A two day ceremony at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on 24 and 25 May each year is attended by many Romany (aka Gypsy) pilgrims. During this “Pelerinage des Gitans” Romanies from all over Europe head for the fortified Romanesque church at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue and particularly the statue of Saint Sarah in the crypt, known to the Romanies as Sarah-la-Kali. The faithful arrive in droves a week before the two days of celebration and make evening visits to the crypt accompanied by violins and guitars. Each pilgrim adds a candle to the mass of candles already lit within the shrine.

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On the afternoon of 24th May, statues of the two Marys are lowered from the top of Saint Michael’s church. As they are lowered down the more credulous try to touch them before they reach the ground in order to receive miraculous healing and supernatural protection from misfortune.

The statue of Saint Sarah is then brought up from the crypt below. The statue, blackened by the smoke of candles, is adorned in bright, new robes for the occasion. Gitans shout “Vive Sainte Sarah!” and sing hymns. She is carried on the shoulders of four gypsies, and the procession winds its way through the narrow streets to the beach, escorted by gardians riding white horses.

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[The gardians]

On the beach, the bearer party wade knee-deep into the water where the plaster statue of Sainte Sarah is symbolically submerged. They then turn around, go back and return the statue to the church.

At the church the three saints are venerated for the rest of the day. The following morning, the statues of the two Marys are placed in a boat also taken out to the sea, then returned and worshipped.

The parade which follows the next day on 25 May in honour of the two Marys is more of a local Provençal festival, with Gypsy participation. The event offers Romani pilgrims an opportunity to renew family and social contacts, negotiate betrothals,conduct business and baptize their infants in the Church of Saintes Maries de la Mer.

There are several stories connected to the dark faced Saint Sarah, and especially her origins offer some interesting tales.

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Legend has it she was the servant of the other locally celebrated Mary Saints. It is believed that at the beach they erected an altar to pray, but soon thereafter they dispersed. The relics of Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacob are said to be kept in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and each has their own annual pilgrimage. These women are believed to be the first people to witness to the empty tomb just before the resurrection of Jesus, and the Mary Magdalene cult is very wide-spread in the Provence.

The Gypsy pilgrimage of Sainte Sarah is a unique, spiritual festival, vibrant and colourful, offering a deeper insight into the lives and culture of this ancient nomadic tribe, we call gypsies, the Roma.

According to legend, during the imagined persecution of early Christians, often dated to the year 42 AD, Lazarus, his sisters Mary Magdalene and Martha, Mary Salome (the mother of the Apostles John and James son of Zebedee), Mary Jacobe, Saint Maximin and Sidonius were sent out into the Mediterranean in a boat equipped without sail by their evil Roman persecutors. Many of the boat’s complement were supposed to have been present at the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Comments

3 Responses to “Major Gypsy Festival in the Camargue”

  1. school grants on May 26th, 2010 2:58 pm

    Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  2. satellite tv on pc on May 30th, 2010 8:00 am

    thx for all these useful info ,will be happy to read more about this soon ! wty1d8

  3. LESLEY TAYLOR on January 9th, 2011 11:11 pm

    Hi

    Can anyone tell me when the Gypsy Festival in the Camargue France is this year. I have found dates on the web of 21 and 22 may 2011. Also 24 and 25 May 2011 – WHICH IS IT PLEASE?

    Regards and Best Wishes Lesley

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