It is impossible to describe the Romeria at El Rocio to anyone who hasn’t been here, as the whole experience is completely overwhelming!
If you visit any other time of year other than Pentecost, El Rocio is a large village designed on a grid system town in the Donana National Park, with a huge Church that stands next to the lake where you can see flamingos and other birds. All the unpaved streets are very wide and made of sand, reminiscent of a wild-west ghost town in America, with large empty buildings with rails outside to tie up horses.
However, at Pentecost (7 weeks after Easter), El Rocio bursts into life, with approx 90 Hermandads (Church Brotherhoods) with up to 1 million people descend on the village on their annual pilgrimage. This dates back to the 13th century, when a hunter from the village of Villamanrique (or Almonte), depending on which version of the story you follow) discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary in a tree trunk in the Donana Park. A chapel was built where the tree stood, and it became a place of pilgrimage. Devotion to this particular version of the Virgin was
initially a local affair. Then, by the 17th century, more hermandades
were making the trip from nearby towns at Pentecost; by the 19th century, they came from all over Huelva, Cadiz and Seville, on a journey taking up to four days, long ant-like trails of caravans, horses, tractors and walkers in traditional flamenco dress, all with the intent of paying homage to the Blanco Paloma (white dove) shrine.
Two of the largest Hermandades - Huelva in their decorated caravans pulled by 7 mules, arrive at approx 10.00pm on Friday evening and Triana from Seville in their old decorated ox-drawn carts. arrive about 11.00am on the Saturday morning, crossing the river to the east of the town with the usual prayers, chants and homage. The sandy streets then become swamped with Spanish people, most of them in traditional costumes, 10,000 horses and riders (many couples with the lady riding side-saddle behind her man), a few cars and vans as well as the traditional caravans pulled by 2 oxen.
They then parade the portable shrine (decorated floral cart) around the town visiting each hermandad, and finally presenting themselves to the El Rocio Virgin in the Church. This takes the best
part of 12hrs!
On the Sunday morning there is a huge open air Mass, and on the Sunday evening a candlelit procession where each hermandad presents their Shrine at the Church. At an unspecified time, after this procession has finished, about 3.30am the El Rocio Virgin is carried from the Church by the people of Almonte to the crowd waiting outside. There is then a frenzy of people who want to touch the Virgin who sways and bounces around the crowd in what can only be described as a slightly dangerous situation!! Police and paramedics are on hand, together with a resuscitation unit in case of crush injuries in the huge crowds.
The Virgin is then carried to each Hermandad before returning back to the church, amid the throwing of fresh flowers, at about midday on Monday.
This is the second time we have visited El Rocio and we met up again with the four Spanish people who we had met the first time, as well as a couple of our English friends so was a good little gathering! We all met up at about 3.00pm on the Friday and set up camp in the woods where
we enjoyed the whole Spanish experience of eating and drinking and socialising!
Enjoyed a wonderful garlic gaspacho with apple and raisins, and had a lovely meal of paella on the Saturday lunchtime as well as some 55% Anis from Rute!! Chris made his ensalada rusa (potato salad) for Sunday lunch that went down well, with fresh green salad and cold meats, all washed down with Tinto de Verano and a jug on Gin and Tonic!!
We all wandered into El Rocio on Friday evening where we went to the Almonte Hermandad and were treated to their hospitality of free food and beer. We also saw the Friday night Huelva arrivals and on the Saturday morning walked down to the river to watch Triana arrive with their colourful wagons pulled by the oxen!
More and more people were arriving at the woods and the Van was now surrounded by horses, horseboxes, tents, generators and people all intent on partying with music and dancing adding to the atmosphere.
Saturday evening we watched the processions before going for a beer and watching the world go by before walking back to the woods. Because of all the horses in town
it was a bit like pea soup with all the dust!
On Sunday morning we strolled in to see the Mass and had a ‘relaxing’ afternoon (apart from when a 8” centipede thing crawled over my foot!!) before all going into El Rocio about 11.00pm to have a beer, watch the candlelight procession and wait for the Virgin to come out from the Church and be cast amongst the sea of people! Walked back to the Van after the event and got back at about 4.30am where after about 3hrs sleep we had to break camp! The ground was very sandy and soft so it was quite difficult to get the Van out but with a bit of help we were soon on the dirt track!
Said our farewells to the Spanish people and moved down to the campsite to clean the Van and ourselves before walking back into El Rocio to watch the Virgin returning to the Church after visiting all of the 90 or so Hermidads . Unfortunately, we missed her return, and she was safely back in the Church by the time we got there (oops!!). .... so we then had a ‘quiet’ afternoon chilling
Camping in the woods!
Waiting for the paella to finish cooking!
out! ...except we were camped between two large Spanish families with children who liked banging drums and shouting, and at the back of us was the swimming pool!! Ah well!
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