Andacollo is a small town located an hour away from La Serena. The name of the town comes from the Quechua: Anta and Collo. The first means 'gold or copper', while the second 'queen.' This is very descriptive of the town because its history is closely linked to the Virgin Mary (the Queen) and mining -of gold, mainly. I will take you through this land of rich soil and clear skies.
Andacollo is a small town marked by religion and mining; both things are intertwined in the story of how the town was named. I will tell you the story the way it was told to me when I was a child: Place yourself walking among conquerors in South America, in a wide desertic land. On the same spot, there was a "pirquinero" (an artisanal miner) named Collo, working under the bright blue sky. Suddenly, he heard a voice insistently calling his name, saying: "Anda Collo" "Anda Collo." Curious, he followed the voice, and it led him to a dark-skinned Virgin figure. She revealed herself to Collo and told him: "Take me to your people and build a temple for me." Collo did as the Virgin told him and took her to his village. There the people cleaned the Virgin's statue and started worshiping her. As I told you before, Andacollo's economy was dependent on gold mining. Sadly there was a drought, and mine workers began leaving the town in order to provide for their families (as written before, this is the never-ending story of miners). During this period, the original Virgin was lost, so around 1668, another figure was brought from Perú. The sad part of this story is that the original Andacollo Virgin was dark-skinned, while the new is pale-skinned as in most traditional catholic images.
As you read before, religion plays an important part in Andacollo's history. The adoration of the Virgin continues to this day; the main expression of this worshiping is the festivals or parties held every year in her honor. There are two of them, the "Fiesta Chica" (small party) and the "Fiesta Grande" (big party).
The Fiesta Chica is celebrated on the first Sunday of October and the Fiesta Grande in December. The latter lasts for three days starting on December 24th, while both of them celebrate the virgin. Locals say the Fiesta Chica, is the true celebration because Collo found the virgin in October. It is shorter than the Fiesta grande but equally beautiful. It starts with the "novena" -basically, 9 days of praying to the virgin. Then the virgin gets transported (I will tell you more about this later) and people visit her, thank her and pay for their "Mandas" (promises of sacrifices to the virgin if she grants a favour).
As the name says, the Fiesta Grande is a bigger celebration. It is very special and unique. Andacollo gets full of life as a bunch of people go there to celebrate the virgin and thank her for health and other favors she granted. One of the most interesting and beautiful things you can see in the Fiestas are the religious dances. These dances are over 400 years old and have passed from generation to generation. They are a manifestation of faith and devotion, and no matter how tired the dancers are or how hot the weather is, they keep dancing.
Another beautiful thing to see in the Fiestas is the procession of the Virgin from the Iglesia chica, the small church, to the Iglesia grande, the big church as the locals call it. The small church is home to the Virgin for the entire year. However, when the Fiestas come, more space is needed for pilgrims and tourists who come to Andacollo just to see her. In both fiestas, the Virgin is moved to the big church; this marks a very special moment. When she is being moved, people cheer for her, pray, sing, and salute her; everyone wants to be part of this moment. When she enters the Iglesia grande, petals of flowers and confetti are thrown, people cry and pray.
Andacollo has two temples. The antique Minor Temple (or as called by locals the "Iglesia Chica") is the original place of reverence to the virgin and her home for the whole year. The interesting thing about this temple is that it was constructed in the exact location where Collo found the virgin: there is a small cavern, and you can see the place by yourself! There are two temples as the first one was too small for all the people to visit. In 1873, the construction of the new Major Temple was ordered. An interesting feature of this temple's architecture is that its columns look as if they were made from marble, but they are not. The columns are made with wood (Oregon pine), which was brought from the United States and transferred to Andacollo using mules.
Andacollo is not a mainstream destination in Chile, but it is filled with tradition and faith. A visit to Andacollo during the Fiesta dates is a beautiful experience; you will never be able to take it out of your heart.
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