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Black Sarah

The most famous Gypsy feast that gathers Gypsies from all over Europe is the feast of Saint Sarah in the CamargueAs legend goes, Mary Jacobi and Mary Salome were abandoned with other exiled people on a boat and they were helped by Sarah: she threw her cloak that became a raft on the water and they reached the Camargue. Then, their companions left to spread Christianity on earth, while the two Marys remained with Sarah, who helped them by becoming a beggar. 


The Catholic Church has never recognized Saint Sarah, but Gypsies consider her their patroness maybe due to her humble origins and they gather on every May 24th to honour her in Les Saint Maries De La Mèr. On that day they carry the statue of Sarah (Sara la Kali, i.e. Black Sarah, for her dark skin) on their shoulders up to the sea, where it is immerged three times while musicians strike up beautiful melodies.
On May 25th Gypsies celebrate the two Marys. After the ceremony in the church, the boat with the two Marys’ statues is transported up to the sea by les Guardians of the Camargue and pilgrims, following the same path that the Marys once trod. The people who carry the boat go into the water and a bishop on another boat blesses the pilgrims and France. The feast ends with the pilgrims returning to the church where they sing and dance until late at night.
It is worth highlighting that the pilgrimage in the Camargue takes place thanks to an Italian, the Marquis Folco Baroncelli, a strenuous defender of oppressed minorities who was born in 1869 in Aix-en-Provence, through whom the Gypsies obtained the right to celebrate Saint Sarah in 1935172. This is the reason why he is a venerated figure in the Camargue; a museum has been named after him and he is the protagonist of an entire day of celebrations. In fact, after a short ceremony at his tomb, les Guardians participate in the abrivado, a bull street run in which the bulls are driven by les Guardians armed with lances on horseback into the arena where Baroncelli’s descendants perform in ancient plays.


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