Around France

French Folklore: Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer


What I love about living in France is the opportunity to re-learn history. I never expected French folklore from the Bible.

Who knew, for example, that Lazarus and Mary Magdalene ended up in France? According to Provencal tales, which I learned upon my recent day trip to Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer, Jesus’s friend Lazarus; his sister, Martha; Mary Magdalene; Mary of James, sister of the Virgin; and a servant girl, Sarah the Egyptian, all arrived in the south of France around 40 A.D. Albeit under less than desirable circumstances.

Legend has it that after the Crucifixion, while Jews continued to be persecuted in Jerusalem, the extended “family” of Christ was cast into the sea in a small boat equipped with neither oars nor food. Miraculously they landed safely here, now Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer, where they erected a small chapel and dedicated it to the Virgin. The two Marys and Sarah remained at the church while Mary Magdalene and Martha went on throughout Provence preaching. Catholic tradition says that Lazarus was the first Bishop of Marseilles. In the 11th century the chapel became a church and was reconstructed as a fortress.  

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Miracles attributed to the Saints are shown in paintings displayed inside the Church at Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer.

French folklore

Sainte Maria dela Mer

Sarah the Egyptian: Revered by Gypsies

St. Sarah is highly venerated by gypsies. Around the 15th century the nomadic groups from Spain and other regions began annual pilgrimages to the church. In a colorful procession, the gypsies would carry the statue of St. Sarah and immerse it in sea. Modern day pilgrimages honoring St. Sarah take place in May and October. The events are celebrated with horse races, parades of costumed ladies from Arles, and “the running of bulls”, staged by herders from the nearby Camargue. Gypsies march the statue of St. Sarah to the sea.

Gypsy Blessings  

While visiting the Church, I was sighted and stopped by a gypsy woman who pinned a religious symbol on my shirt. Looking straight into my eyes, she placed a finger on my forehead and gave me a blessing. As I thanked her and started to walk away, she stuck out her hand… for an “offering”. When I kept walking, she quickly removed the pin from my shirt. Oh well… guess “blessings” come at a price.

 

More about the Camargue

7 Reasons You Should Go To The Camargue

 

10 replies »

  1. Add to this story that Lazarus (who Jesus raised from the dead) became Bishop of the Christian Church in Marseille, documented by historians of the time. Also Van Gogh did a painting of boats and the sea there when he was living in Arles titled Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer- my wife would say, “my husband the historian”.

    • Yes, I’d heard of Lazarus as Bishop, but not about the place being the site of Van Gogh’s painting. Not surprised. It’s a picturesque place. Hope you’ve been there or planning to go. Looking forward to seeing more paintings by you from France!

  2. Deborah the reruns are just wonderful and keep them coming as it just reinforces my love of the France that I know and especially the south!!!

  3. Terrific, Debby! Mary Magdeline is one of my favorites! Would love to go there when I visit. Had no idea they ended up in France! What a great story

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