Romany Pilgrimage In Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Every May, thousands of Roma, or gypsies, gather in the tiny French town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to take part in a pilgrimage in honor of Saint Sara, regarded as their patron saint. The local horsemen of the Camargue region lead a procession of thousands of Catholic worshipers, both Roma and non-Roma, who carry the saint’s icon to the sea for a ritual dip. In the evening, the streets of the town are packed with tourists, pilgrims, gypsy musicians and flamenco dancers, all celebrating the pilgrimage and the gathering of people from across Europe.

Romany musicians play in a square in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer during the annual pilgrimage in honor of Saint Sara.Most of the Romany visitors come from France and Spain, but these musicians came from Romania to take part. .A long line of caravans on the outskirts of town, mainly owned by Roma visiting from elsewhere in France.A heated discussion outside the churchVisitors light candles inside the crypt that houses an icon of Saint Sara, considered the patron saint of the gypsies.A worshiper kisses the icon of Saint Sara. The dark-skinned saint is said to have been a local woman who welcomed persecuted Christians to France, including the two Saint Maries from whom the town takes its name.Local horsemen, known as gardians, lead the procession that takes the statue of Saint Sara to the sea. Palm reading in progress.The procession of Saint Sara makes its way to the sea.A musician accompanies the procession..The horsemen plunge into the sea ahead of the procession.Pilgrims bring an icon of the two Maries to be washed with seawater...The town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer after an evening thunderstormAfter the religious procession, the town overflows with music and dance. Romany performers take turns singing flamenco songs..