Friday, 16 August 2013

A piece of Collioure tradition

Listening to mass
The Fêtes de St Vincent enters day three with mass at the tiny Chapelle Saint-Vincent.

It stands atop what was once a minute, rocky island, but it was joined to the rest of the land many years ago, and now watches quietly over the sun worshippers on the two beaches on either side of the spit of land that links it to Collioure's iconic Notre Dame des Agnes.

There was not a huge crowd attending, but still far too many to crowd into the chapel, so they stood outside and listened.

Barques at the beach
But the main event is less the service itself and more the procession sur mer that follows it.

The little chapel empties as members of a confraternity appear, some bare-footed. Led by an elderly man in a red robe with a bell, a man with a cross and a young boy in black carrying a banner, they make their way down the steep steps onto the beach, carrying a reliquary with (apparently) a piece of St Vincent’s bones in it.

All glistening gold, with red flowers sticky-taped to each corner, it’s transported then beneath a canopy to the shore, there to meet and board one of the waiting barques (traditional
Making sure it's all ship shape
Catalan fishing boats) that are decked out with the red and yellow striped Catalan flag.

It's no mean feat to get the reliquary up a gangplank and safely onto the boat – this year, even mayor Michel Moly had to lend a hand, although the senior clerics didn’t, of course.

The mayor was then joined on board by at least three clergy, plus male members of the confraternity.

The men have been followed by a number of women, dressed in traditional, lacy Catholic black, which manages to look a tad Mafia-like when accompanied by designer sunglasses.

The boats push off, back into deeper water, and process around the bay in convoy. It seems probable that each beach gets a blessing.

Last year, when we witnessed this for the first time, they headed straight for Boramar – in effect, around the corner and pretty much
right next to Notre Dame des Agnes.

This time, the little flotilla made its way across the bay to Port d'Avall, following the arc of the land around, before heading finally to land at Boramar. Perhaps the sea was less frisky than last year?

As they drew toward the shore, a young couple played traditional Catalan instruments in welcome.

At the water’s edge, the boats are greeted by swimsuited holidaymakers and elderly locals in traditional dress – the latter are there as a choir to ensure that the subsequent hymn sounds decent.

Then, after a couple of prayers led by the senior cleric present – and as slight aside, you can tell the Lord’s Prayer just by the rhythm, regardless of the language – they take up their positions in the procession again and make their way to Notre Dame des Agnes, where a final service awaits.

There was a rather funny moment as the reliquary-carrying group passed me, camera at the ready, and one suddenly said, out loud and in obvious surprise: “Manchester City!” Hey, I’ve become known here for wearing footy shirts.

Although I’m not entirely convinced that football was really what should have been on his mind at that moment.

So, that is, in effect, the religious content of the festival.

I don’t believe any of it for a moment, but there’s something rather delightful about seeing it.

The mayor lends a hand
In his book The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe, Colm Toíbín talks about visiting Seville for one of the major festivals, and being fascinated to discover that some of the men willingly carrying the statues of the Virgin and assorted saints were communists and atheists.

When he asked why they did it, their answer was simple: it was tradition.

I can enjoy carols at Christmas – I don’t need to believe all the various bits and pieces that were cribbed from assorted cults and other religions.

And I can appreciate this too, in the same way: it’s traditional and of its place and its culture. And for a good little Protestant girl like me, there is most certainly a touch of the exotic.

Nor is it discomforting in the same way that the sanche is. That ‘march of the penitents’, which takes place on Good Friday in many parts of the region (we’ve seen it in nearby Perpignan) includes very small children – something that I do not like at all.

But this leaves one with the hope that just enough people continue to join the confraternities to allow
them to maintain such colourful traditions.

Anyway, enough of that: here I’ve included a selection of the morning’s photographs. Not easy, since the light is in the ‘wrong’ place for much of it but c’est la vie, as the French themselves might put it.

There are advantages to photographing something with which you’re at least vaguely familiar, and I am particularly pleased with the shots of the two elderly female members of the confraternity.

There's also a candid that was taken on the beach
at Boramar, of another elderly lady talking with a man. I've included her here because I think she provides a nice contrast to the others.


A brief chat
'Don't think about the football'
Michel Moly and member of the clergy

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