Roma gypsies carry Saint Sara from the church of Saintes Maries de la Mer on the 24th May
"Le Pelerinage des Gitans"; the French gypsy pilgrimage of Saintes Maries de la Mer, Camargue, France
Sainte Sara is an uncannonized saint, who legend says looked after the Christian Saints Marie Jacobe and Marie Salome, cousins of Mary Magdalene, who arrived, it is said, on the shores of the Camargue in a rudderless boat. Saint Sara is the patron saint of gypsies who come from far and wide to see her. There are even paintings of Sara as 'Kali' the black saint in Eastern Europe. Sara may have been the priestess of 'Ra' the sun-god or even servant girl to the Christian saints. No-one really knows.
For a few weeks of the year, Roma, Gitan and Manouche gypsies come from all over Europe in May, camping in caravans around Saintes Maries de la Mer. It is a festive time where they play music, dance, party and christen their children. They all go to see Saint Sara in the crypt, kissing or touching her forehead. Many put robes on her shoulders, making her fat for the procession. In the main Gypsy procession of the 24th May, Saint Sara is allowed to leave her crypt, beneath the church, and is carried from the church to the shores of the mediterranean and back again. One day a year she is free from her prison. Hundred's of years ago the Gypsies used not even to be allowed into the church, only into the crypt like Sara...
Roma gypsies still suffer oppressive prejudice and racism and are one of the ethnic groups the most persecuted and marginalised across Europe. The festival is one of the times where they celebrate with people of all races, their faith and traditions