Santiago de la Ribera and the fiesta of the Virgen del Carmen
On July 16th the coastal towns of Spain celebrate the fiesta of the Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. If you are near the coast on that day we recommend you join in the festivities. One of our favourite places along the Costa Blanca/Costa Cálida coastline is Santiago de la Ribera in San Javier on the Mar Menor; and, if you know the town, you will find most of their activities for this festival are based along the Explanada Barnuevo.
Virgen del Carmen, or Our Lady of Mount Carmel, is the name given to the Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelite Order. The first Carmelites were hermits living atop Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. It is said that they first emerged after the people of the mountain prayed for rain during a drought in the area. When the rain came, this was seen as a sign of a saviour born by a virgin and so Virgen del Carmen was given thanks and worshipped.
The reason the celebration takes place on the 16th of July is due to an Englishman by the name of Simon Stock, a general of the Carmelite order. Tradition has it that on the 16th of July 1251 a vision of the Virgin appeared to him, presented him with a scapular (a cloth worn by members of a religious order) and spoke the words ‘he who dies in it will be saved’. Over time, Virgen del Carmen became associated with the title ‘Star of the Sea’ because the cloud that brought the rainfall that ended the drought first appeared over the Mediterranean Sea. This subsequently became of significance to sailors using stars to navigate and so the Virgin was adopted as the patron saint of those at sea.
In the days leading up to and following the 16th, a number of different events are held on the Explanada Barnuevo in Santiago de la Ribera, particularly musical performances from local bands and choirs. At the time of writing I do not have the 2013 schedule of events but as a guide you will find the 2012 schedule of the Santiago de la Ribera Fiesta of the Virgen del Carmen here. Another good source of information is Murcia Today.
The focal point of the festival is a figure of Virgen del Carmen, a wooden carving kept in the Iglesia of Santiago church in Santiago de la Ribera for the rest of the year and only brought outside of the church for the festival. On the evening of the 16th, after a mass, the figure is paraded around the streets of the Barrio de los Pescadores, the fisherman’s district,. Needless to say, perhaps, the day is rounded off with music, dancing and some drinking.
The first Sunday after the 16th, the Virgen takes part in another procession, this time at sea. The figure is placed onboard a boat draped in flowers that forms the lead in a flotilla of local fishing boats full of cheering crowds. The boats then sail to Lo Pagán, a short distance north, while brass bands play and fireworks pop. A short service is held in honour of those who have perished at sea and flowers thrown into the waves. The Virgen is then returned to Santiago de la Ribera.