IN IMAGES: Fiesta and fervour at Spain's El Rocío pilgrimage

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
IN IMAGES: Fiesta and fervour at Spain's El Rocío pilgrimage
Pilgrims grapple to touch the effigy of the Rocío Virgin during the annual pilgrimage. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

If there's a tradition that shows how partying and religious devotion are deep-seated in the culture of Spain's southern Andalusia region, that's the 1-million-people pilgrimage and festivities of El Rocío.


La Romería del Rocío is the biggest and most famous of Andalulsia's romerías.

It takes place on the weekend of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday when hundreds of thousands (often closer to a million people) come to take part in the religious celebrations of the Virgin of El Rocío.


During the days before Pentecost, devotees make their way on foot, horseback and in horse-drawn decorated carriages to El Rocío, a hamlet located within the municipality of Almonte in the province of Huelva, around 80 km away from Seville.

Pilgrims of the Triana brotherhood cross the Quema river on their carriages drawn by oxen on their way to the village of El Rocío. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

They come from Huelva, Seville and Cádiz and towns across the region to converge in El Rocío singing traditional flamenco cantos and coplas on the way.

Pilgrims usually take between two and ten days to reach El Rocío. The Brotherhood of Huelva, who have a shorter journey than other pilgrims, take two days to complete the 61.5km journey.

Between 25,000 and 30,000 horses take part in the romería, some of which have controversially died during the pilgrimage over the years due to heat, exhaustion or lack of water.

At night, the travellers strike camps along the route with bonfires, singing, dancing and feasting until the early hours.

A pilgrim places a baby against the effigy of the Rocío Virgin- (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

By Saturday, all the religious brotherhoods meet for a procession to the shrine but it isn't until Monday morning that the statue of the Virgin Mary is taken out of her shrine and paraded through the town.

READ ALSO: 'Mucho arte' - Why do Andalusians say they have a lot of 'art'?


This is done so after hordes of worshippers engage in the "salto de la reja" (jumping of the fence), when around 3am in the morning they actually climb over the altar railings to reach the statue and carry it above their heads.

Pilgrims gather en masse in the main square of El Rocío village. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

El Rocío dates back to the 17th century, resulting from the supposed apparition of the Virgin Mary over an olive tree in Almonte two centuries earlier, as claimed by a local shepherd.

Around 55 percent of Spaniards define themselves as Catholic (down from 91 percent in 1978), evidence that Spain has become less and less traditionally Catholic.

A Rocío pilgrim touches a figure representing the Virgin Mary. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

However, cultural Catholicism is still alive, especially in Andalusia. In other words, andaluces in particular adhere to the cultural traditions of being baptised, doing their first communion, confession, confirmation, and so on, and then maintain a more 'social' relationship with the church by attending Catholic festivals, weddings, funerals, and baptisms but little else.

So despite the apparent religious intensity and superstition that Andalusians display during Holy Week and other centuries-old traditions like El Rocío, they're not necessarily practicing Catholics who go to mass every Sunday, especially the younger generations.

READ MORE: How Catholic are Spaniards nowadays?


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