Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer: Roma Hotel Mediterranee. A Roma Home

Church of the Three Marys, Notre Dames de la Mer, Saintes Maries de la Mer, France

You are in a religiously significant place.  A heart, literally, of the Roma Christian, Romani, Gitane, tradition that looks to one of the oldest stories, factual or legendary depending on your outlook:  After the Crucifixion, Three Marys, and a Black Sara La Kali, arrived by barge here.  See the barge represented on the top of the church, above.

Where to stay?  This is Roma tradition; retirees and others have joined the community because it is beautiful, but its origins are Romani, Gitane, Gypsy to those beginning a sojourn into the culture. Can you find a flavor of that as you rest your head.

Daytime streets, Saintes Maries de la Mer, France. Hotel Mediterannee, on the left.

Choose your hotel for the culture, the roots. Skip amenities in this town. Stay in a Roma pocket-hotel in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, like Hotel Mediteranee. This street, our hotel street chosen by chance, is lined with converted homes, cafes.

How to choose your accommodation?  Drive to the center of town, or by the sea if that is your preference, and only then look around.

Advance reservations without knowing the area are a disappointment because so many fine, warm places must be passed in order to find your pre-order.  If parking is not feasible in the street that you like, just drive to the public parking. Close enough?  Fine, consider that, park and then walk.

By night, this ordinary neighborhood is alive. There is the

 By day, the little hotel street for Hotel Mediteranee is a neighborhood; by night, later, a culture and a home full of symbols, meaning, a communication.

Sara the Black, Sara la Noire, Sara la Kali, the dark-skinned one accompanying the Three Marys after the Crucifixion, to this place in the South of France, by tradition.

The Gitane, Roma, Romani tradition, put in perspective as a vibrant nomadic culture, with much perspective to offer the others who have diminished, obstructed, and exploited it.  Scapegoat?  Is thy name Roma? How, then, have they survived and thrived?

 A hotel proud, rightfully, of its heritage.  Its value is not in the amenities.  

Try to time your visit to festivals, performances.   That means, for the large pilgrimage celebration, arriving in May, as we did not.  See

In the loo, examine the map.

Broom shapes, domesticity, or mere herbs, hearts, healing, charity. Familiar icons.  Hearth, home, healing, where did the negative occult come from?  Some other institution's agenda to attain dominance, not seek a truth.  Not from here.

In the breakfast couryard.  Family origins, valued by those who have so descended from them. What is this symbolism.  A genealogy.  A cross, the Gitane Cross, the anchor below, leaves branching from the arms of the cross, the peak. The inscription reads, "Cross of Pierre Armenienne de ___?___ XIV Siecle KATCHKAR EN ______________ de Thierry et de la famille ARAKELIAN.

Our hosts?

And more in the stairwell, the history of the religious beliefs of this ancient, exploited, malignantly stereotyped cultural group elsewhere, not here.

Parking is at the beach, where your fine hotel is on a residential one lane street.  Note carefully where you are.  Write down a landmark, or take a photo.  Better yet, put the location on your portable GPS, store it, and use later. We are on the left, finally found.

The beaches are spotless. Raked daily. Don't leave right away.  Go walk.

Not far as you go inland, see the onset of the marshes. The Camargues.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Place de Gitan. Dinner and Night. The Square.

Place de Gitan.
The Square at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

With the Gitano or Roma heritage so strong here, expect to see the traditional and the modern. Outside a patisserie and tea room sits someone ready to talk with you about your life. Find a history of the foreseeing, divinistic skills of Roma through the centuries, and origins, at; now too often reduced to stereotype.  Not at Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer.  A quiet practice, with dignity here.

Food. We thought we had seated ourselves at Romarin, but our too-fast choice turned out to be next door, and Italian.  Never mind.   The Roma music is anywhere.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Roma music.

Roma here may be Cales, or Gitanos, based on the location in Southern France, and this history site,  Our restaurant did not feature the Gipsy Kings, from Arles and Montpellier to the north a little, but the sound, as I recall, was similar.

