Every year, on 24 and 25 May, thousands of nomads meet in Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for the pilgrimage in honor of their patron saint Sara. It’s one of those events you should attend at least once in life. And we have taken part in this great festival that brings together the gypsies in Europe: from Gitans Catalan to Rom to Manouches.
In Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in honor of Sara, patron of Gipsies
But not only the gypsies the protagonists. The Camargue is a land where live two cultures, the gypsies and that of the gardians, herdsmen, who, with their white horses guard the herds of black bulls with lyre-shaped horns.
Legend has that everything started a spring Friday outside Jerusalem in Palestine. That day was put Jesus to death, and at the foot of the cross, stir the crowd there were over to Mary, mother of the convict, his sister or cousin Maria Jacoba, Mary Magdalene and Maria Salomè. After the Sabbath, the day that according to the Jewish religion must refrain from any activity, the three Marys went to the tomb. But they came to the tomb they saw that it was empty and Lazarus told them that Jesus had risen.
Here ends the narrative of the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, officially recognized by the Catholic Church. But according to other authors evangelists of the Gnostic Gospels, discovered in 1945 in Egypt and especially in the Gospel of Philip, the story of these women would have had a truly remarkable result. According to this paper in 43 Herod Agrippa, king of Judea, instigated a violent persecution against the followers of Jesus and the apostle Giacomo was sentenced to martyrdom by beheading. Others were made to board a boat without sails or oars and adrift. On this small boat there were Maria Salomè, mother of James, Maria Jacoba, Maria Maddalena and Sarah, a dark-skinned woman handmaid of Maria Salomè.
After five years of sailing the boat landed on the coast of southern France in the village of Sancta Maria de Ratis then Frenchified in Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer. Here the group dispersed. Maria Maddalena went to the north towards the massif of Sainte-Baume, while the other two Marie remained in the village and were buried, along with Sara, in the small chapel they had built.
Sara, became the patron saint of the Gypsies, has the honor of having a spectacular procession in which the various clans of gitans surrounding the statue in the church and bring it to the beach, escorted by the mounted herdsmen. Then, during the night, the statue is covered with notes of supplication. The day after bathing in the sea and returns to the church.
The festival lasts two full days and one of the major protagonists together with the black saint is music. Rom, Sinti and manuche take part in the festival, performing in concerts and dances. Among the most popular instruments are the violin and guitar.
The gypsy community of Arles gave birth to some of the most famous musicians in the world such as Reyes, who are one of the famous Gipsy Kings rib.
The other rib is Baliardo family of Montpellier whose undoubted star until a few years ago was the great guitarist Ricardo Baliardo, universally known as Manitas de Plata “silver’s hands man”, white hair and great musicianship, loved by Salvador Dalì and Picasso and a regular visitor of the Brigitte Bardot house in Saint-Tropez in the Sixties and Seventies years.
In the two days of celebration it seems to live in a vortex where everything catches the eye: the rich and colorful costumes, lace and jewels, fairs expressions of men and the sweet and beautiful faces of women and children. We thank the friend Domenico Bellomo who wanted to talk with us with his photographs these intense and unforgettable moments.
(Cover and article photos by Domenico Bellomo)