|Author, Pat Middleton
continues her journey to find great waterway cruises for greatriver.com
The Rhone River Delta
Map of the Rhone River Delta
Gypsies of the
by Pat Middleton ©
Part 3 of 5
Anyone who has read, "Bury Me Standing," the best-selling gypsy
history will find a treasure of living history in the gypsy culture of Stes.
Maries-de-la-Mer. The gypsies have a long history in Europe. It is estimated that they left
India as a group of nomads around 900 a.d. reaching Persia
in 950 and Petit Egypt 1230. By 1370 the gypsies, or GITANs as they are
called in France, were totally enslaved in Romania. They arrived in Stes.
Maries-de-la-Mer in 1438 and Spain in 1539. While most of the family groups
still speak a mix of Romanian and Sanskrit, those from Spain speak Spanish --
the Catholics cut out their tongues during the Inquisition so they couldn’t
museum along the Route d'Arles--Le Musee des Roulottes-- is a
private collection of seven or eight traditional wagons, the use of which
dates back some 400 years. The self-guided tour showcases such amenities
as marble fireplace, wood stove, and fine
furniture. There is a shepherd's wagon, quite small, where one can barely stand up.
It has a closet-style bed, a wood stove and a hand carved wooden door. Another
features lace curtains, with lace accents throughout and gas lights.
Typically, the gypsies were travelers, with the family names of Tinker, Tartar
or Traveler in Ireland and England. White-skinned Europeans were called Voyeurs,
Gitans in France or Spain, Tzigane in Romania. They might be jugglers, trapeze
artists, puppeteers, or train animals for the circus. In France many gypsies are still circus people.
A miniature 3-ring circus model in one museum wagon took 6
years to complete.
The museum curator was a man with a passion. I was reminded of how few private
museums one finds now in the US. He was sorry to see the wagon era end. These
were true gypsies he explained. " Now," he sighed, " its just young kids coming in trailers and
motor homes to party."
converge upon Stes Maries-de-la-Mer during the annual May pilgrimage. This
culture, much maligned, is seldom welcomed to great cathedrals and
law-abiding communities. Yet in Les Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer they are welcomed to the
9th century fortified Romanesque church and the St. Sarah
Crypt. Sarah, the patron saint of the gypsy
culture, was the housemaid for Mary-Jacobe and Mary-Salome and Lazarus.
According to local legend, when the Maries and Lazarus were sent out
to sea in a small boat during the persecution of Christians by the Jews, they
left Sarah behind. She cried out and one of the Mary's threw her coat onto the
water. Sara stepped onto the coat and it bore her to the boat.
The little community of faith landed safely on the shore at the present
Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer from which Lazarus made his way to Marseilles to
evangelize and the Marys stayed in the area between Taracson/Arles and the
Camargue. The 9th century church was built to accommodate pilgrims visiting the
shrine at the site where the Marys were buried. Recent excavations of the crypt indicate that,
indeed, the bones are those of an Egyptian woman from about the 1st century.
An elaborate gypsy festival and pilgrimage is held about the 3rd weekend in
May. Gypsy families from around the world make their way to Stes Maries-de-la-Mer
for Baptisms, family reunions, and other events. Everywhere are the
bejeweled women in long, colorful skirts, full white blouses, and kerchiefs. The
gold leaf statues of Sara and the Maries are carried again to the sea for
prayers and veneration.
Continue, part 4 of 5
"Birding in the Camargue"