Provence Camargue Gypsy Festival Schedule, The South of France
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
Campers and bikers head for the beach at Saintes Maries de la Mer on the  Rhone River 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 and Spain.
The Schedule for the May Gypsy Festival in Provence, The South of France includes three days of events in Les Saintes Maries de la Mere, the Camargue when the Roms, Gitanos, Manouches, and Tsiganes come from all over Europe to honor their Saint Sarah.
See
Schedule Below
for May and October
24 MAY

10h00:    10:am   Opening Mass
15h30:    3:30      Ceremony of lowering the reliquaries  (Relics of the Saints)
16h00:    4:pm     Saint Sara’s Procession
20h30:    8:pm     Prayers

25 MAY

10h00:         High mass of Saint Mary Jacobé and Saint Mary Salomé
11h00:         Procession to the beach and Benediction of the sea
15h30:         Ceremony of pulling up the reliquaries

26 MAY

Day in memory of the Marquis de Baroncelli

10h30:          Ferrade : Branding (Place : Bouvaù d’Aubanel)
11h30:         Abrivado and bandido (bulls running through the streets of
the village  
12h00:         Ceremony at the tomb of the Marquis de Baroncelli
15h30:         In the arena: demonstration of the Gardian's work,
folk   dancers and Provencal bullfight.


The Gypsies

The Gypsies travel to Saints Maries de la Mer by the thousands in the month of May to honour their patron saint, the black Saint Sarah.  They no longer arrive by horse-drawn carriages painted in bright colours but in modern camping vehicles called in France, caravans.

The Gypsies called variously Roms, Gitanos, Manouches, or Tsiganes come from all over Europe to preserve their customs and traditions, to come together to arrange marriages, and to meet again family and friends seldom seen.   They camp around the village and near the beaches for the eight to ten day pilgrimage and they gather in the restaurants and in the streets to play music while the women dance to guitar, violin and Gypsy songs in many languages.

Legends

The Gypsies are Christian and they make their pilgrimage to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer to express their devotion to their patron Saint, a black-skinned Christian woman surrounded by legend.  According to this legend, Mary Jacobé and Mary Salomé, the mothers of two of the apostles of Christ arrived by boat to the shores of the Mediterranean after leaving Judea during a time of persecution.  The Maries arrived together with Lazarus and his sister Mary Magdalen to the Rhone River delta which at the time was a Roman Province.
The legends state that during the persecution of Christians in Palestine in 45 AD many Christians travelled to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer and brought the Christian faith with them to Christianise the Rhone valley north to Arles and to Lyon.   
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Saint Mary Jacobé and Saint Mary Salomé remained in Les Saintes Maries de la Mer where they Christianised the local population, including a settlement of black-skinned people who some believe were Egyptians.  The leader of this group was Sara.  She welcomed the Saints Maries when they arrived by boat.  The Maries baptized Sarah and her people into the Christian faith.   

Other legends state that Sarah was a servant to the Maries who accompanied them on their voyage.   

Les Saintes Maries de la Mer has been a place of pilgrimage since the 6th century when pilgrims came to visit the first church.  The church where the statues are now housed was built in the 11th century.  The Gypsies came into the area in the 13th Century.   The first pilgrims came to honor Saint Mary Jacobé  and Saint Mary Salomé, the Saints Marie de la Mer  

Festival

The first day of the festivities, May 24th , starts with a mass and then the relics of the Saints, which are kept in the upper part of the church, are lowered by ropes while the congregation sings ancient hymns.  These relics were found, according to legend, during excavations ordered by King René in 1448.  The bones were discovered in the crypt and are believed to be the remains of the Maries.
Following the lowering of the relics, the gypsies carry the statue of Saint Sara to the shore of the Mediterranean and then into the sea for a ritual dunking.  Interpretations of this ritual vary but it is likely related to a similar ceremony held in India where a ritual washing honors a black Indian saint.

On the 25th of May, after a morning mass, the statues of Saint Mary Jacobé and Saint Mary Salomé are carried down to the beach accompanied by the Gypsies, the Camargue Gardians on their white horses, and the men and women dressed in the costumes of Arles.
The statues are brought into the water to recreate the arrival of the Saints Maries and with them the arrival of Christianity to France.  
The bishop blesses the participants and then bands play and the people sing as the statues are brought back to the church.

Bull Events

May 26 is a day in memory of the Marquis de Baroncelli, a man who championed the Camargue traditions of horsemanship and the rearing of Camargue bulls.



There is another pilgrimage in
October
Saturday and Sunday the nearest to October the 22nd


Saturday
15h30 :        Ceremony of lowering the reliquaries  (Relics of the Saints)
18h00 :        Mass
20h00 :        A reenactment of the Sainte's legend on the beach


Sunday
10:00 :        High Mass
11:00 :        Procession to the beach and blessing of the sea
15:30 :        Ceremony of pulling up the reliquaries



October the 22nd is the feast day of Marie Salomé.  Local people, wearing traditional costumes, meet around the reliquaries and escort the two Mary’s in a procession to the beach.


The December Pilgrimage
Saturday and Sunday after December the 3rd
Pilgrimage includes a mass and the lowering of the relics of the Saints to commemorate the first ceremony of pulling up the reliquaries in 1448.




OFFICE DE TOURISME
5, avenue Van Gogh – BP 73 – 13460 LES-SAINTES-MARIES-DE-LA-MER
Tel : 04.90.97.82.55 – Fax : 04.90.97.71.15
www.saintesmaries.com      info@saintesmaries.com
Schedule May Gypsy Festival, Provence,  Les Saintes Maries de la Mere, Camargue
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Provence Camargue Gypsy Festival  in Saintes Maries de la Mer includes bull events and white horse events
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