Every year, in May or June, an extraordinary event happens in Andalucia. Thousands of people – many on horseback or in brightly-coloured wagons (carretas) pulled by oxen – descend on Almonte in the province of Huelva as part of a mass pilgrimage/knees-up. And all because of a metre-high, carved birch statue of the Virgin of El Rocío.
In Seville we stumbled upon a hermandad (brotherhood) – one of many – preparing to leave for the journey ahead (journeys can take up to seven days). Turning a corner in search of breakfast, we were suddenly surrounded by immaculately-dressed adults and children. It was a fabulous sight.
Women wear Flamenco costume or a simpler version of it making it easier to walk or horseride – called a bata rociera – or a falda rociera, a light skirt. Men wear short jackets and sombreros cordobés (wide-brimmed hats).
Similar to many holy sites, the story goes that in the 13th century a shepherd found the statue in a field. His attempts to take it away failed as it returned to its original position (don’t ask, it was a long time ago). A shrine was built and ‘miracles’ happened – sound familiar? There have been three chapels over the years, and today, the statue is housed in one built in in 1961.
The pilgrimage started around 1653, when the Virgin of El Rocío was made patron saint of Almonte. Today, an astonishing one million people take part.
There are several routes; the Camino de los Llanos (Plains Way) which starts in Almonte; the brotherhoods from Huelva travel along the Moguer Way while those from Cádiz the Sanlúcar Way, which crosses the Rio Guadalquivir at El Bajo de Guía. And there’s the Seville Way which the pilgrims we saw would have used.
If you happen to be there at the right time, don’t miss it. See our clip below.
© con jamón 2013