While on La Gomera we enjoyed visiting some of the many small chapels to be found all around the island.
The day after a very long trek we decided on a rest day with a visit to the folk museum in Hermigua, which was fascinating. As we left, I noticed a signpost to the chapel of San Juan. It was just under a kilometre so I persuaded the DH we should visit it. I mean, 0.9 kilometres is not even a proper walk, is it? Except this was vertical rather than horizontal and it was a hot day and, as we hadn’t expected to be mountain climbing, we had no water.
We made it, though. Just before the final few steps we found what we thought was some kind of café. Plates of food piled on a counter and a woman sitting at a table. We greeted her and sat down. Silence reigned. Eventually, I asked if she had water. She opened the door of what looked a clay oven and produced a bottle of water which we drank gratefully. It was only then it began to dawn on us this wasn’t a café. The woman explained it was her daughter’s birthday and they were having a party beside the chapel. She was waiting for the guests to arrive. She was so kind, offering us food and inviting us to join in the celebrations. We declined and moved on to the chapel and the viewpoint, which offered fantastic views down the valley. And, there was a road, so we could have driven up to the chapel, as she had, and the guests we saw arriving.
I won’t take you on a tour of all the chapels we visited (they were all closed anyway) but my favourite one is definitely worth a virtual visit. The tiny chapel of Nuestra Senora de Lourdes is found deep in the ancient forest near El Cedro – and it is possibly the only one to which you can’t drive. You have to go on foot but as it isn’t vertical it is a delightful walk through a wonderful forest.
It is an enchanting setting amongst the trees with a stream running close by and picnic tables.
Nearby, water gushes from a magic tree!
What I found most fascinating is that it was founded in 1935 by an English woman, Florence Stephen Parry. I couldn’t find more information about her until I came home and eventually found a couple of blog posts and websites which filled in some of the details of her life.
After she lost her fiancé in World War One she moved to Gran Canaria where she had English friends. Somehow she ended up becoming governess to the children of Mario Novaro Parodi, a wealthy Italian who owned a fish on La Gomera at La Cantera. She converted to Catholicism in 1924.
When her job with the children ended she moved to the village of Hermigua where she joined the Fyffe’s fruit company which exported bananas and tomatoes from La Gomera. While living in Hermigua, Florence referred to locally as Dona Florencia often visited El Cedro. When she retired she built what was known as The House of Peace (I’ve still not been able to identify this building) in Hermigua and set about bringing to fruition her ambition to build a chapel near El Cedro dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.
The chapel was inaugurated in 1935 and for many years the last Sunday in August saw one of the island’s most important Fiestas being celebrated. It was a huge event with feasting and drumming and dancing. People brought food to cook and share and stayed overnight and it seems to have been a celebration of Our Lady of Lourdes, La Gomera folk traditions and Dona Florencia.
Sadly, in 1984, twenty men lost their lives in a forest fire a few miles away and it was been decided it was too dangerous to continue the fiesta in the same way. Nowadays, a mass is held in the chapel, there’s a picnic and a procession accompanied with singing and drums through the forest to the village where everyone meets to celebrate as they have done since 1935.
Florence moved to Tenerife where she died in 1964. A plaque on her tiny chapel asks people to pray for her. I really want to find out more about her!
The blog posts I found from which I learned something about the life of Florence Stephen Parry are: La Gomera Blogspot and Scottish Catholic Observer
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