A bit of history. Or mythology. Depending on your beliefs.
After the crucifixion of Christ, some of his disciples were banished.. Among them were Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe. (And yes, I know they’re not seen technically as disciples, but they should be.) They were put in a boat in Palestine, towed out into the Mediterranean, and cut loose, without sails or oars to steer by.
Some people add Mary Magdalene to the passenger list, and she is said to have died in France, but she moved on after landing so I’m sticking with the story of the Two Marys, not three. Besides, there are only two of them on the town’s coat of arms.
Neither Mary is the important part of this story though. That role falls to Sara, the Black Virgin.
Throughout the two days there is much clapping of hands and singing to guitars and violins, flashy flamenco dancing, drinking, eating and general merry-making until the early hours, or even beyond. It all ends in a farewell ceremony and the gypsies disappear down the road, leaving the town to sleep until next year, safe among its pink flamingos, white horses and black bulls.
The town has known other events not saint-related.
- During the winter of 859-860, the coldest of the entire 9th century, Vikings camped here before resuming their marauding up the Rhône Valley as far north as Valence. (Even way back then, southern France attracted Scandinavians like a magnet.)
|Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries,|
Vincent van Gogh
- In September of 869, it was the turn of the Sarrasins to raid the marshes of Camargue, taking the visiting bishop of Arles prisoner. In return for the ransom handed over on the beach of Saint-Maries-de-la-Mer, they returned... his body.
- In June of 1888, Vincent Van Gogh spent five days in the town. His series of watercolors and drawings included seascapes, the village and the local fishing boats.
Note: You can see Saint Sara’s procession in the film by Tony Gatlif, Latcho Drom (1993).
Or you can watch a slide show here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DEZ2s9Ulrs
Confession: Although I’ve been to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, it wasn’t during the procession. So these photos are not mine. Maybe some day, but not this year.
The photo of the procession is by G. Vlassis. The others, I don’t know.