Spain's Romería del Roció is uniquely Andalusian, taking place at Whitsun every year. Photography by Ben Pipe
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Andalusians join the pilgrimage to the town of El Roció near Sevilla to pay tribute to the Virgin del Roció. The statue of the Holy Virgin dates back at least to the early 14th century, when a hunter from Villamanrique discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary in a tree trunk in what is now the Doñana National Park. A chapel was built where the tree stood, and it became a place of pilgrimage: the Romería was established by the mid 1600’s. Initially a local affair, the fame of the Virgin of El Roció has grown over the centuries and people now come from all over Spain to join the moveable fiesta at Pentecost (or Whitsun). Photographer Ben Pipe tells us more about this traditional Spanish festival.
“..without much knowledge of what goes on, we pulled into the dusty car park on the outskirts of El Rocio and made our way into town. It felt like walking into the set of a spaghetti western film, which wouldn’t be unremarkable since the movies by Sergio Leone movies were shot in southern Spain as a cheaper alternative to south west USA. The roads into the town of El Roció had been sanded for horses, and outside every bar were posts for tethering the animals. Everywhere, people were dressed in traditional Andalusian clothing - broad brimmed hats and traje corto (dark trousers, leather chaps and boots) for men, flamenco dresses for women. They gathered in their fraternities - each village, town or city had its own place to eat and drink together for the holy weekend.
People begin their pilgrimage to El Roció the week before Pentecost, and many still do it the traditional way - on horseback or in a covered wagon adorned with flowers, pulled by horse or oxen. They bring their own local Virgin shrine on her simpecado (float), which they park at their Holy Brotherhood’s chapel. To great fanfare, the virgin is brought out of her church in the early hours of Pentecost Monday by the Almonte Hermandad and is paraded around the town, visiting all of the hermandades’ chapels for the rest of the day.
As dusk fell, the celebration and drinking got louder, more boisterous, but the Romería was always a friendly place to be, even for gringos like us. Now we just had to remember where we'd left the hire car...”