar a large wooden cross is mounted
on a plain wall. Atations of the cross hang on two other walls.
There are 14 modern looking pews, designed to seat three to
four people each, depending upon size! It intrigued me that
the altar was at the west end of the church.
On a notice board there were details of masses held at this
church and neighbouring ones. My past visits here have always
been in July, when an annual fiesta, Nuestra Señora la Virgen
del Carmen, is centred on this church. It starts with an outdoor
mass followed by a procession of dancers in traditional costumes,
carrying the statue of the Virgin to the harbour. The statue
is then placed on a decorated fishing boat, which leads other
boats out to sea in a grand procession. They return when darkness
has fallen to a spectacular fireworks display, with much merriment,
dancing and consumption of alcohol!
Playa de Santiago is a small fishing village on the south coast
of La Gomera, which is a small island to the west of Tenerife
in the archipelago of the Canary Islands. The village is not
naturally pretty, with its two headlands of volcanic rock and
a beach of shingle and black sand; however, man has given it
a helping hand, with substantial planting of tropical shrubs.
La Gomera has been spared the ravages of mass tourism that have
occurred in Tenerife, aiming to attract the more discerning
and up-market traveller who seeks tranquillity and luxury. A
five star hotel owned by the Norwegian shipping magnate Fred
Olson lies on the easterly headland, whilst the westerly one
is occupied by the luxury properties of the British Holiday
Property Bond. The village has a string of small bars, restaurants
and shops along its promenade, interspersed with shady trees,
tropical plants and palm trees. The church lies at the harbour
end of the village and is situated next to the restaurant La
All I could find out was that the priest was called Padre Javier.
The date & time:
Sunday, 4 October 2009, at 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
It was pretty full when I entered, but people kept coming in.
I would estimate there were at least 50 in the congregation,
mainly middle aged and elderly, at the start of the service.
Did anyone welcome you
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wooden pew so not exactly armchair comfort, but the wooden kneeler looked distinctly uncomfortable so I didnít try it out.
How would you describe the pre-service
It was quiet. When I entered, five minutes before the service
was due to start, the priest was speaking, presumably giving
What were the exact opening words of the
In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
Cantoral Básico. I think the only time this
was used was during the melee of everyone going up for communion.
What musical instruments
There were no musical instruments. The singing of responses was unaccompanied; everyone seemed to know them by heart and they were singing with gusto.
Did anything distract you?
I was amazed at the number of latecomers – how people squeezed
together to admit another, then another. I now know what it
is like to be a sardine in a tin! This was when I became aware
of how hot it was. Even though the door was open and a fan was
rotating, most of the ladies were fanning themselves vigorously
with large fans. It was jolly hot!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was a service with traditional liturgy in Spanish apart from
the opening Latin sentence. The priest was vested in a green
chasuble over a white alb and he stood behind the altar. Even
though I donít speak Spanish, I could work out where we were
up to in the service, and I felt a little sad that I couldnít
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
8 This is where I was caught out! The priest must have
been speaking for about a minute before I realised that his
little gesticulations meant he was not praying but was delivering
his sermon. He seemed to speak clearly and he held the attention
of his congregation, who I am sure were thankful for his brevity,
since it meant they could soon escape from the heat.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
I really cannot comment.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The peace. Lots of locals were eager to exchange peace with
me. There was another English lady there, and we found ourselves
saying "Peace be with you" to each other whilst everyone
else spoke Spanish. I sat next to what must have been the only
child in the congregation. As it turned out, she was the one
who took up the collection. I was pleased to see she proffered
an enormous bag, so I was able to place my Mystery Worshipper
card in it with ease.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
There was a menacing looking wasp buzzing around. It seemed
to have two bodies like a train and a carriage and it had dangling
legs. Ugh! I prayed it wouldnít come near me. Thankfully my
prayers must have been answered because I survived unscathed!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service was quite short, only 35 minutes, but the minute
it was over there was a mass exodus through the door! After
being propelled on to the pavement, I did think of going back
in to meet the priest, but unless he spoke English I wouldnít
have been able to have a proper conversation.
How would you describe the after-service
There were no refreshments, but the local bars seemed to fill up!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 This is my sixth visit to La Gomera and I always pop
in to this little church, so it seems like a little friend in
a way. Iím sure I will visit it again.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Absolutely. Although there was the language barrier, the format of the service was very similar to the service I am used to at home, and I felt the presence of our Lord.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How easy it was to leave my Mystery Worshipper card behind.
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