Catholicism in Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Catholicism first reached European shores in what's now tiny Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The stories say that Stes Marie-Salomé and Marie-Jacobé (and some say Mary Magdalene) fled the Holy Land in a little boat and were caught in a storm, drifting at sea until washing ashore here.

Provençal and Catholic lore diverge at this point: Catholicism relates that Sara, patron saint of the gitans (Roma people, also known as gypsies), travelled with the two Marys on the boat. Provençal legend says Sara was already here and was the first person to recognise their holiness. In 1448 skeletal remains said to belong to Sara and the two Marys were found in a crypt in Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Gitans continue to make pilgrimages, Pèlerinage des Gitans, here on 24 and 25 May (often staying for up to three weeks), dancing and playing music in the streets, and parading a statue of Sara through town. The Sunday in October closest to the 22nd sees a second pilgrimage dedicated to the two Stes Maries; courses Camarguaises are also held at this time.