Shops line the side streets. Hats of the fedora type, vests, fine wear.

Wares closely packed.  Streets like spokes outward.

Early evening.  Sit a spell.

The restaurant for next time.

Le menu.


Night. Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. Church of the Three Marys, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Hush. Look up. The Gitan Cross. Cross Gitane. Romani Cross. Roma Cross. Gitan Cross. All of the above.  This one rests on a plain pedestal.  Others show an anchor form at the base.   Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Simplified Gitane Cross. Romani Cross.  Gitane Square.

The Romani Cross, Roma Cross, Cross Gitane, in full form, with central heart shape, lower anchor, at the Church of the Three Marys.

Heading back to the little, fine hotel.

The church in the background, L'Eglise Des Saintes Maries de la Mer.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. Sara la Kali, the Gypsies, Gitans, the Three Marys

Sara la Kali - Traditions of Faith

Patron Saint of the Roma, or Gypsies
Not the same Roman Catholic Saint Sarah
But another

Visit Saintes Maries de la Mar, where one Sara la Kali is said to have landed with the Three Marys in France:  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, a/k/a Mary Jacob, and Mary Salome.  See The Camargues, at Camargues, Saintes Maries de la Mer.   Salome:  was this the same Salome as in the James the Just gospel account, Protovangelium, and later excluded from the Canon for reasons to speculate about, see  But there was another woman with them.

There is an annual Roma festival in May celebrating Sara la Kali, or Sara the Black, who by tradition, is the handmaid who accompanied the Three Marys after the crucifixion, to France, see  Sara la Kali is represented as black, dark-skinned, whether Egyptian, Ethiopian, or other origin - nonwhite.  In southern France, at Saintes Maries de la Mer, Roma (Gypsies) collect and offer tribute over several days at least, at  the end of May - to celebrate the landing. A history that offers a clearer narrative, including the questions and varius theories, is found at

See also

The Sara la Kali tradition, and Mary Salome:  Representations are found elsewhere but not easily identified, some pictured as Virgin Mary, or at least that impression left undisturbed, see this portrait in Gdansk, Poland, and at these sites - Poland's Black Madonna; and Gdansk Church St. Mary the Black; Black Madonnas, Possible Roma Origin.

Stes Maries de la Mer. Statue Walk. Frederic Mistral; Camargue Horse; Camargue Bull

Night-walking in Stes Maries de la Mer brought us to the statue of Mirielle. Who?  The charcter is from a work by Frederic Mistral, who wrote in 1885 a lengthy and epic poem in Occitan, Mireio. Mirielle "dies of love in the high chapel of the Saintes Maries de la Mer Church, after crossing the Camargue by foot. ***" See  Find it at

The language is referred to as "Provencal" at that site.  At page 25 is the story of the Marys' expulsion from the Holy Land, arrival at Camargues, and their later burial at the site of the church. The story of the statue is, in French, at 

The statue was dedicated in 1920.

Is this the old Occitan language, once thought stamped out with the killing of the seeming last of the region's Cathars in the 13th Century.Is that in Occitan?  What is ex-voto?

2.  The Camargue horse, Camargue bull.  

The Camargue horse appears white, a light gray, and has a black skin under the hide.  The breed is ancient, agile, strong, of uncertain origin, and is used to herd the Carmargue bulls used for bullfights in the south of France, still legal.

3.  Resistance Memorial WWI WWII

Audibert Marcel:  missing in action. Others.

Notre Dames de la Mer, Church Exterior. Ste Maries de la Mer.

This fortress-looking church evolved in a once-small town in The Camargues region of Provence.  In times past, there was fear of invasion by Moors and others.  Here Roma (a/k/a Gypsy, Zigeuner, Gitanes) hold an annual festival celebrating the landing of the Three Marys after the Cruficixion, and the cultural group thrives in this town.

