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St. Sarah the Black

24 May 2010

This is the statue of St. Sarah the Black (also known as Sara-la-Kali or Sara e Kali) at the church of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in Provence. One legend holds that she was the Egyptian servant of St. Mary Salomé and St. Mary Jacobé on their voyage away from the Holy Land with St. Mary Magdalene and St. Joseph of Arimathea. They allegedly landed at the site of what is today the town of Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Another holds that St. Sarah was actually a Roma (i.e. a gypsy) and that she helped the Three Marys ashore and then was converted. Regardless, she is the patron of the Roma in the south of France and around the Western Mediterranean in general. The Kali in her Roma name refers to the mother-goddess of the Indian homeland of the Roma, which is exemplary of the way that Christianity survived during the early centuries by incorporating aspects of previous religious traditions into itself.

Today, 24 May, is the official day of pilgrimage to Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer for the Roma.

On the first morning, a great procession, escorted by gardiansriding white horses, winds its way through the narrow streets to the sea, where the plaster statue of Sainte Sara, carried by specially chosen men, is symbolically submerged. This frail memorial, blackened by the smoke of the candles in her crypt, is draped in bright, new robes for the occasion, while the Gitans [i.e. gypsies] sing hymns and shout, thousands-upon-thousands of times, “Vive Sainte Sara!

The cortege, which follows the next day in honor of the two Marys, is more of a local Provençal festival, with Gypsy participation, and offers the Roma an important opportunity to renew family and social contacts, discuss any potential bethrothal and, possibly, conduct a piece of business. The faithful, however, arrive in droves a full week preceding the days of celebration and make evening visits to the fortified chapel, accompanied by violins and guitars. Each person adds a candle to the multitude of tapers already lit within the shrine. Notes with intentions are placed near the statue, as are the linens and clothing of children, humble jewels and naive messages. Catechism is taught in the caravans and heartfelt conversations are commonplace. ManyGitans use the sojourn to hold a family assembly and as a time to baptize their infants in the sanctified Church of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Lee Thomas permalink
    24 May 2010 13:09

    Thoroughly engaging. Moreover, a highly salutary practice, I think (and sometimes experience), to research and ponder a saint on his or her day.

    (Delighted, and unsurprised, that the Blogger is not devoting himself entirely to beach-bumming!)

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