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sábado, 18 de mayo de 2013

THE ROCIO PILGRIMAGE

The El Rocío Pilgrimage, one of the biggest in the world and one with the largest crowds, has its origins in the year 1653, when the Virgin of Las Rocinas was appointed Patron Saint of Almonte and it was decided to set aside a feast day for her, which would be on 8th September. In 1758 that date was changed to the "second day of Pentecost" and there was also a change to the Virgin's name, Rocinas, which became Rocío. Furthermore, because of the Holy Spirit connection - the feast being during Pentecost - the Virgin was also given the name of White Dove.
Although the Pilgrimage properly speaking starts on the Saturday, the pilgrims begin this annual event by travelling the pilgrims' trail (which forms part of the whole ritual). This takes a few days, during which time they travel in each others' company, on foot, on horseback or in horse-drawn carriages, sleeping under the stars, until they reach the village.

Many pilgrims say that "El Rocío is travelling the trail" (meaning that travelling the pilgrims' route is the most important part of the pilgrimage) - because during those few days they travel in one another's company, pray, sing, live together as a fraternity, and make their way towards the One for whom they feel such devotion. The duration of the pilgrimage depends on how far the pilgrims' home town or village is from the Almontese village of El Rocío, but it can vary from 1 to 7 days.



Each fraternity-party in the procession is led by a standard bearer carrying the emblem of the Virgin Mary's immaculate conception, and comprises pilgrims on foot and on horseback, horse-drawn and mechanical traction carriages, all-terrain vehicles ... Not only the brothers and sisters of the fraternity travel the pilgrims' trail, but so also do many people who accompany the fraternity on its journey - physical, emotional and spiritual - to the White Dove's village.

Pilgrims usually wear very characteristic, traditional Andalusian costumes: the men a short jacket and tight trousers, suitable for horseriding, and the women a Flamenco costume; or a "bata rociera", which is a simpler version of the former that is suitable for walking or horseriding; or a "falda rociera" (a light, flouncy skirt typically worn on this pilgrimage). And, or course, not forgetting the tall boots, made in one piece.

There are several ways to get to El Rocío: the "Camino de los Llanos" (Plains Way), which is the oldest and starts in Almonte; the Moguer Way, which is the one that most of Huelva's fraternities travel along; the Sanlúcar Way, which crosses the River Guadalquivir at El Bajo de Guía and is the one travelled by the fraternities from Cadiz; and the Seville Way, which is the one used by fraternities who come from or through that province.

After the journey to get there, the pilgrimage begins at 12 noon on the Saturday with the Presentation of the Fraternities, a ceremony which goes on until well into the night, and during which the different fraternities which make the pilgrimage to El Rocío - in reverse order of the number of years since their foundation - pass in front of the Shrine, paying their respects by presenting the Immaculate Conception emblem borne by their standard bearer.

On that same night, at midnight, the Immaculate Conception emblem of the Parent-Fraternity is carried to the Shrine in what is known as the Almonte Rosary ceremony. On the Sunday - Whit Sunday - at 10 a.m. the Pontifical Mass is said in El Real del Rocío, which is next to the Sanctuary, and is where the Virgin was crowned in 1919. That night, the Rosary is prayed; for this purpose, in the warmth coming from the candles, the different fraternities make their way to El Eucaliptal - an immense area of level ground next to El Real del Rocío, which is their gathering-place. From there the Immaculate Conception Emblem of Almonte is born to the Shrine, which is bursting at the seams with people at that time. 
When the Emblem is borne into the Shrine (the timing of which is not known in advance), the Almontese jump the railing to take their Patron Saint out in procession. Protectively surrounded by thousands of pilgrims, the Virgin of El Rocío is carried through the village streets until after midday on the Monday, when she returns to her Shrine, signalling the end of the Pilgrimage.

From this time onwards, the fraternities start on the journey back to their localities and on the countdown to another visit to see the White Dove.

But besides participating in the acts of devotion, in El Rocío the pilgrims sing, dance, eat, drink, have fun... and make a good display of the open, joyful nature of the people of this land.

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