Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is on the Méditerranéen Sea. This is said to be the place Mary Magdalene came ashore, together with some of her family, friends and servants. The village became known as Notre-Dame-de-Ratis…a reference to the three Mary’s who arrived from Alexandria by boat, Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobe and Mary Salome.
Our hotel is across the road from the beach, a Mediterranean beach. From our window we look out over the sea. Sharon and I are up early Saturday morning and walk along the beachfront path enjoying the quietness of the day.
This is a maritime village with connections to the gypsy culture. Each year in May there is a festival in honour of Saint Sarah. In the 15th Century the bones of Saint Sarah, Mary Jacobe and Mary Salome were discovered in a crypt inside the Church of les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. We arrive late in June so miss the festival, but there is still a huge gitane population in the town. The evenings abound with Flamenco and Paella in the many restaurants that line the sea front.
We are here for two full days. Shopping is on the agenda as is a swim in the Mediterranean Sea and a visit to the Camargue to see the wild white horses and black bulls.
After breakfast we walk into the village to visit the church. The church site has been venerated as a holy place by a succession of cultures dating back to the Celts. Inside the crypt are a first century stone altar and a life-sized image of Sainte Sarah, the black Madonna. Also stored in an ancient box in the church, are statues of the two Mary’s.
The unanswered question is who was Sainte Sarah? Some say she came with Mary Magdalene, and was a black Egyptian woman while others say she was a local queen who welcomed Mary and her followers.
Whatever is the true story of Saint Sarah and the two Mary’s, they are the subjects of the gypsies’ pilgrimage each May.
We leave the church with free time for the remainder of the day. This village is a hub of activity with markets, jewellery shops, music and dancing. We shop, eat lunch and some of us swim in the icy cold Mediterranean waters. That evening Sharon and I eat in a little Italian restaurant.
Sunday, 21st June is the Summer Solstice. First we walk on the beach and later go for a boat ride on the Rhone River to see the black bulls and white horses. The weather is beautiful and the ride relaxing.
In the afternoon we meet on the beach for our Summer Solstice celebration. We sit in a circle around the Mandala I brought with me…a collection of stones and shells laid in the centre.
I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing…which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time…Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is …the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious – Carl Jung
Carol performed a ceremony around the circle with a glass pyramid. There is much singing and laughing as we strengthen our bond as the June 2015, Sacred France group.
That evening we dine in a Spanish restaurant with Spanish singers and dancers. A fun night, full of music, great food and the amazing Flamenco dancing of our Sacred France sister Maricela.
For some of us the night is not finished. Back on the beach with a couple of bottles of sparkle we talk…Kathleen begins a game; tell us three things about you, one being a fib. Peals of laughter fill the night as stories flowed and fibs became difficult to discern from the truth.
Tomorrow we are driving to Alet-les-Bains.