THE VIRGEN DEL CARMEN
(QUEEN OF THE SEA)
Religious Virgins are particularly popular in Andalusia. Statues of the Virgin are usually handmade from wood and porcelain, elaborately gowned and bejewelled, and spend most of the year in alcoves of the local church. However, for special occasions, especially Holy Week, these statues are carried through the streets on elaborate thrones. The processions are organised by local brotherhoods.
The Virgen del Carmen, also known as La Reina del Mar (Queen of the Sea) is the patron of mariners and fishermen and assumes great importance on her special day. On the evening of July 16th, fishing towns and villages along the Mediterranean coast take the Virgin in procession (accompanied by civic dignitaries and a band) through the streets and finally onto the beach and into the sea – a tricky manoeuvre when there are strong waves or the beach is rocky! Prayers are then said for all who go to sea.
Crowds follow the procession onto the beach, where more crowds are waiting (many of them set to make a night of it with a barbecue party on the beach). Also waiting are the local fishing fleet and a flotilla of other boats, both working and pleasure, floating close inshore, densely packed with their crews and family and friends (and crates of beer), sounding their horns and sending up rockets and fireworks while they await the Virgin’s arrival. At this point, the Virgin is usually placed on board a flower-adorned boat – another tricky operation – and sailed between the waiting ships in order to bless them.
It was once believed the sea was unfit for swimming in until after July 16th, after the Virgin had purified it. Nowadays, even some scuba-diving clubs have adopted the Virgen del Carmen as their patron, and, on Her special day, they place in image of their Virgin on the seabed.
Many towns hold similar ceremonies, including Almería, Nerja, Torremolinos, La Cala and Rincón de la Victoria – both near Málaga, San Pedro de Alcántara, Estepona … too many to list!