The Festival of the Virgen del Carmen

Come to live in Spain and one of the most delightful aspects of life here soon becomes clear – religious festivals are many and varied, and yes, while intricately woven with religious iconography, they are also often cause for celebration and revelry! The Virgen del Carmen festival is no exception.

Old Testament roots
The Virgen del Carmen is the patron saint of fishermen, a belief that can be traced back to the Old Testament. The story goes that the prophet Elijah retreated to a cave on Mount Carmel near Haifa, a coastal town in Israel, where he prayed for rain to relieve a great drought. From here, he observed clouds developing, bringing much-needed rain and interpreted these to mean the arrival of the Saviour who would be born of a Virgin. The community was so grateful for the life-saving rain that it took to praying for the mother of the Saviour to come. It is from this early Hebrew tradition that the later Christian Order of the Carmelites derived.

Making a pilgrimage in Elijah’s footsteps centuries later, hermits travelling by sea would ask for the protection of Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, the Virgen del Carmen, which is how she became the patron saint of fishermen and ‘La Reina de los Mares’.

Modern-day celebrations
While the religious celebration is still very much an integral part of the festivities, this is an enthusiastically observed fiesta, with Queens of the Parade being chosen well in advance and churros with chocolate offered to those in attendance in some towns, while others receive sardinas al espeto.

Marbella, while relying on tourism as an industry, still has a working fishing community and takes this observation seriously. The intricately carved wooden and porcelain statue of the Virgen del Carmen is removed from her year-round resting place on July 16th and paraded through the historic Old Town to La Bajadilla, the town’s fishing port, accompanied by a band and, this year, the mayor of Marbella, Ángeles Muñoz, along with other local dignitaries. White carnations are flung at the procession as it makes its way to the port to receive a blessing. It is a stirring sight to see the statue loaded onto one of the boats at dusk and carried out to sea, surrounded by a flotilla of local fishermen, pleasure boats and, a modern day addition, jet skis.

The water-bound procession reaches Puerto Banús before turning back, lingering only to halt and cast flowers into the water while a blessing is given in memory of fishermen who have lost their lives at sea.

Once again, this is a festival that proves Spain cannot be beaten when it comes to community celebrations. If you would like to make Marbella your permanent home, or just have a base from which to enjoy the fiestas, speak to Residencia Estates.