It is May in the south of France in the town of Saintes Maries de la Mer. The weather is superb, and I can smell the thick curls of frankincense and myrrh on the gentle lavender-scented air, hear the chapel bells and strum of guitars, and taste the special boat-shaped breads and cookies, called les navettes, that the bakeries make to commemorate the arrival of the Magdalene to the Camargue and to celebrate Sara, the patron saint of gypsies. In my mind, I recall the traditional prayer to Sara la Kali, the patron saint of the gypsy people:
Sara Le Kali / Sara the Black photo at Alimojo
Sara, patron saint of travelers and gypsies the world over,
you who lived in this region of Saintes Maries de la Mer.
You came from a far-away country from across the seas.
I love to come and find you here, to tell you all that I have in my heart
and in you confide my sorrows and joys.
I pray to you for everyone in my family and all my friends.
Sara, come to me.
Photo from Walter 999
For most of the people throughout Languedoc, Camargue, Bouches du Rhône, and la Provençe, the question of Marie Madeleine in France is not even worth asking. "C’est sûr," they will tell you. Yes, indeed, this is where the Magdalene fled after leaving the Holy Land.
The question some are more hesitant to answer is that of whether or not she carried the Davidian bloodline, the ancestral father-line of Jesus, in her womb when she got here. Thus, we have the story of The Magdalene as Holy Grail, carrier of the sangraal or "royal blood" of future French kings.
Photo of Gypsy Caravan by Emma Bradshaw
By most accounts, Marie-Jacobé and Marie-Salomé (not biblical figures) accompanied the Magdalene in her voyage to Saintes Maries de la Mer, and hence the town name. Other accounts give the landing party as Martha and Lazarus—her sister and brother—and Mary of Bethany, who is often conflated with the Magdalene.
In at least one rendition of the story, it was Sara the Egyptian who greeted the boat at the shore. But other accounts say that Sara was a servant who accompanied them on the journey while still others regarded Sara as the actual daughter of Mary Magdalene.
Inside a Gypsy Caravan via Skhona Hem
In any event, this is the same Sara venerated by the Roma people, often called gypsies, who come from far and wide to celebrate her as Sara la Kali, which translated means Sara the Dark One. She is their patron Saint, although not a Catholic one, and they honor her in pilgrimage every year.
Sara, a dark-skinned woman may also be an avatar of Egyptian Isis. As an avatar, or divine representative on Earth, a dark-skinned woman and goddess come together in her in a confluence of myth and symbol. Her statue is dark, as her name attests. During her festival, those who seek her healing and blessings come to touch her skirts, put scarves around her neck, offer flowers, light candles, and give thanks for miracles and prayers answered in the preceding years. Through her, the Magdalene, a pagan goddess, and Black Madonna are related.
also from Apartment Therapy
Even the crown that sits upon her head holds a symbolic key to revealing the union within her of pre-patriarchal tradition and contemporary Mariology. In it rests thirteen pearls, the number itself recalling the lunar round, and the pearl both Aphrodite’s and Mary’s sacred gem.
Bunting from Giggleberry
Sara's veneration by the Roma, who have origins in India, and indeed the very name they call her, Sara la Kali, make the connection to the Eastern goddess Kali much more explicit. Even her ritual bathing in the ocean at the culmination of festivities make her worship akin to that of the goddesses of the Hindu East who are taken to be immersed in the Ganges River, or other waters in proximity to the temple, after puja rites are performed during the major holy days.
Crocheted Skirt from Sub Rosa 123
I’m grateful for the ‘religious’ experiences I have had. There is such beauty in ritual - in the sounds of prayer, chanting, music, in the scents – the smell of frankincense always uplifts me, the sight of beautiful churches and icons, the quiet reverence, and the sense of community.
Vintage Handbag from The Playpen
I don't follow a set religion believing in the equity of all beliefs but even in this I've had to come to an understanding that my view is one reality and not ‘the’ reality, superior to others.
Sources: Geocities, Wikipedia, Maabatakali