Finding Mary Magdalene – Blog 4: Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, Part 1: The Gypsy Festival of Les Maries

As legend has it, Mary Magdalene arrived on the shores of Gaul with Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe and possibly Joseph of Armithea. The mystery and intrigue of this legend involves a woman named Sarah. Some claim she was native to Gaul and greeted the party fleeing the Roman Empire, while others say she arrived on the boat with the Marys; either an Egyptian handmaiden to Mary, or better yet, the secret daughter of Jesus and Mary.

Either way, Sarah has become the Patron Saint of gypsies the world round. So, I decided to head to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer for the annual gypsy festival honoring Sainte Sarah.

Les Saintes Maries de la Mer is a tiny beach town in the Camargue region of France; a national park of long green grass and canals accommodating migratory birds from Africa. The feel is somewhere between American west, Spanish Conquistador, and Old-World gypsy.

But before I found myself in Les Maries, I first had to find a way to get there from Arles (Another Exquisitely BEAUTIFUL town in France). So, I made my way to the tourist office and started a conversion with another woman looking to get to the festival. As it turns out, Celice, a Venezuelan national, was also on a Pilgrimage. Hers revolved around the Camino de Santiago in Spain, but overlapped with my pilgrimage at this festival. We became fast friends. In fact, we were inseparable for those few days. And she became my angel.

Celice and I found the bus (super easy and way cheap) to Les Maries. We chatted the whole time about our experiences thus far and all we hoped would happen at the festival.

As the bus approached our destination, it turned out that our hotels were right next to one another. (Kind of strange for a small town with several hotels). I laughed, calling it incredible. She told me she stopped seeing our meeting and similarities as coincidences, but as something more predestined. I walked her to her hotel first, and made a plan to meet her in two hours. But she insisted on walking me to my hotel as well.

The moments that followed were very telling of what would come: My hotel had never received my reservation and down payment from the third party I booked through. And to top it off, they were completely booked for the festival. Celice, in her fashion, said, “No problem, she’s staying with me.” In disbelief, I gladly accepted the offer.

My ex-hotel invited us to take part in a private dinner/flamenco show that night. We arrived amongst the other colorful guests and were seduced by the home-cooked food and soulful gypsy music from Spain. Gypsies from the crowd (including a family from Brazil), danced and sang, as we shared wine and a love for this passionate music.

Full of a dangerous mix of exhaustion and anticipation for the culminating gypsy event the follow day, The Procession of Sainte Sarah into the sea, Celice and I returned to the hotel, hardly able to sleep a wink. Me, thanking my guardian angels for the new friend and angel they sent my way.