Sarah,the three Marys and the Gypsy pilgrimage
Saintes Maries de la Mer Travel Blog› entry 3 of 6 › view all entries
Saintes Maries was once a pilgrimage site,it was a stopping point for pilgrims to Saint Jacques de Compostelle.
Saintes Maries is named for a trio of saints named Mary!According to the traditions and legends,the saints Mary Salomé, Mary Jacobé and Mary Magdalene and their black servant Sarah ,soon after the crucifixion of Jesus,chased by the Christian persecution in Palestine,arrived here across the Mediterranean Sea around the year AD 40.
According to another tradition,Sarah was a Gypsy,a Gitane in French( short form of the spanish egiptano,egyptian) liviing around Camargue in the high Middle Ages and another one says that she was an Egyptian,abbess of a convent in Lybia.For the Gypsies,Sarah is Sara-La-Kâli,a Gypsy word meaning both Sarah the Gypsy and Sarah The black.
Known as the patron of Gypsies,arrived in France in the 15th century,the dark-skinned Sarah is an historical enigma and nothing is known precisely when and why the church of SMM became the holiest place of the Gypsies sometimes after their arrival in Europe.
Thousands of Gypsies(Gitans in French) from all over Europe and even other continents make an annual PILGRIMAGE on 24 and 25 May.In the week before,they arrive evenings and camp on the seaside,on the squares and streets accompanied by guitars(the famous flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata first play there.) and violins.For a week or more,they feel at home.The pilgrimage includes an impressive all-night vigil and on the 24 May:a morning mass ,a ceremony of bringing out and parading the Marys' relics at 1530 and a procession accompanied by singing and dancing leading Sarah's statue ,wearing multicoloured dress and jewels, down the sea for ritual cleansing at 1600.
The 26th May commemorates Folco de Baroncelli,the Camargue hero with bull running,dances,gardian games...So the pilgrimage also provides the opportunity for the performance of the Provençal identity for the residents of Camargue.
The pilgrimage is also the occasion to many baptisms,mariages, conversions,catechism teaching,as well as trading and bartering.Many Gitans ,a homeless and wandering people,tracing their origins to medieval India(around 500 000 in France, up to 5 million in the world) use the pilgrimage as a family assembly.They meet up again their friends and relatives whom they have not seen since the previous year.
There is also a second pilgrimage on the Sunday nearest to 22 October which features the gardians and the Marys but without Sarah and the Gypsies.