The Gypsy Festival During May in
Provence, The South
of France

The Gypsy Patron Saint Sarah La Kali,

 The Gypsy Saint is Honored with a Pilgrimage in May

Gypsies and the Camargue Cowboys on their white horses together re-enact an intriguing legend of two Marys related to Christ and their arrival on the shores of the Mediterranean aided by the Gypsy patron Saint Sara la Kali.
Caravans head for the Rhone Delta and Camping in the Camargue
Vacation cottages in St. Maries de la Mere the homes of the Gardians the "Cowboys" of the Camargue
The Gypsy spirit takes over in the Camargue as campers head for the tip of the Rhone delta.
Arles is the gateway to the Camargue
In the vast pastures of the Camargue the Gardians raise the  black bulls used in the bullrings of southern France.

During the May Festival

During the May festival tthousands of Gypsies travel to Saintes Maries de la Mer, population 2,400, to carry the statue of their patron saint from the church and bring it to the beach.  The Gypsies, accompanied by the Gardians on their white horses, carry the statue of their black Saint into the Mediterranean Sea.  This could be an age old ritual with roots in ancient India where a similar rite is still practiced.  This is a likely connection because, according to some, India is the place of origin of the Gypsies.  
Today, the Gypsies of France still speak a unique language rooted in the
Indo-Aryan family of languages spoken today in the Indian subcontinent.  The Gypsies call this language Romani, the language of the Roms.  

The Gypsies have, in modern times, adopted the term Rom, the word for man in their language, in an attempt to unify their culture.  This group has carried on few traditions but the annual pilgrimage to the Camargue town of Saintes Maries de la Mer is one that has endured.  This Gypsy presence in the Camargue at a Christian church brings more questions because the Gypsies were not likely Christians when they left India one thousand years ago.       
The origin of the Gypsy culture had remained a mystery for centuries.  It wasn't until the application of DNA research that the true homeland of the Gypsies became known.       

History of the Gypsy Legend

The name Gypsy is actually a misnomer.  The term was applied in the 12th century on the belief that the Gypsies came from Egypt.  Early documents in Spain mention them as Princes and Counts of Little Egypt.   Sarah, an Egyptian Slave
 The Gypsies still carry on this worship in the Camargue town of St Maries de la Mer where, during Hellenic times, when the Greeks occupied Provence, there had been an Egyptian temple at the mouth of the Rhone.  These Gypsies from the Rhone Delta eventually entered Spain in the 12th century by crossing the Pyrenees, south of the Camargue.  
There are many mysteries concerning the Gypsy pilgrimage to the Camargue in May to honor this Saint Sarah as their Patron Saint.  
Three different legends surround Saint Sarah but in the one most often cited, she is believed to have accompanied the sister of Christ's mother and Mary Magdalene on a journey by boat from Israel to the Camargue shortly after the crucifixion.  The legend states that they landed at the Oppidum-Ra, a temple to the sun God Ra located near the village.  

The  Camargue Gypsy Festival, Provence, Saintes Maries de la Mer

The Gypsies return each year to the Rhone River Delta in May to honor their Patron Saint Sarah.   The festival makes a colorful addition to the seaside fishing village of Sainte Maries de la Mer.  
The Gypsy pilgrimage to the town  at the edge of the Mediterranean joins the Camargue
Gardians to celebrate history, Gypsy legend, and Christian legends about the two Maries.  (Mary)   

  • Festival Dates
The Gypsies arrive in Saintes Maries de La Mer during the second half of May. Festival events take place on the 24th and 25th of May.
  • Events
Visitors to the Camargue in the South of France during May will see the Gypsies joined by the Camargue Gardians,  men and women from the Camargue, famous for their riding skill with the white Camargue horse.  
  • Legend Re-enacted
On the 24th and 25th of May the celebrants will honor three women who, according to legend, arrived in Provence by boat in the year 40 AD after traveling from Jerusalem.  
The chapel located below the church, Notre Dame de la Mer, in Saintes Maries de la Mer is a pilgrimage site for Gypsies
  • Bull Events
During the weekend, bull events with the Camargue Gardians will take place
  • Camargue
The Camargue riders demonstrate their ability with the Camargue horse as they bring the black bulls into the ring for the non-lethal bullfight.
The Camargue Gardians herd the bulls through the streets of a Provence village on their way to the bull ring
The statue of Sarah La Kali is worshiped by the Gypsies in the church at Saintes Maries de la Mer on the Rhone River Delta.
The Gypsy Festival During May in Provence, The South of France, is celebrated in Saintes Maries de la Mer in the Camargue.
The Gypsy Festival
brings Gypsies and the Camargue Cowboys together to honor three women with a connection to Christ.

