Sunday, July 24, 2011

The virgin goes to sea

Mid-July is the time for fishing villages in Andalucia to honour the patron saint of the sea - the Virgin del Carmen.

She spends most of the year locked away in the church, but in our village on the Sunday nearest to July 16, she gets taken down, dusted off, and borne away for a boat ride around the bay.

Although the centre of our pueblo is about ten minutes walk from the beach, there is still a community down there, presumably once totally fishing-based, of around 100 or more houses. And some of the people in the pueblo still have boats too, although these days, they are more likely to be used for sport rather than fishing.

So on this special day, come early evening, the virgin is put on her 'trono' (translated as throne, but it is really a float) surrounded with flowers and taken out of the church.

All the bearers and people in the procession are dressed in the traditional red, white and blue colours of the marineros (sailors), and wear espadrilles.

When we first arrived in the village, quite a lot of the procession went barefoot - for atonement or humility I suppose. Times have moved on, and everyone seemed to be shod this year.

Times have moved on in another way too. Some years ago, the bearers were all men (after all it is a religious brotherhood) but now women shoulder the weight too. And this year, there were women at the front of the various sections holding symbols and flags.

Once out of church, they parade down the main street, and then make their way to the beach. We might be ten minutes walk away but this takes them well over an hour. It would do, because apart from the fact that they walk the long way round so that everyone gets to see them and the traffic on the main road is held up, they stop virtually every five minutes for a rest and a drink of agua, while the priest solemnly intones his bell.

As dusk approaches, they reach the beach. The virgin is carefully installed in the boat, and off she goes for a gentle ride. Surprisingly she goes out for some time and for quite a way. Hopefully she doesn't fall in the sea, although some of our neighbours told us that the one in Nerja once did.

Once back safely on shore, the procession resumes and winds its way round the shorter loop back home. By now it's dark and late and everyone is carrying candles to light the return journey.

The first time we went to watch the procession we didn't follow it round the beach. It seemed too intrusive for a pair of new foreigners in the village to join in what seemed like a large family gathering.

But the next year, we did wander down the beach, and it was quite an impressive event.

This year when I went down to take photos at the start, I got lots of Holas and Buenas, and even Buenas Tardes from a few. Guess we are part of the fixtures and fittings now.

Although the annual Romeria in May is far more flamboyant, I like the solemnity and simplicity of this procession.

The only thing I have seen that lets it down was at the night-time return to church which I watched one year. When the virgen had been taken inside to spend another boring year gazing down at everyone from her perch, there was almost a fight outside as people grabbed as many of the free flowers from the float as they could get their hands on. Didn't seem quite right really.

Onto the photos.

The beginning of the procession with the local youth band. The young girl at the front is carrying one of the local penants. Bet she had armache at the end of the night. In front of her is an older woman carrying a religious banner.

One of the beautiful religious flags and a staff signal the arrival of the virgin. She is approaching down the street in the background.

The throne-bearers take the first rest, a few hundred metres from the church. It's at the main crossroads in the village so is a good place for everyone to meet up and join the procession if they didn't start at the church.

A close-up of the glorious lilies.

Ready to move on again. Note the circus in the background. Can't imagine their takings were too high that night. Who is going to pay to visit the circus when they can join in the annual walk to the beach for free with all their friends and family? Bad timing on the part of the circus methinks.