Finding Mary Magdalene – Blog 5: Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Part, 2: The Procession of Saint Sara

Celice and I awoke in excited anticipation for the day’s events, as if children on Christmas morning.

We quickly readied ourselves for the walk into town. The streets were lined with parked campers and horses stood in stalls awaiting riders.The outskirts of town were calmly buzzing with the hum of gypsy music. As we approached the center of town, we entered the festivities. There, it was packed with people: tourists, gypsies, free spirits, photographers, and those anticipating a little piece of magic.

We followed the music to discover it came from inside the basilica. 11am Mass was under way and the church was packed to the brim, reminiscent of my morning subway commute. Celice and I tried to enter, with no avail.

Suddenly, the service ended and the wall of people broke. People began to flood out of the church and onto the streets, followed by ornately robed priests. Within his orbit a priest administered blessings amongst the oldest and youngest of the crowd, softly touching their foreheads with sincerity and warmth.

Celice and I made our way into the church. The space had a quality of arid lightness to it, similar to that of the churches I remember visiting in Sicily. The church was strewn with various depictions of Saint Sara greeting the Three Marys on the shores of France. A real sense of the feminine spirit was at play in this space.

I found myself meander toward the crypt. I descended the steps, touching my hand along the arched ceiling as I entered the space. A thick wave of moist heat enveloped me. Votive candles baring Saint Sara’s image lined the cavernous wall. The crowd of people pushed forward into the furthest-most right corner of the crypt. The ceiling was low and the temperature stifling. I lit my candle and began a quiet prayer for Saint Sara. The move toward her was a dance – or more like a shuffle – with people moving in and out. Eventually, I heard the cries of the people in the back, “Advance! Advance!”

Steps away from Saint Sara, I pulled out my camera in time to snap a few shots of pilgrims touch their hand to Saint Sara’s face…And then, my turn. I gently placed my hand upon Sara’s anjachakra, or third-eye chakra, and then over her heart. Closing my eyes, I then placed that same hand over my own heart. I prayed that Saint Sara would deliver me a message of meaning or purpose to my life. Or at least to assure me that my search for Her, the Divine Feminine, was not in vain.

Thanking Her, I quickly left the crowded underworld for the fresh air above ground. Natural light hit my face and I found Celice, calmly preparing herself for the descent into the crypt.

I sat in meditation on the stone floor for some time. Hundreds of people meandered by, approaching Saint Sara in the crypt below for their turn at a blessing.

Reunited, Celice and I gradually made our way to the shore, resting on the sand, waiting for the event of the day.

Crowds began to gather on the rocky breeches that overlooked the center of the ritual activity. Celice and I hurried to find the perfect vantage point. Minutes streched into eternity as we waited for the procession of Saint Sara. At last, the procession approached the shore. Celice and I preened our necks to catch a sight, any sight! “Alas,” I thought to myself, “perhaps I’ll see a splash from her dive in the Mediterranean.” Disappointed, I resigned myself to being a far observer of the main event.

Suddenly, I heard Celice call out to me, “Anna, follow me! We did not come all this way not to see Her.” We weaved our way through the crowd to find an opening along the sand. Swarms of people pushed me this way and that as Celice and I continued to move ourselves closer to the shore. Miraculously, we broke through and found ourselves at full view of the procession. The Priest came through, followed by several more clergy. And then, there she was: The Black Madonna–Saint Sara, adorned in white, and held high above the crowds, for all to admire.

We furiously snapped photos as she passed by. There was a commotion in the crowd as the procession suddenly turned about face. The satute of Saint Sara had been submerged in the Mediterranean and would now make her return to the crypt within the basilica. The crowds pushed and shoved as a throng of men atop white horses came out of the water and lead the procession back into town. Celice and I found ourselves as if a two-person island, surrounded on all sides by beautiful white horses. And then, as quickly as it had begun, the procession receded. My head spun as I tried to process what has just taken place.

Celice looked at me, a smile spreading across her face, and said, “See, I told you. We couldn’t stay on that rock. Sara was calling us.”

That night held laughter, music, and dancing. We played and listened, losing ourselves in the passion of the place and the people. But little did I know that Saint Sara was not quite done with me.