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The masterpiece of the Inca who had no knowledge of carving

In the highlands of Bolivia, in Copacabana, there is an image that has captivated generations of believers and pilgrims.

The Virgin of the Candelaria of Copacabana, a unique creation, is not only an image venerated by thousands. It is also a testimony to the tenacity of a man whose life was marked by devotion and perseverance: Francisco Tito Yupanqui.

Descended from an Inca emperor and raised in the Catholic tradition by Dominican friars, Yupanqui left an indelible mark on Bolivia’s religious, artistic, and cultural history. Born in Copacabana in 1549, he was impressed from an early age by the teachings of the Spanish missionaries and the rich artistic heritage of Renaissance Europe.

Virgen de Copacabana
The Yupanqui Indian with the image of the Virgin on his shoulders

Legend has it that Tito Yupanqui had a mystical encounter with a mysterious woman who carried a child in her arms as she slept. This vision marked the beginning of an extraordinary undertaking: the carving of an image of the Virgin of Candelaria, inspired by the Marian devotion of Tenerife, Spain.

There was only one problem: Yupanqui had no artistic training at all. Nevertheless, he dedicated himself to carving a figure of the Virgin, seeking the artistic perfection that both this vision and his intellectual training had inspired in him.

Mockery and perseverance

Carving the Virgin of Candelaria was not easy for Yupanqui. His first attempts were ridiculed and mocked. The parish priest went so far as to hide the image in the sacristy so that no one would see it. In his autobiography, Yupanqui recounts that even the local bishop told him to remove “that monkey” from his sight.

For a descendant of the Inca emperor, this must have been a hard pill to swallow, but his determination was stronger. He sought help from several workshops of the time, going from city to city. With each attempt, Yupanqui strove to improve his work.

Finally, after many attempts and with the help of a mentor, he was able to finish the carving of the Virgin of Candelaria. With the approval of the ecclesiastical authorities, it was solemnly enthroned in the church of Copacabana in 1583, where it began to attract the faithful from far and wide.

Ruta de los conventos coloniales
Typical boat in Titicaca Lake

More than devotion

The feast of Our Lady of Candelaria, celebrated on February 2, is one of the most important ones in the Bolivian religious calendar. During these days, Copacabana is filled with color, music and fervor, with processions, masses and cultural activities in honor of the Virgin. The faithful carry offerings of candles, flowers and other symbolic objects as a token of their devotion and gratitude.

The Virgin of Candelaria is not only a religious symbol, but also an important cultural and tourist icon of Bolivia. The Copacabana shrine attracts thousands of visitors every year, both for its architectural beauty and its spiritual significance. The devotion to this Virgin has crossed borders and is recognized and venerated throughout the world.

The Virgin of Copacabana is a living testimony of the deep faith and devotion of the Bolivian people. Her image, carefully carved by Inca hands centuries ago, continues to be a beacon of hope and comfort for all those who seek her protection and guidance in times of need.

Basilica of the Virgin of Candelaria

This post is also available in: Español Italiano

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