La Virgen de la Candelaria is a small image found in the 1700s. In Copiapó, Chile, the Church or Sanctuary of the Virgin has been going in some form or another since 1800. Seen as the protector of miners, each February, work stops in the mines while local miners come down to give thanks to the Virgin for her protection and thousands gather from miles around to pay tribute in worship and through religious dance.
When the miners were found, the image of La Virgen de la Candelaria was stationed at Campamento Esperanza (or Camp Hope, as the temporary home of the families and loved ones of the miners was called as they waited the long months for their rescue) in the comedor (or dining area). The Thursday after each and every miner was rescued, a ceremony took place at the camp with the rescued men in attendance, and the Virgin was brought down to the cathedral for a special mass in thanks for her protection.
Following the mass, there was a procession that passed the hospital, where two of the miners were still under observation, and ultimately returned La Virgen de la Candelaria to her place in her church.
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Don Juan Rojas Gomez has been a member of La Iglesia de la Candelaria since infancy.

1.Don Juan Rojas Gomez has been a member of La Iglesia de la Candelaria since infancy. He says he would do anything for the Virgin. Like his parents before him and his two grown children and two grandchildren, faith in La Virgen de la Candelaria is an integral part of his life. A retired administrator for the El Salvador mine up north, he (and Jaime Cabañas Villacorto, not pictured) are charged with caring for the image of the Virgin during transport. I found them this afternoon putting the finishing touches on a garland of flowers as they prepared to go to the mine and take her from her place of vigil for the safe return of the miners in Campamento Esperanza.

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Painted on an exterior wall of the church complex, this is a very brief version of the story of La Virgen de la Candelaria

2.Painted on an exterior wall of the church complex, this is a very brief version of the story of La Virgen de la Candelaria. It says: The Story of the Find On a February night in 1780, resident of the Indian village of San Fernando, Mariano Caro Inca, was surprised by a violent storm among the salt flats of Maricunga. When he brought his animals down to seek refuge from the storm, he sought refuge in a cave, where by the light of his lanterns, he saw the image of a virgin. In the light of the following day, she was recognized as The Virgin of the Candelaria. It was the dawn of February 2nd, the day of Our Lady of the Candelaria.

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3. Inside the church, while the original image of the Virgin has been placed near the miners to help with their safe return to the surface, the "Virgen Grande" or big Virgin remains in place.

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Core members of the congregation of La Iglesia de la Candelaria gather outside the mass in the cathedral to escort her back to her home.

4.Men from the Religious Society of Our Lady of the Candelaria gather outside the the cathedral before mass to escort her back to her home.

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Bailes Chinos

6.Dancers of Los Bailes Chinos, or the Chinese Dances. This group is dressed very ornately, with bright colors and sequins and the smallest among them seem to be no more than five years old. Here, some of the members wait outside the cathedral for the procession to begin.

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Bailes Chinos

7.As it was explained to me by the secretary of the church, many of these dancers gather (Los Bailes Chinos, included) to rejoice in the return of the Virgin. Only one group in the procession are members of the Church of the Candelaria. Here, two of the male dancers wait for the procession to start.

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Bailerina Chiquitita

8.A photographer takes a shot of one of the smallest dancers.

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Bailerina Chiquitita

9.By the time the mass really gets going, the cathedral is stuffed to the gills with congregants.

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Nuns

10.Nuns watch the mass from stage left. The religious figure wears a mining helmet and holds a lantern.

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Virgen moviendo

11.La Virgen de la Candelaria is on the move, pictured here just outside the cathedral doors with attendants from her church bearing torches.

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Afuera la Misa de la Virgen de la Candelaria

12. Here, outside the cathedral doors, those participating in the procession gather to hear the words of the cathedral's priest, who once again thanks the Virgin for the miners' safe return above ground. A church member is fitted with a harness to carry the speakers so the songs and words of the priests can be heard by those the procession passes.

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Procesion Candelaria

13.Worshipers in the procession use large noisemakers in their dance.

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Procesion Candelaria

14.The Tinkus leader signals his dancers with a whistle.

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Procesion Candelaria

15.The procession passes the Union of the Candelaria in downtown Copiapó.

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Procesion Candelaria

16.This dancer was all lit up by a foreign TV camera for several blocks. She and her fellow dancers seemed amused.

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Procesion Candelaria

17.Outside the hospital where two of the miners were still inside under observation, there was an enormous crowd that included members of the international press as well as hospital staff and, of course, those participating in the procession. A ceremony took place in which the crowd called out "Viva!" several times.

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Procesion Candelaria

18.Worshipers raise their hands in prayer and thanks to the Virgin.

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Procesion Candelaria

19.Father Fernando Vega, Priest at the Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Candelaria, leads those gathered in a prayer.

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Procesion Candelaria

20.Worshipers outside the hospital sing.

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Procesion Candelaria

21.Small children are raised on the shoulders of adults to see the Virgin outside the hospital.

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Procesion Candelaria

22.The procession continues past a strip club.

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Procesion Candelaria

23.When the procession finally arrives at the Sanctuary, flower petals are thrown from above over the gathered congregants..

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Procesion Candelaria

24.Red candles are lit in celebration of the Virgin's return.

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Procesion Candelaria

25.Inside the church, candles are lit.

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Procesion Candelaria

26.The Virgin is almost back in her place. A dog picks up on the peaceful, happy vibe and makes himself at home on the floor.

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Procesion Candelaria

27.The Virgin's work is done and she is put back .