Kali Sara. Sara la Kali. Their roots stem from the story of Kali Sarah, or Sara la Kali who arrived with the Three Marys, a dark-skinned possibly Egyptian,  more roots in a goddess or saint figure, sometimes mixed in with stories of the Black Madonna, see

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.  Les Trois Maries.  The Three Marys. 
The old Occitan draws Pilgrims, Roma, 
and others who arrive offering respect for traditional roots 
as roots are told.

A.  History stories.

Here landed, about 40 AD, says a number of venerable traditions, three women who were later made saints by the institutional interests who absorbed the earlier traditions for a new dogma and structure for a new form of religion, Christianity in the Roman mold. How did that Catholic version take control?  It took suppression, parchment burning, killing, forced conversions, declarations of heresy against those reading a different set of lessons, perhaps, and it worked. But in the crypt of this old church, dedicated to Kali Sara, and in stories surrounding its history, older ways survive.

The Three Marys.  And a handmaid, a maid, Sara la Kali, or Kali Sara.

1.  Mary, mother of Jesus;
2.  Mary, mother of Lazarus; or perhaps it was Mary Jacobe, sister to Mary Mother of Jesus (a construct posed by the Church); or Mary Salome, mother of Apostle James the Greater, and also John; and
3.  Mary Magdalene.

See * 

They arrived with a Sara:  some say the daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene (see movies, books, old traditions); others say the Sara is Sara-la-Kali, a dark-skinned woman perhaps from Egypt, as a companion to the women, serving their needs. For Sara-la-Kali:  see Gypsies, Roma, Romani

The town was once on an island, in a productive, wild marsh.  It now is full of causeways, raised roads, marshes still.

The cross, specific to the Roma tradition here:  A cross, with horn-shapes at the apex, tridents at the extended crossbar, a heart shape beneath, and then an anchor instead of a straight  vertical bar to dig into the ground. The trident: not the Neptune of Rome, or earlier sea god of Greece;  but Shiva, India, a source place, says some genetic and other evidence, of the Roma, Gypsy population, now in diaspora.

These are three female saints, traditional anchors to a venerable tradition.

B.  The Camargue Cross:  Anchor, cross, heart; or deeper meanings.

The three pronged ends of the upper cross, resembling a trident, references a tool used by the Roma gardiens, or gardians, wranglers of the wild horses on the Camargue, cowboys of horses, see

The anchor at the base refers to the fishermen heritage of the region.  Our host at our bed and breakfast said that the heart stood for charity. 

But what of the horns at the top of the cross? Those reappear in Poland in what appears to be a Sara la Kali (legends also tie in the theme of a Black Madonna) See!  See the trident theme in the ironwork surrounding the statue of Saint Mary.

* Did that story of the three at sea (where was Sara?), become rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub, in an effort to discredit it and turn the interest to men instead of impossible women?

The Camargues Cross. 

Camargues Cross, in context, Saintes Maries de la Mer, Camargues, France.  Trident theme on door ironwork The forms of the cross refer, depending on the source of information a) to the fishing tradition in the anchor design for the cross,  to b) the gardiens or horsemen of the marshes in the pronged trident-looking arms, and then  c) the mystery horns, perhaps an ancient reference to Mithra, an early root of Christianity, and alive with the Roma. Or simply for tourists, d) elements for faith, hope, and charity.

Plaque, 9th Century-12th Century history, Eglise des Saintes Maries.

Rough translation:  Dedicated to Sainte Marie Jacobe and Salome, built to replace a sanctuary from the 6th Century, fortified to protect the habitants of the country and the precious relics of the Saints against the Saracens.  In the crypt, is the statue of Sainte Sara, patron of the Gitans.

The high watchtower:

Ship-motif weathervane, a "bark" or raft, bringing the Three Marys to Camargue

Few windows, tiny doors, all for defense.

Vincent VanGogh boarded at a small inn here at Stes Maries de la Mer,

Thoughtful slow-motion video of the church is at The Church dominates the skyline.

And here, a repurposed bolt-brace, with the ancient keyhole now going nowhere. Preach on that.

Ancient lock, door, Church of the Three Marys, Saintes Maries de la Mer, France