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The Gypsy pilgrimage of Sainte Sarah

Gypsy PilgrimageEvery year the Roma celebrate and worship their patron saint, Saint Sarah, also known as Sara-la-Kali (Sara the black) in the coastal village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue region of the Provence, Southern France.

There are several stories connected to the dark faced Saint Sarah, and especially her origins offer some interesting tales.

Legend has it she was the servant of the other locally celebrated Mary Saints. It is believed that at the beach they erected an altar to pray, but soon thereafter they dispersed. The relics of Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacob are said to be kept in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and each has their own annual pilgrimage. These women are believed to be the first people to witness to the empty tomb just before the resurrection of Jesus, and especially the Mary Magdalene cult is very wide-spread in the Provence.

An alternative legend of Sara-la-Kali states her as a pagan of noble birth, later converted to the faith of Abraham.

And last but not least, a most intriguing explanation, believes her to be the local, Christianized manifestation of the Indian goddess "Kali". The ceremony in Saintes-Maries closely parallels the annual processions in India, the country in which the Romani are believed to have originated. During the Indian pilgrimage celebrations, statues of the Indian goddess Durga, also named Kali, are immersed into water. Durga, a consort of Shiva, is usually represented with a black face, as is Saint Sarah. The Indian goddess Durga or Kali is the goddess of creation, sickness and death.

The Gypsy pilgrimage of Sainte Sarah is a unique, spiritual festival, vibrant and colourful, offering a deeper insight into the lives and culture of this ancient nomadic tribe, we call gypsies, the Roma.