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Thursday, 12 April 2007

The Gypsy Pilgrimage of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer - Page 2

Written by Anna M. Mays
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In the desolate Camargue region of southern France -- an untamed coastal plain marked by salt marshes, wild horses and wayside cowboy ranches -- sits a small seaside village with a unique history and a colorful ancient tradition that is still celebrated today. The press call it the “Gypsy Pilgrimage.” This quiet town, known locally as Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, comes alive each year in early spring as thousands of Roma from across Europe make the long journey to celebrate the annual festival of their patron saint Sara Kali. For hundreds of years, the village of Saintes-Maries has served as the sacred pilgrimage site for Europe’s Roma peoples.

crossWhile Mary Magdalene continued on her journey to evangelize distant regions of this new land, the elderly Marys Jacobé and Salomé, with Sara, remained in the seaside village where they had landed (which would later take their name), and preached the Gospel to the farmers and fishermen. Legend recounts that these three women had such a pious influence over the local people that barely a generation later French Provençe was almost entirely converted to Christianity.

Among the groups most influenced in this region were the Roma: a nomadic, nation-less group of people who lived on the outskirts of French society. The Roma or Gypsies (a misnomer that has at its origin the identifier “Egyptian”) felt a certain affinity with Sara the Egyptian, the humble servant girl of dark skin who would wander the plains by the sea, collecting firewood and begging for alms to take back to the Marys. To the Roma, this young saint became known as “Sara Kali,” a Rom word meaning both “Black” and “Gypsy.”


priestsWhen Sara and the Marys died, they were buried in a small oratory in the center of the village. In the early ninth century, the present-day Saintes-Maries church was built over the oratory and the graves. In 1448, the Count of Provence, King René, excavated the old church looking for the Holy Grail and found the sacred relics of the two Maries and Sara. These holy relics were put into richly ornamented challises and stored in the high chapel, where they reside to this day.

After the 1448 discovery of the Saint Marys and Sara’s remains, the pilgrimage gained the following and popularity it enjoys today.people

Thus from Provençal history and legend emerges the tapestry of events which illustrate how the village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer became the pilgrimage site of European Roma.

Though its participants have changed with the advancing eras, the structure and traditions of this pilgrimage have remained relatively unchanged since its inception centuries ago.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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