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El Hierro (Island, Canary Islands, Spain)

Last modified: 2018-04-23 by ivan sache
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Flag of El Hierro - Image by Ivan Sache, 20 April 2015


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Presentation on El Hierro

El Hierro island (Island Council website) is named for an aboriginal word, hero or esero, of unknown meaning. The westernmost point of the island was "meridian 0" or the "world's end" in Ptolemy's geography.
The island was originally settled by the Bembache, a Guanche people of African origin. Without any contact with other cultures and ignoring metals, the Bembache formed a pacific, socially structure society. They lived in natural caves of huts made of dry stones.
El Hierro was conquered at the beginning of the 15th century by the Norman explorer Jean de Béthencourt (1360/52-1425), together with Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and La Gomera. The natives hardly resisted, so that the island was soon settled by European farmers who progressively bred with the natives. A feudal system was established, which was suppressed at the end of the 19th century, as in continental Spain.

Ivan Sache, 20 April 2015


Flag of El Hierro

The flag of El Hierro is prescribed by a Decree adopted on 18 May 1987 by the Government of the Canary Islands and published on 29 May 1987 in the official gazette of the Canary Islands, No. 68, pp. 1768-1769 (text). The flag is described as follows:

Flag: Rectangular flag including the white, mountain green and sea blue colours, arranged from the hoist so that white forms a triangle placed along the hoist, in length 2/5 of the flag's length, and mountain green and sea blue form two equal horizontal stripes, the upper green and the lower blue. The official coat of arms of the island can be placed in the center of the flag.

The flag in official use (photo) appears to be charged with the coat of arms.

According to José Manuel Erbez (website), the flag is derived form a flag-shaped symbol used in 1953 during the Bajada pilgrimage. The triangle is a schematic representation of the shape of the island; white is a symbol of the clouds, of scum, of the aforementioned symbol and of the mist distilled by the Garoé tree. Green is a symbol of the mountains, of the vineyards, of the orchards and of the Garoé tree. Blue is a symbol of the maritime horizon.

The coat of arms of El Hierro, of historical use but never officially approved, is described as follows:

Coat of arms: Argent a tree vert on a base of the same issuing from a pond argent superimposed by a cloud of the same and surrounded dexter by a castle or and sinister by a lion gules. The shield surmounted by a Count's coronet.

The tree represents the Garoé tree. The castle and the lion represent the crown of Castile. The coronet recalls that the Counts of La Gomera were also lords of El Hierro.
The Garoé tree (presentation) was sacred for the Bembache as the "rain tree". Water that condensed on the leaves dripped to the ground and formed a small pool beneath the tree, which was the only source of freshwater on the island. The Bembache concealed the tree to the Castilian conquerors, expecting them to leave the island when running out of freshwater. However, princess Ágrafa / Guarazoca fell in love with a conqueror to whom she revealed the secrete location of the tree, being eventually sentenced to death by her people. The miraculous tree was described in several chronicles, such as Abreu Galindo's Crónica Canaria and Bartolomé de Las Casas' Historia de Las Indias.
The rain tree is a til, Ocetea foetens (William Aiton) Baill., found in the laurisilva forest in Madeira and the Canary Islands. Uprooted in 1604 by a hurricane, the Garoé tree was replaced by a new tree in 1957.

Ivan Sache, 20 April 2015


Bajada pilgrimage

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Flag of the Bajada pilgrimage - Image by Ivan Sache, 20 April 2015

The Bajada (lit. Descent) pilgrimage (official website) is the main religious festival on the El Hierro island, organized every four year since 1745; accordingly, the 68th Bajada was celebrated in 2013.
Freshwater is a critical issue on the island, which has no source of freshwater (except the Garoé tree). In the past, the villagers relied on Rogations processions to obtain miraculous rain events. In 1741, such a procession dedicated to the Virgin of the Kings, the island's patron saint, yielded a miraculous rain event that ended months of drought. As a reward, the islanders vowed to transport every four year the statue of the Virgin from the sanctuary of La Dehesa de Valverde to the parish church of Valverde, the island's capital. The original parchment, lost in 1899 in a blaze in Valverde, is known by copies made by the parish priest Andrés de Candelaria.
The statue of the Virgin of the Kings is said to have been swapped with the islanders for food by the sailors of a ship that landed on 6 January 1546 (the Day of the Three Kings) in La Dehesa during a storm. The local shepherds kept the statue in the Virgin's Cave, and, subsequently, erected a chapel, which was consecrated on 25 April 1577. Restorations and modifications of the original statue are a matter of controversy; in 1897, Nicolás Perdigón Orama was forced by the islanders to correct his amendments to the statue, deemed no longer faithful to the original.

Every four year, the flag of the Bajada, white with a black Marian monogram (photo, photo, photo, photo), is hoisted on 1 January on the parish church of Valverde and on the official buildings of the town. Starting the next day, the flag is progressively hoisted on the parish churches and official buildings all over the island, and of the sanctuary of La Dehesa de Valverde. The flag is believed to be the origin of the island's flag.
[Gomera Today, 30 December 2012]

During the processions, the statue is transported in a shrine surmounted by the Bajada flag (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo).
The itinerary of the procession in 28.3 km in length, crossing the island from west to east, ending in a steep slope that probably gave the name of the event. After one month of celebration in Valverde, the statue is brought back to its sanctuary in the Subida (lit., Ascent), following the same itinerary, which eventually fulfils the 1741 vow. The tradition says that all the islanders take part to the Bajada and Subida.

During the processions, the inhabitants of the different villages are in charge of the escort of the shrine on the part of the itinerary crossing the village's territory. Each stage ends with a raya (border) event, during which the procession stops, the villagers get together, dance, and transfer the shrine to the next villager's escort. The seven rays are:
Binto (Sabinosa-El Pinar)
El Cepón (El Pinar-El Golfo)
La Llanía (El Golfo-El Pinar)
La Mareta (El Pinar-Isora)
Cruz del Niño (Isora-San Andrés)
Cuatro Esquin (San Andrés-El Norte)
Tejegüete (El Norte-Valverde).

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Escort flags in the Bajada pilgrimage - Images by Ivan Sache, 20 April 2015 (click on the flags to get bigger images)

The escorts march behind a distinctive flag, made of a Spanish flag, without the coat of arms, charged, on one side only, with the name of the village written in black capital letters:
- Sabinosa (photo, photo, photo);
- El Pinar (photo, photo, photo);
- El Golfo (photo, photo, photo, photo;
- Isora (photo);
- San Andrés (photo, photo, photo, photo);
- El Norte (photo);
- Valverde (photo, photo, photo).
A small version of the festival's emblem is placed at the left of the writing.

Ivan Sache, 20 April 2015

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