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Festivals in Tenerife and other large gatherings are still not able to be held with social distancing and other restrictions still in force. Events listed here, therefore, are subject to cancellation or change without notice. Such circumstances are beyond our control.

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Orotava flower carpets and their three suspensions throughout history

Corpus La Orotava 2009 Photo Jose Mesa Some Rights Reserved

This year a pandemic has interrupted the tradition in honour of Corpus Christi - the Día de las Alfombras (Day of the Carpets) that should have been taking place in the streets today, Thursday 18 June 2020 - as also happened in 1891, then by smallpox, while in 1897 it was not celebrated because the parish church was being renovated.

The flower carpets of La Orotava are the most important hallmark of the artistic identity of this Tenerife town. According to the existing documentation, La Orotava was the first municipality in the Canary Islands to make flower carpets for the passage of the Most Holy Corpus Christi back in 1844. Tacoronte and La Laguna then followed suit.

The carpets were not always as we know them today. It was not possible to carpet the entire route until the first years of the 1980s and the first carpet was produced in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento in 1919. It was not until 1892 when the two most important festivals of La Orotava, the Octava of Corpus and San Isidro, were unified, as they are still celebrated today. And during these more than 175 years, the production of carpets has only been suspended, three times, in 1891, in 1897 and in this year of 2020.
This is the tapestry that commemorated 100 years of the carpet in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento de La Orotava
The curious thing is that both the first time, in 1891, and this year of 2020, the reason has been practically the same, that of a worldwide pandemic, which has demanded the greatest sanitary security measures and that include social distancing as one of the main actions to be carried out. In 1891 the pandemic that put the planet in check was smallpox and this year it was, as we all know, the coronavirus or covid-19.

As has happened this year, in 1891 few countries worldwide were spared from suffering the serious consequences of smallpox, with the few precautions taken by health authorities globally being notorious. However, the press at the time did praise the efforts made by La Orotava authorities in order to eradicate this epidemic in the municipality.

The local health authorities, in agreement with the City Council, established a provisional hospital on the outskirts of the town in order to isolate and care for the sick.

The Orotava press wrote at the time, "that smallpox is spread by contact of healthy people with sick people and that contagious germs are conserved many times in the clothes and objects used by the latter, whose contact should be avoided." They also wrote that "you have to be logical: carpets have been banned due to the possibility that outsiders bring the germ of the disease and leave it on the ornate streets."

But this was not the first time that a smallpox epidemic attacked La Orotava, as during the months of March to July 1870, it was much more virulent than that of 1891. In 1870, 292 people fell ill in the town, 46 of whom died. In 1891, only two people died.

In 1891, in fear of what had happened years before, all possible sanitary protection measures were taken. Curiously, however, in 1891, during the month of April and due to the procession called Visita de Enfermos (Visit of the Sick), the whole street of La Hoya, (today Hermano Apolinar), was carpeted with the traditional Orotava flower carpets.

The second time La Orotava carpets were suspended was in 1897, but the reason on that occasion was because the parish church of La Concepción was temporarily closed to worship, as it was undergoing important renovations and it would mean that the procession woud have to take a different route from the usual one.

And in this 2020, the City Council of La Orotava, in a telematic plenary session, unanimously approved, on May 5, the suspension, for the third time in history, of the Flower Festival, in the face of the pandemic of the coronavirus.

Las alfombras de la Orotava y sus tres suspensiones a lo largo de la historia

Infraoctava Corpus Christi La Orotava 2019

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