Saturday, September 10, 2011


I am joining in the Gypsy Party!  You are invited to become part of the caravan here.

In May this year I attended the Gypsy Festival in Saintes Maries de la Mer in Southern France.  Travel with me to this amazing festival where East and West meet;  where 20 000 gypsies gather every year for a full week of celebration and festivities;  witness the tradition of carrying Sante Sarah, the Gypsy Patron Saint, to the sea and more!  Step into a magical world of legend, myth, faith and miracles!  

This festival has been taking place for the past fifty years and attracts 20 000 roma (gypsies).
Gypsy wagon parked in main road Saintes Maries de la Mer

Legends are rife about the origins of the dark skinned Sainte Sarah - both the Rom and the Christian version.  The Roma speak their own language, they have a very distinctive culture and are wanderers and travellers, with a strong focus on music, dance and passion.  It is said that the Roma originally came from India and found their spiritual mother Kali Ma, in the black saint Sarah.  

Kali Ma is the fierce goddess in the Hindu tradition.  She is the Mother of Kundalini and the bringer of change.  She is often feared as change does not honour resistance nor reluctance, but calls for surrender to that which we have no control over.  She is known as the black or dark mother, 'Kali'.

Hindu Goddess Kali Maa

  And here, in the South of France, in a small Catholic Church and as Queen of the Rom (Gypsies), reigns the saint Sara la Kali - a fusion of the dark mother and one who serves Mother Mary.

Statue of Sante Sarah in crypt

The festival always takes place on Sante Sara's sacred day 25 May. The week before the caravans stream into the small sea side village.  As we travelled many motorhomes passed us.  The gypsies live in these modern motorhomes and many have enormous trailers behind.  They travel from fair to fair across France and Europe and sell their wares, such as hand made knives.
A wonderful exotic and festive market is on for the entire week before the religious festival days and the mesmerising sounds of the flamenco guitar can be heard far and wide.

Children and adults dress up in traditional gitane clothing
 Outside the church of Saintes Maries de la Mer you will find flamenco playing gypsies, dancing girls, small girls handing out images of Lakshmi and older women selling the holy medals of Sante Sarah, indicating that you have arrived at the destination of your pilgrimage!  What magic!!

Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Abundance
  Saintes Maries de la Mer is a quaint village known for its white horses from the Camargue, the black bulls and the three Saints : Sara, Marie Salome and Marie Jacobe.  Legend has it that they arrived here on the beach with Mary Magdalene.

On the first feast day Sara is lowered into her crypt and dressed in layer upon layer of cloak representing all the prayers.  The crypt is underneath the church and the heat from the thousands of burning votives makes it almost unbearable.  For the Rom this is a homecoming.  They travel here once a year if they can, but those living further away in other parts of Europe sometimes only make it every few years.  They catch up with family and tears are flowing.  During her festival, those who seek her healing and blessings come to touch her skirts, put scarves around her neck, offer flowers, light candles, and give thanks for miracles and prayers answered in the preceding years. She is paid homage to in the Gypsy Prayer, a copy of which sits framed to the right of her feet. Combined with the intense sounds of the gypsey crooners outside the church, the smell of burning incense and one's own heart, this makes for an intense experience - and all of this before the actual celebrations have even started.

In the crypt of Sainte Sarah
On the feast day a mass in celebration of Sainte Sarah is held early in the morning.  The church is packed full and every bit of standing space is taken.  The overflow of people stand outside in the courtyard and loudspeakers bring the service outside.  The chanting of 'Sante Sarah' at times completely overpower the voice of the priest and there is not a person who does not sing along!  What an experience of intense passion!  The statue of Sainte Sarah is then carried along the main road of the village and down to the sea.  There is a strict hierarchy to the procession.  It is led by the town elders on their white horses, then followed by representative of the various Gypsey tribes and families, then the priest in a motor vehicle and then the various parishes from across Europe who bring their colours and emblems to be blessed.  And then those taking part in the procession.  The procession took four hours to reach the sea - this walk would normally have taken 15 minutes.

The horses are decorated with paint spots
After the statue had been immersed in the sea water, everyone enters the water as it is now sanctified.  As in Hindu traditions, it is an act of purification and sanctification to be washed by the waters of the mother (la mer).
Sante Sarah on her way to the sea

Sara, toi la sainte patronne des voyageurs et gitans du monde entier,
tu as vécu en ce lieu des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Tu es venue d'un lointain pays au-delà des mers.
J'aime venir te retrouver ici, te dire tout ce que j'ai dans le Cœur,
te confier mes peines et mes joies.
Je te prie pour tous les membres de ma famille et tous mes amis.
Sara, veille sur moi!

(Sara, patron saint of travelers and gypsies the world over, you who lived in this region of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. You came from a far-away country from across the seas. I love to come and find you here, to tell you all that I have in my heart and in you confide my sorrows and joys. I pray to you for everyone in my family and all my friends. Sara, come to me!)


  1. What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing this most blessed celebration. I really wish I could have been there. Many blessings to you!
    Kim ~ Fairy Bell Cottage

  2. Thank you for sharing your first hand experience. It was fascinating. Another post from Diana Heyne is also about this location. She is living in Paris and I'm sure you two would have lots in common. Diana is super.
    Lovely to have met you here and I'd like to invite you to come and see us at Ye Olde Crone's Gazette. Happy Gypsy Dreams, Oma Linda

  3. Totally fascinating! I enjoyed reading this so much! What an amazing festival.
    Thank you for sharing with us.

  4. A beautiful post....another party goer shared information about this festival too(which I see Miss Linda has shared with you)....I just love learning about the real Romani people. Thank you so much for participating!

  5. beautiful! just simply lovely!

  6. Wow what a wonderful journey and trip you had, with memories that will last you forever. Your photos are a treasure trove of memories for you to keep. Thanks for sharing.

    frith and wishes
    J x

  7. Hettiene, what a FABULOUS post! It was wonderful to read about this festival and some of their traditions and faith. How awesome to be able to take part or to be an observer! My post is a factual one also. (it was not the post intended, originally) I myself love to learn, so your post (and mine) were great for me. Thanks for sharing something wonderful with all of us.
    be well and be blessed,

  8. How blessed you were to see such a wonderful festival! Thank you for sharing. May all your gypsy dreams come true!

  9. you who...graceful devata...
    i made it...on the caravan...
    pretty here...wonderful story..
    love your music....blessings
    my new friend...blessings.
    xoxo EdenClare

  10. So good to see your post about the traditions surrounding Sainte Sarah. Thank you for commenting on mine. It looks as though you attended a particularly lively version of the festival! The last time I went the weather was very difficult--a strong wind and painfully biting sandstorm that made it difficult to see and kept most people away.
    I just found my way to your Etsy shop the other day-- lovely devotion to the mother of all in her many guises.
    Glad to know you a little better!

  11. Wonderful pictures and story, thank you so very much for sharing.
    Have a magical day.

  12. Lovely to hear about this amazing experience, thank you!

  13. A wonderful and informative Post of the Rom Beliefs and Tradition, so fortunate you are to have been able to experience it and come away with beautiful images to share with us this day as we all share our Gypsy Dreams. May all of your Dreams become your Realities.

    Blessings from the Arizona Desert... Dawn... The Bohemian

  14. Fascinating to hear another account of this magical day. Thank you!

  15. I love the photos. :)

    Happy Gypsy Dreams,


Thank you for your comments - I read each and every one! I have taken the word verification off - hope it makes it easier