A float being carried to the sea. :: SUR
This Virgin has been venerated as the Star of the Sea (Stella Maris) ever since the Middle Ages, because at a time when nautical charts had not yet been developed the sailors used to depend on the stars when they were navigating the ocean, and their fear of the immensity of the sea and its dangers led them to entrust themselves to deities and to pray to them for their safety.
According to tradition, the reason the 16th July was chosen was due to St. Simon Stock, a prior general of the Carmelite order. It is said that the Virgin appeared to St. Simon in Cambridge, England, on 16th July 1251 in response to his appeals for help because of the oppression which was being suffered by his Order. The Virgin appeared, carrying a scapular in her hand, and she gave it to him, saying: “Take this scapular; it will be the sign of my fellowship and, for you and for all the Carmelites; whoever dies carrying it will not suffer in the eternal fire”. From then onwards, the image of Our Lady of Carmen has been depicted as carrying Baby Jesus in her arms and holding the scapular, the sign of the Order and all its devotees, conceived as a memorial to all the virtues of the Lady of the Sea.
In Spain in the 17th century, when the festival of the patron saint was already very popular, Antonio Barceló Pont de Terra, a sailor, soldier, Admiral of the Armada and devotee of the Virgen, to whom he commended himself on every voyage, began to urge the sailors in his charge to pray to the Virgen del Carmen and in that way she was progressively adopted as a substitute for the previous patron saint, San Telmo.
Because of its long-standing tradition and its popularity, this festival is celebrated with great joy and devotion along practically the whole coast of the country, but especially so in Andalucía. The custom is that on 16th July the fishermen decorate their boats and sound their sirens in the bay off each town or city. The image of the Virgin, normally a small wooden statue which includes baby Jesus, is taken out of the church or chapel after the Mass and is taken in procession through the streets on a small float. The float is borne by a group of men who have links with the sea and it is carried down to the beach, where the Virgin is put onto a small boat and taken out to sea, accompanied by hundreds of small boats and watched by crowds of people from the shore.
The men who carry the floats wear the traditional costume of Marengos, a name given in Malaga to people who work at sea. It consists of black trousers rolled up to the calf, white shirt, red sash and canvas shoes. The bearers leave their shoes on the shore and walk into the water to put the Virgin onto the boat. As they walk, carnations are given out and a minute’s silence is held in memory of all those who die in the waters of the ocean each year.
In Malaga the boat on which the Virgen del Carmen travels is traditionally the type known as a ‘jábega’, a small fishing boat which is quintessential to the city; its origins are not known with certainty, but it appears to date back to Phoenician times. Its design is characterised by the drawing of an eye on the bow, a mythological symbol which was painted to guide the boat on its way and protect it from tempestuous seas.
In Malaga city, each of the major fishing districts holds its own procession on July 16th. Those in Huelin, El Palo and Pedregalejo are particularly outstanding because of their devotion and heritage.
In this district the celebrations for the patron saint take place over several days in the so-called ‘Fiestas Marineras’. This year will see the ninth edition of this event, which will include the II ‘Luna Marinera’ and a Nasrid Market. From 16th to 20th July there will be stalls selling artisan items and food, music performances and other activities in the Huelin Park, which is on the Antonio Machado seafront promenade.
There will also be summer activities for youngsters, such as model boats and pilot training on the artificial lake, a regatta of ‘jábegas’ and a prize draw in the ‘Shop in Huelin’ campaign.
El Palo and Pedregalejo
The districts of El Palo and Pedregalejo also have very strong links to the sea and its patron saint. They both organise celebrations in honour of the Virgin, including different activities which began on July 5th and will be brought to an end on Sunday 20th with a concert by Javier Ojeda, lead singer with Danza Invisible, accompanied by El Trío del Saco. The different activities include a course in how to cook sardines on canes, music performances and fairground attractions.