Stes Maries de la Mer

A banner of Sara at the festival in Stes Maries de la Mer

One thing that makes Provence so special is its many festivals. They are especially numerous during the summer and I could probably find at least one a week to attend if I wanted. One very interesting festival is the one that takes place over three days in May in the little town on the sea called Saintes Maries de la Mer. According to legend it is here that two Marys landed-Mary Jacobe and Mary Salome, relatives of Jesus and Mary, along with a couple of others, to escape persecution in Palestine. It is even said that Mary Magdelene did the same and lived and died in Provence in the town of Bormes le Momosa. They all of course proceeded to spread Christianity and Sara, the family chief of the gypsies who lived in the region converted. Through the centuries many pilgrimages were made to the little town.
We were hoping to get into the church which is supposed to be very interesting but it was full of people and the entrance was blocked while a mass went on inside. We went down to the beach to wait for the procession to begin which, on this day, was a statue of Sara whom the gypsies especially worship. First come men on horses, the guardians of Sara, then some colorful banners with paintings of Sara who, by the way, is believed to have been from Egypt and is black, then finally the statue of Sara, carried on a little bark arrives surrounded by huge crowds of the faithful, or just the curious. For some reason, she is dressed in a cloak and it is never removed, so the statue can hardly be seen as she is wearing what looks like a layer of 100 cloakes. She is carried to the edge of the sea to symbolize Sara, the gypsies’ patron staint, joyfully awaiting the arrival of the Saints’.
I had hoped to see the procession of the 2 Marys’ on the following day where a priest is in a painted boat and blesses the statues but this was a good one. Very simple, very unorganized, very sweet, it was fun to be a part of the celebration. The whole little town and the surrounding area is full of gypsies who come for the 3 days of celebration. Due to the reputation the gypsies have, I was a little apprehensive about getting something stolen, so I didn’t carry a purse. Some of the town was closed up, including a few shops. It is not an elegant town, by any means, but rather plain with a few cheap souviniers for sale and some unappealing things, to me, offered in a gypsy market.
In retrospect, we realized that, instead of waiting in the sun on the beach for over an hour, we could have spent the day in a bar having a cool drink in the shade, then followed the procession down to the beach where it is most interesting. It was a fun festival-very different-and we are glad we went.

Guardien at the front of the procession. Sara is in the back.

Close-up of Sara’s gown. Her face cannot be seen.

Look at this darling baby dressed up as a sparkly gypsy. Many little girls wore fancy dresses like those flamengo dancers wear in Spain. Didn’t see any little boys in costume for some reason.