Gypsy Festival Provence Schedule

The festival in the Saintes Maries de La Mer of the Camargue, brings together the Gypsies, the Camargue cowboys and their white horses, and the black bulls.
They meet to honor the three Maries related to Christ, the Saintes Maries de la Mer.

  • May 24th at 10 am the ceremony begins with Mass in the church.
At 4 pm the Gypsies carry the statue of their black patron Saint, St Sarah, to the shores of the Mediterranean

  • May 25 at 11 am the statues of  Saint Mary Jacobe and Saint Mary
Salome are brought to the shore.

  • May 26 bulls run through the street escorted by the Camargue
Gardians on the white Camargue horses.
During the afternoon Camargue horse events and Provence bull events take place to honor the  Marquis de Baroncelli, an advocate of Camargue culture.
Spring in Provence brings the gathering of gypsies to the Camargue to honor their Patron Saint
Gypsy music, bull events, and religious festival mark the Gypsy Festival in Provence.
A Spring bull event in Mouries, north of the Camargue, sees the bulls run in the streets
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Camargue horsemen an women join to honor the saints
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Language had long been the key.  Research by German linguist August Pott in the mid 1800s postulated an Indian homeland for the Gypsies.  He based this on their Indo-Aryan tongue which he traced to central India.  Other researchers proposed a different theory and claimed that the Gypsies were European people that adopted the language through trade and subjugation.  The trade and slavery theory was ruled out recently by DNA tests that proved a biological relationship between the Gypsy people and the people of Central Asia in the border region of Pakistan.  

The DNA evidence also showed that one third of all Gypsies are descended from one patriarch, 40 or so generations ago.  The evolution of their language indicated that their move from India occurred sometime around 1000 AD.  
It is not until the 12th century that mention of Gypsies shows up in historical documents.  By then they had entered Spain from France.  Once in Spain, they were forced by law to give up their language and to assimilate, becoming Spanish-speaking wage earners rather than remaining Romani-speaking mobile merchants.  These attempts to control and assimilate the Gypsy population were largely successful in Spain.  Spanish Gypsies call themselves Gitanos today and they speak Spanish.  Although Gypsies in Spain number nearly one percent of the population, few Gypsies living in Spain continue to speak the Romani language.  As a point of comparison, in neighboring France, over 250,000 Gypsies still speak their original Romani.
The women had been exiled from Jerusalem.  Their group included Mary Magdalene,  Mary Jacobe, the mother of James the Apostle,  Mary Solome, the mother of Apostles James and John, Lazarus the brother of Mary Magdalene, Martha, a sister of Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, and Sarah, the black servant of the Marys.

Some of the Gypsies visiting Saints Maries de La Mer will journey from Spain and speak Spanish, while those arriving from France and other European countries will speak Romani. The Gypsies are Roman Catholic but are not avid church goers.  They have resisted assimilation and for the most part they have managed to preserve their language in the 42 European countries were they have settled.   This is due in large part to their custom of marrying within their race, often in an arranged marriage.  
Many dialects of the language exist today and many borrowed words color their speech.  The roots of the language are still identifiably Neo Indo-Aryan, however, and people in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives still speak related languages.  

Many mysteries remain concerning the Gypsies.  Some researchers propose that a small band of soldiers fled India in the ninth century to wander for the next thousand years.  They spread throughout Europe without a homeland, or a history, and with few traditions.  Their language, unwritten until recently, was one of the few traditions that bound and identified them.   
The Gypsy's annual pilgrimage to the Camargue is just one more mystery that surrounds this culture.  Their lack of a written history means that we can only speculate about the Gypsy connection to this festival.  In many other ways, the Gypsy race resists our understanding.  Their search for freedom and independence has lead them into self employment.  Their lack of acceptance by other cultures has led them to keep to themselves and to marry within their race.  Their desire to remain separate will continue to keep the Gypsies a mystery.

Information: Wikipedia, Encarta,  l'Office de Tourisme des Saintes Maries de la Mer

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