Last weekend (June 21st - 22nd) was the Summer Solstice and we were due to attend a celebration in the Palacio del Acebrón, Doñana (see above). As this is about 200km by road from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, we decided to overnight in the nearby village of El Rocío.
Now, this is a really weird place, a virtual ghost town built on sand dunes with no metalled roads. So what is it all about, then? The village of El Rocío has sprung up around a hermitage that is home to the statue of Nuestra Señora del Rocío, Our - or better, Their - Lady of the Dew, aka La Blanca Paloma, or the White Pigeon; there is no word in Spanish for dove. Many of us of a certain age might remember the disgraced Jonathan King's version of Una Paloma Blanca, although I much prefer the Wurzels' parody. In Christian symbology, the dove represents the Holy Spirit, which makes this statue's soubriquet quite unique in Christian idolatry.
Legend had it that some local peasants found a statue of the simpering White Pigeon in themarshes. This "miracle" was happening all around Spain at the time as wily priests tried to keep their flocks happy by giving them their own Our Lady of... statue - a bit like when football clubs get the occasional Brazilian player (the players are occasional; their performance, at best, rather erratic) to keep up their fans' interest. But I digress. As they started to lug the statue back to Almonte, their local town, miraculously it got progressively heavier until they had to abandon it and go home for the night. Is it any surprise that an unwieldy lump of wood gets heavier as you carry it through marshland - especially after a hard day's work? When they returned the following day, Lo! The White Pigeon was back in its original place! This to-ing and fro-ing was kept up for a few days until the priest, probably mighty tired of trundling the statue back to where he had hidden it in the first place night after night in his handcart, decreed that the White Pigeon wanted to stay where it was and that a hermitage had to be built on that very site - probably his "nephew" owned the plot. And thus it was.
At home with the White Pigeon. Note the
austere Christian simplicity of the
|One of the 23 horses to die during the 2013 party. Photo courtesy of |
The El Rocío pilgrimage is now one of the world's largest and there are many confraternities dedicated to the White Pigeon throughout Spain. Each year roughly one million "pilgrims" make their way to the village on foot, horseback, air-conditioned luxury SUV etc., taking one of three recognised routes. The torments and constant sacrifices of this week-long journey are leavened by nightly parties - true Bacchanalia involving sex, drugs, croquette-sized mosquitoes and migraine-inducing Flamenco. Luckily for the participants, the sins of the journey are washed clean by the mass on Sunday.
In the village, there is plenty of space for the rich and ostentatious to prance their horses around. Many of these horses die of exhaustion and are left to bloat and rot in the streets. A sacrifice to the mother of the god of love.
But for the 4x4s, Clint Eastwood
wouldn't look out of place in
Anyhow, we reserved a room in a pension for €46. During the pilgrimage it costs €500! After we had unpacked we went for a trudge through the sandy streets where we saw hundreds, literally hundreds, of houses that lie unoccupied more than 300 days of the year. We also saw the cofraternities' houses - if such a term can be used for these enormous buildings, some of which occupy a whole block.
As we can see from the various pictures, this village is a wonderful example of the how Christianity has become corrupt - at least as far as the Roman sect goes. Where now humility, lack of ostentation, wallet-busting charity? The cofraternities often boast of their charitable works. If they were truly charitable, and if the private householders were truly Christian and worthy of the status of pilgrim, they would put their property to better use - summer residences for underprivileged children for example? Better still, they could sell off these highly desirable holiday residences and open soup kitchens for the needy poor of their own cities. They could even - Lord preserve us! - offer up their greatest sacrifice; forgoing their pilgrimage and employing the money saved and the time gained to help the poorer citizens that surround them in their daily lives.
A view along the street to two more cofrat houses.
Hippy squatters take note: you have a whole village to
occupy and do your "alternative" stuff in while leeching
off the capitalist society that you so noisily reject.
Such hypocrisy. It makes my blood boil!