Pilgrimage to El Rocio

A whole week passed with hardly any sleep and yet with this joyful atmosphere one didn’t feel the exhaustion. Energy seemed to seep in from everywhere and so did the wine while couples responded to the beats of sevillanas, rumbas and Rocieras, the typical flamenco style songs of the Rocero pilgrimage.

The more religious individuals gather normally around the casetas of their respective hermandades (brotherhoods) and go around carrying their own virgins and standards around the place.

And time passes unnoticed. No one wants to miss the fun. Tomorrow is another day.

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Carrying the virgins
Rocero pilgrims Flamenco dancing
Standard bearing pilgrims

And when tomorrow finally comes the whole scenario starts over again. In fact nothing starts again because nothing ever stops in the first place. Eating, drinking and dancing continue unabated and strangely enough, the more you see of it the more you want to see. The inevitable indulgence in the spirit of this saga is reminiscent of the transitional state of the whirling dervish. Worldly feelings yield to a sort of serene spiritual aura where time and place become irrelevant.

Five days and five nights have now gone by with no sleep except for some stolen moments when the other members of the group get lost in the crowds and one could slip away and drowse for a little while until one is discovered and the drums begin beating over one’s head.

Finally the moment comes in the early hours of Pentecost Monday when the Virgin del Rocio (Virgin of the Dew) is finally brought out of her church to make her rounds in the village.

The tension engendered by a whole week of emotional escalation finally gives in when the Virgin appears at the entrance of her church and the silence of the patiently waiting crowds turns into roaring clamors: Guapa, Guapa, Viva la Paloma Blanca (beautiful white dove), and the hustle becomes uncomfortably rough as everyone tries to force their way towards the float housing the Virgin del Rocio hoping to be able to touch it in adoration. A leader goes in front to direct those carrying the float and signal the moment to change the members of the exhausted teams who traditionally belong to the Almonte Hermandada.

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Virgin del Rocio is finally brought out of her church
Float of the Virgin del Rocio

While doing the rounds in the village each Hermandada (brotherhood) visited receives the recognition it deserves: the ones with a good record of compliance with the religious traditions during the previous year get the face of the Virgin and those with a bad record get her back.

All this while the Rocieros follow the procession chanting, singing psalms and praising the Virgin until she is brought back to her church in the early hours of the next day.  And with the return of the Virgin to her church the romeria is complete and the exhausted crowds reluctantly start dispersing and getting ready for the journey back home.

The journey back home went in silence. Nostalgia was already setting in. Even now, after so many years, nostalgia for this extraordinary experience and the friends we made there is still gnawing.

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