Romería Del Rocío in Spain: A Traditional Religious Pilgrimage
Every year, a traditional religious pilgrimage takes place in the countryside of Almonte, in the southern Spanish province of Huelva, Andalucía. Thousands of people travel to the Hermitage of El Rocío in a form of pilgrimage or procession, which is known as The Romería del Rocío.
Romería del Rocío is Spain’s most important religious celebration and it attracts over a million visitors every year during the weekend before Pentecost Monday and exactly 50 days following Easter.
The word romería comes from romero, a name that designates the pilgrims who went to Rome, and by extension, to any sanctuary.
The pilgrimages go back to the most remote antiquity. The Jews gathered or went on a pilgrimage to the place where the tabernacle was located.
Since the third century AD, Christians have participated in pilgrimages to visit the tombs of the martyrs. The Holy Land was for long the pious object of these voyages, which no doubt originated during the Crusades. Our Lady of Loreto and Santiago in Galicia were the sanctuaries mainly visited by pilgrims, romeros or palmeros, who left behind authentic testimonies of their piety.
In our times, a large number of pilgrimages continue to be celebrated in Spain, France and Italy, reserving the name of pilgrimages to those whose purpose is to visit the Pope.
Hermitage of El Rocío
Like every religious mystery, the Romeria del Rocio has its own legend. According to the tale, in the 13th century, a hunter from Almonte stumbled upon a picture of La Blanca Paloma (also known as the White Dove), the Virgin. The man attempted to carry the effigy home but found that whenever he paused to rest, the Virgin would disappear and reappear in the marshy tree where she was first discovered.
The Ermita del Rocio was initially constructed between 1280 and 1285 at the very location of the tree. The name “White Dove” is derived from the peculiar fact that it symbolizes the Holy Spirit’s descent on the Virgin Mary and the Apostles.
According to historical chronicles, King Alfonso X of Castile (also known as Alfonso the Wise) visited the site in 1270 and commissioned the construction of a hermitage devoted to the Virgin Mary. This site was known as Las Rocinas and had recently been recaptured from the Muslims who still held control over much of southern Spain during that time.
The statue of Our Lady of El Rocío is undoubtedly connected to the construction of the building. However, the exact date and origin of the statue are still a matter of dispute among scholars and historians.
The wooden statue of the Virgin is housed within the immense Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de El Rocío, also known as the Ermita. Devotees believe that the statue possesses the ability to aid in the treatment of infertility, mental disorders, and other illnesses.
Following the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the church was destroyed but rebuilt from scratch in 1964. It was designed as a tribute to Nuestra Señora del Rocío and attracts pilgrims from over 90 brotherhoods. The main altar of the church features a small wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The devotions were originally very parochial affairs but, over the centuries, they became more widespread firstly as people started to return home to Andalucía and then as more and more pilgrims came with them.
The Rocio Festival is a distinctive event that occurs in Andalusia, Spain, and is one of the most massive pilgrimage destinations in the world. The shrine of Nuestra Señora de El Rocio is regarded as the most important Catholic shrine in Spain.
Every May and June, thousands of rocieros (pilgrims) journey to Almonte from various parts of Spain and around Europe. On their way, they sing hymns and chants devoted to the Virgin El Rocío. Upon arrival at the shrine, rocieros pay homage to their patron saint with festive processions and prayers.
There are two main parts to the Rocio Festival, first the pilgrimage that starts several days prior and next the actual religious festival which takes place in Almonte.
On their journey to El Rocio, a large number of people from different parts of Andalusia choose to travel in the same way as pilgrims did 300 years ago. They move slowly along small roads and country lanes in ox-drawn carts decorated in gipsy fashion as they cross the western part of Andalusia.
Others cover the more time-consuming parts of the route by attaching their wagons to the backs of four-wheel drive vehicles or tractors on the highway. This allows them to save a significant amount of time.
The Rocieros, or pilgrims, arrive on Friday or Saturday morning with horses, wagons, and ornate flower-adorned carriages designed to transport the silver and gold Madonnas to the Ermita. The women often wear vibrant flamenco-style dresses while their male counterparts sport short riding jackets, known as traje corto, and wide-brimmed boleros.
The pilgrims proceed in colourful processions accompanied by music bands and fireworks. Along the way, many smaller-scale Romerias also take place at nearby shrines dedicated to Our Lady of El Rocio.
Each confraternity journeys to the village of El Rocio where they will place their emblem on the shrine in a ceremony known as the Almonte Rosary ceremony. They arrive on Friday before Pentecost Monday.
Traditionally, first-time pilgrims will be baptized when they arrive at Almonte by dipping their hats in the water and pouring water on themselves.
The Sunday Mass
The Rocio Festival is a blend of Catholic and pagan traditions and is attended by locals and visitors alike. The festivities include a mass on Sunday and a candlelit Rosary prayer by all the pilgrims in the evening.
The highlight of the celebration is when the Immaculate Conception Emblem is taken to the shrine and the statue of the Virgin El Rocio is carried through the streets of the village on Monday morning.
The festival reaches its peak during the early hours of Monday morning when the statue of the Virgin is taken from the church and paraded through the town. Despite the frenzied passing of the statue between all the brotherhoods, it’s remarkable how it has managed to survive for so long.
The procession continues until evening with throngs of devotees chanting, clapping, and playing drums, tambourines, flutes, and guitars. Firecrackers explode in the background as the crowd shouts “Viva la Reina de la Marisima” – “Long live the Queen of the Marshland.”
The celebration reaches its peak with a distinctive Holy Week ceremony that commemorates the miracle of La Blanca Paloma (The White Dove). This customary festival, known as the “Romería del Rocío” or Pilgrimage to El Rocío, has been observed for centuries.
This culminates the religious aspect of the celebration and the journey home begins, and the village becomes quiet again.
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3 thoughts on “Romería Del Rocío in Spain: A Traditional Religious Pilgrimage Originating in 3rd Century AD”
It fills me with joy to see that there are many people who participate in these religious activities, to see young people who are going to continue with the traditions, the Rocío Pilgrimage is one of the most important Christian traditions in Spain.
without a doubt romeria is one of the most beautiful cultures we have in the whole country something fantastic
It says the feast occurs on Pentecost Monday not Pentecost Sunday. It is really a traditional culture they hold it long time future generations will learn from them so i like this tradition.
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