Flamenco in the sands: “El Rocío”

 In Flamenco
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The “El Rocío” pilgrimage is one of the festivities that generates the greatest devotion. On its way, popularly known as “El Rocío”, faith, family and friends and, of course, flamenco are combined.

Normally, this celebration takes place between May and June, specifically on the weekend before Pentecost Monday. This year, the date was set for 29 May to 1 June but due to the health crisis caused by the Covid-19, all the mass celebrations have been suspended.

Would you like to take a look at the history of this festival? Put on your spray boots because we’re starting!

“El Rocío” is a path, a pilgrimage, to a small village of world-wide fame, within the province of Huelva. The name of this place is the same as that of the pilgrimage and comes from the Virgin of El Rocío, whose hermitage is located there.

There is more than one version of the origin and appearance of what is known today as the Virgin of El Rocio. The first dates from the 14th century, when Alfonso X the Wise conquered this area of Andalusia, incorporating the Guadalquivir Marshes into the lands of the Crown and turning it into a hunting reserve. Therefore, the construction of the Sanctuary was ordered and, as usual, the location of a Marian image within it.

The second, much more interesting, is based on a legend and is the one that is popularly transmitted from parents to children. It is said that during the 15th century, a shepherd was in the La Rocina forest, inside the marshes. There, inside a hole in the trunk of an olive tree, he found the image of the Virgin. He took it to the village, however, it seems that the carving always returned to its place of origin.

Since then, it has been venerated as the Virgin of Las Rocinas, in reference to the place where it was found. During the seventeenth century she was proclaimed Patron Saint of Almonte (Huelva), more specifically in 1653.

This date is also symbolic for the locals, since it is said that during this year there was a great drought and, to alleviate it, they asked the Virgin to perform a miracle and bring the rain. After these prayers, it began to rain and the dew fell on the Virgin, and since then she has been called the Virgin of El Rocío.

From this legend, it is also said that the name “Blanca Paloma” (White Dove) comes in reference to the Holy Spirit, the way in which the Virgin interceded to bring the rain.

El Rocio flamenco
Photo by Rocío Fernández.

Tradition and flamenco on the road

Once she was proclaimed Patron Saint of Almonte and with her hermitage erected in an exceptional enclave, the “El Rocío” began to be followed.

There are brotherhoods in different parts of the Spanish geography, and even abroad. In addition to the more than 125 Andalusian ones, those of Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, Ceuta, Murcia, Catalonia, Valencia and even the Balearic Islands stand out. Even in Belgium there is a sisterhood, which was born of Andalusian migrants to this land.

Pilgrimages can be made on foot, on horseback, by car or by carriage, the latter being the most common form. The route crosses the Guadalquivir River between the marshes of Doñana, a privileged environment for the pilgrims.

During the Way, the rocieros dance and sing in reunion of families and friends. Flamenco takes place in every corner of the way, with flamenco singing in moments of greater solemnity, and sevillanas in those of revelry.

In fact, there are styles of flamenco with the name “rociera”, such as “sevillanas rocieras” or “tangos rocieros”. The same happens with the instruments, as the flute or whistle rociero, as well as the drum. The songs of artists like Rocio Jurado or Amigos de Gines are usually the most sung in this festivity.

The conjugation of all this is clearly seen in the “Salve Rociera”, present every day of the pilgrimage and sung during the prayers at the beginning of the day.

Once the pilgrimage arrives at the “Ermita del Rocío” at midnight from Sunday to Monday, the Prayer of the Holy Rosary takes place, at which time all the “simpecados” pass in front of the chapel, closing this passage that belongs to the Hermandad de Almonte.

Finally, the famous “Salto de la reja” takes place, where the devotees of Almonte jump over the fence that protects the Virgin of El Rocío to carry her on their shoulders in the procession through the rosemary enclosure.

Virgin El Rocio Flamenco
Photo by Rocío Fernández.

“El Rocío chico”: tranfer of the Virgin by flamenco and solemnity

The transfer of the Virgen del Rocío, better known as the “Rocío chico”, is celebrated once every 7 years, every 19th of August. The journey takes place from the shrine of the Virgin to her village, Almonte, where she stays for nine months until the eve of her pilgrimage, when she is transferred back to her shrine.

However, due to the current situation, this year the Virgen del Rocío will remain in the village after her last transfer, in August 2019.

The Virgin begins her journey at noon in the village of El Rocío, where the rocieros say goodbye to her and begin their journey to Almonte. She makes a short journey and at 8 pm sharp they put the veil on her, to protect her from the dust of the journey.

During the course of the tour, they pray to her and dedicate all kinds of songs to her, some with a certain flamenco touch. Before dawn, she has to be in the arch of “El Chaparral” for when the first rays of sun are coming out, take off her veil and lower her.

In Andalusia traditions are part of the popular culture and flamenco goes into them. It is an art that accompanies every experience and festivity, be it religious or of any other kind.

If you want to enjoy it, visit our Youtube channel and don’t miss some of our flamenco shows. Olé!

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