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1839: Ermita de Carmen, Playa de Santiago, La Gomera, Canary Islands
Ermita de Carmen, Playa de Santiago, La Gomera, Canary Islands
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Teean.
The church: Ermita de Carmen, Playa de Santiago, La Gomera, Canary Islands.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of San Cristóbal de La Laguna.
The building: 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.
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!
The neighbourhood: 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 Cuevita.
The cast: 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 personally?

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 atmosphere?
It was quiet. When I entered, five minutes before the service was due to start, the priest was speaking, presumably giving out notices.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
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 were played?
There were no musical instruments. The singing of responses was unaccompanied; everyone seemed to know them by heart and they were singing with gusto.

Ermita de Carmen, Playa de Santiago, La Gomera, Canary Islands

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 what?
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 join in.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
3 minutes.

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 coffee?
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 Christian?
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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