The Gypsy Festival During May in Provence
The South of France
The Gypsy Patron Saint Sarah La Kali, is Honored with a Pilgrimage in May
Gypsies and the Camargue Cowboys on their white horses together to re-enact an intriguing legend of two
Marys related to Christ and their arrival on the shores of the Mediterranean aided by the Gypsy patron Saint
Sara la Kali.
Caravans head for the
Rhone Delta and
Camping in the
Vacation cottages in St. Maries
de la Mere the homes of the
Gardians the "Cowboys" of the
The Gypsy spirit takes over in
the Camargue as campers
head for the tip of the Rhone
Arles is the gateway to
In the vast pastures of
the Camargue the
Gardians raise the
black bulls used in the
bullrings of southern
France and Spain.
During the May Festival, thousands of Gypsies travel to Saintes Maries de
la Mer, population 2,400, to carry the statue of their patron saint from the church
and bring it to the beach. The Gypsies, accompanied by the Gardians on their
white horses, carry the statue of their black Saint into the Mediterranean Sea.
This could be an age old ritual with roots in ancient India where a similar rite is
still practiced. This is a likely connection because, according to some, India is
the place of origin of the Gypsies.
Today, the Gypsies of France still speak a unique language rooted in the
Indo-Aryan family of languages spoken today in the Indian subcontinent. The
gypsies call this language Romani, the language of the Roms.
The Gypsies have, in modern times, adopted the term Rom, the word for man in
their language, in an attempt to unify their culture. This group has carried on few
traditions but the annual pilgrimage to the Camargue town of Saintes Maries de
la Mer is one that has endured. This Gypsy presence in the Camargue at a
Christian church brings more questions because the Gypsies were not likely
Christians when they left India one thousand years ago.
The origin of the Gypsy culture had remained a mystery for centuries. It wasn't
until the application of DNA research that the true homeland of the Gypsies
Language had long been the key. Research by German linguist August Pott in
the mid 1800s postulated an Indian homeland for the Gypsies. He based this on
their Indo-Aryan tongue which he traced to central India. Other researchers
proposed a different theory and claimed that the Gypsies were European people
that adopted the language through trade and subjugation. The trade and slavery
theory was ruled out recently by DNA tests that proved a biological relationship
between the Gypsy people and the people of Central Asia in the border region of
The DNA evidence also showed that one third of all Gypsies are descended from
one patriarch, 40 or so generations ago. The evolution of their language
indicated that their move from India occurred sometime around 1000 AD.
It is not until the 12th century that mention of Gypsies shows up in historical
documents. By then they had entered Spain from France. Once in Spain, they
were forced by law to give up their language and to assimilate, becoming
Spanish-speaking wage earners rather than remaining Romani-speaking mobile
merchants. These attempts to control and assimilate the Gypsy population were
largely successful in Spain. Spanish Gypsies call themselves Gitanos today and
they speak Spanish. Although Gypsies in Spain number nearly one percent of the
population, few Gypsies living in Spain continue to speak the Romani language.
As a point of comparison, in neighboring France, over 250,000 Gypsies still
speak their original Romani.
The name Gypsy is actually a misnomer. The term was applied in the 12th century on the belief that the
Gypsies came from Egypt. Early documents in Spain mention them as Princes and Counts of Little Egypt.
Sarah, an Egyptian slave. The Gypsies still carry on this worship in the Camargue town of St Maries de la
Mer where, during Hellenic times, when the Greeks occupied Provence, there had been an Egyptian temple
at the mouth of the Rhone. These Gypsies from the Rhone Delta eventually entered Spain in the 12th century
by crossing the Pyrenees, south of the Camargue.
There are many mysteries concerning the Gypsy pilgrimage to the Camargue in May to honor this Saint
Sarah as their Patron Saint. Three different legends surround Saint Sarah but in the one most often
cited, she is believed to have accompanied the sister of Christ's mother and Mary Magdalene on a journey
by boat from Israel to the Camargue shortly after the crucifixion. The legend states that they landed at the
Oppidum-Ra, a temple to the sun God Ra located near the village.
