As a personal tribute to Marbella Town´s fishing community, some of whom I´ve gradually got to know over the past year since writing my first blog post about the fishing port, I decided to join in the various ceremonies and processions that are held throughout the day of the 16th July, honouring the Virgen del Carmen, Marbella´s beloved patron saint and protector of all sailors and fishermen….
My day began with a cycle down to El Cable beach just east of the fishing port, which I reached just after 8 a.m. A crowd of celebrants gathered around a stage that had been set up by the shore, where the effigy of the Virgen del Carmen on her white flower bedecked throne had been placed, after being carried in procession from the main church in the Old Town.
A small group of women sang folkloric songs of praise accompanied by a Spanish guitar, while the attending clergy performed a simple religious ceremony, lauding the hard work of Marbella’s fishermen who go out in all weathers to earn their daily bread and invoking the Virgen del Carmen to protect them and their livelihoods. And in the background, the sounds of the tumbling waves, seagulls soaring high above, the endless horizon before us, as we stood there as one, irrespective of creed, our bare feet buried in the sand.
Once the Mass had concluded, the throne was carried into the sea for the Virgin to bless Marbella´s fishing grounds. There was something very special about being able to follow the bearers of this weighty silver throne of the “Queen of the Seas” into the water and witness the pride on their faces close up as they heaved the throne high above their heads to the cries of “Viva la Virgen del Carmen!”
The throne was then carried back to the stage and the worshipers filed past bearing bunches of white carnations and touching the lace hem of the Virgin´s dress while asking for her blessing .
I helped an old lady with a stick to walk over the sand to the beach entrance and joined her for the traditional free breakfast that was being served there to the congregation of churros (fritters) and hot chocolate, before heading back home.
On the next stage of my particular pilgrimage, I headed back to the fishing port at 5.30pm, where the owner of the fishermen’s bar had arranged for me to join the crew and families on one of the festooned trawlers that was to form part of the traditional sea parade; when pleasure craft and fishing boats of all sizes escort the boat bearing the effigy of the Virgin to Puerto Banús, returning to the Leisure Harbour, where she is carried in a final colourful fishing-themed costumed procession through the streets of Marbella.
Mother Nature had other plans however, and by 6.30 p.m a fresh Levante wind was blowing a mini gale. A port official announced that the traditional sea parade to Puerto Banús was cancelled and that only a couple of craft would be allowed to escort the Virgen del Carmen on her now shortened journey to the Leisure Harbour for arrival there at 9 p.m. And so I cycled home again for a freshen-up…
As I walked along the promenade a short time later, the crowds and procession participants were gradually gathering near the leisure harbour entrance in anticipation of the much awaited disembarkation ceremony and procession.
I got to the fishing port just in time to fall in step behind the small gathering of fishing folk that followed the brass band with drums a-booming and trumpets a-blaring as they escorted the Virgen del Carmen´s throne bearers to the docking area just past the Fish Market. After a short religious ceremony to bless the fishing boats, the throne was loaded onto a boat and the “Queen of the Seas” headed out with her faithful crew of throne bearers from the Brotherhood of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, to be met by the waiting crowds at the leisure harbour.
After dropping off a bottle of wine for my fishermen friends at Bar Los Pescadores and wishing them an abundance of fish in their fishing grounds after a 6 month period of scarcity this year, I made my way back to the leisure harbour. I stopped off for a chat with a couple of the residents of the fishermen’s cottages and realising I had probably missed the arrival ceremony, decided to head back home along Marbella’s high street, Ricardo Soriano, to avoid the crowds that were no doubt still gathered along the promenade.
I was surprised to find that the traffic was cut off and that the procession had yet to make its way down the length of this street before heading into the Old Town for a Midnight Mass in the Encarnación church.
And so I joined the crowds lining the street and watched the long procession file past:- brass bands, groups of small children carrying baskets filled with shells while others held the edges of spread-open fishing nets, a group of elegantly clad lace mantilla wearers and other traditionally costumed groups. As the woman standing next to me explained, with the Virgen del Carmen being one of the patron saints of Marbella, all the religious Brotherhoods have to be represented in one form or another, which is why it was such a long procession compared to others. “We´re from the Sea,” she said simply, “and everyone from the pueblo wants to take part.”
As the effigy of the Virgen del Carmen came into view there were shouts of “Guapa, guapa y Guapa!” (beautiful) from the crowds, as she made her way slowly “home” – as did I, weary but with a happy heart at having joined in some of the lesser-known celebrations in honour of Marbella´s patron saint and the protector of the town´s fishermen.
(Text and photos: Liz Glazer)
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