The women had been exiled from Jerusalem. Their group included Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobe, the
mother of James the Apostle, Mary Solome, the mother of Apostles James and John, Lazarus the brother of
Mary Magdalene, Martha, a sister of Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, and Sarah, the black servant of
Some of the Gypsies visiting Saints Maries de La Mer will journey from Spain and speak Spanish, while
those arriving from France and other European countries will speak Romani. The Gypsies are Roman
Catholic but are not avid church goers. They have resisted assimilation and for the most part they have
managed to preserve their language in the 42 European countries were they have settled. This is due in
large part to their custom of marrying within their race, often in an arranged marriage. They also will permit a
union between second cousins.
Many dialects of the language exist today and many borrowed words color their speech. The roots of the
language are still identifiably Neo Indo-Aryan, however, and people in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the
Maldives still speak related languages.
Many mysteries remain concerning the Gypsies. Some researchers propose that a small band of soldiers
fled India in the ninth century to wander for the next thousand years. They spread throughout Europe without
a homeland, or a history, and with few traditions. Their language, unwritten until recently, was one of the few
traditions that bound and identified them.
The Gypsy's annual pilgrimage to the Camargue is just one more mystery that surrounds this culture. Their
lack of a written history means that we can only speculate about the Gypsy connection to this festival. In
many other ways, the Gypsy race resists our understanding. Their search for freedom and independence
has lead them into self employment. Their lack of acceptance by other cultures has led them to keep to
themselves and to marry within their race. Their desire to remain separate will continue to keep the Gypsies
Information: Wikipedia, Encarta, l'Office de Tourisme des Saintes Maries de la Mer
The Gypsies return each year to the Rhone River Delta in May to honor their
Patron Saint Sarah. The festival makes a colorful addition to the seaside fishing
The Gypsy pilgrimage to the town of at the edge of the Camargue Mediterranean
is an Saintes Gardians to celebrate history and Gypsy legends.
The Gypsies arrive in Saintes Maries de La Mer during the second half of May.
Festival events take place on the 24th and 25th of May.
Visitors to the Camargue in the South of France during May will see the Gypsies
joined by the Camargue Gardians, men and women from the Camargue famous
for their riding skill with the white Camargue horse.
On the 24th and 25th of May the celebrants will honor three women who, according
to legend, arrived in Provence by boat in the year 40 AD after traveling from
The chapel located below the
church, Notre Dame de la Mer, in
Saintes Maries de la Mer is a
pilgrimage site for Gypsies
events with the
Gardians will take
their ability with the
Camargue horse as
the bring the black
bull into the ring for
The Camargue Gardians herd
the bulls through the streets of a
Provence village on their way to
the bull ring
The statue of Sarah La Kali is worshiped by the Gypsies in the church at Saintes Maries de la Mer on the
Rhone River Delta.
The Gypsy Festival During May in Provence, The South
of France, is celebrated in Saintes Maries de la Mer in
The Gypsy Festival is a Spring event that brings Gypsies
and the Camargue Cowboys together to honor three
women with a connection to Christ.
The festival in the Saintes Maries de La Mer of the Camargue brings
together the Gypsies, the Camargue white horses and the black bulls.
They meet to honor the three Maries related to Christ, the Saintes
Maries de la Mer.
At 4 pm the Gypsies carry the statue of the black St Sarah to the shores of
- May 24th at 10 am the ceremony begins with Mass in the church.
the Mediterranean and submerge the statue of their patron Saint.
Salome are brought to the shore.
- May 25 at 11 am the statues of Saint Mary Jacobe and Saint Mary
Gardians on the white Camargue horses.
- May 26 bulls run through the street escorted by the Camargue
During the afternoon Camargue horse events and Provence bull events
take place to honor the Marquis de Baroncelli, an advocate of
of Events Below
The Camargue Gypsy Festival, Provence, Saintes Maries de la Mer
Gypsy music, bull events, and
religious festival mark the Gypsy
Festival in Provence.
A Spring bull event in
Mouries, north of the
Camargue, sees the
bulls run in the streets
Where is Provence
Provence France Hotels
Provence Sightseeing, Biking
Page Press Ctrl - D
Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Arles
Provence Cooking Vacation
See HomeAway for
family style lodging,
Vacation Villas in
See photos, reviews and Prices
Photos, reviews, weekly rates