El Rocio Pilgrimage - The pilgrimage dates back to 1653 and attracts more than a million Catholics from all over Spain to the small shrine of El Rocio in the province of Huelva in Andalusia. A statue of the Virgin Mary was said to have been discovered in a tree trunk by a hunter from the village of Villamanrique in the 13th Century in the Doñana National Park. This marked the site for future pilgrimages.
The pilgrims known as Rocieros travel in groups and arrive on foot with horses, mules, wagons and elaborate horse-drawn carriages designed to transport the gold and silver Madonnas from each Rociero origin to the shrine in El Rocio. Often the pilgrims travel distances of 100km or more and during the journey prayer, song and traditional flamenco dancing spontaneously erupt.
Once installed in the village of El Rocio, thousands gather at night around the shrine waiting for the moment that the gold clad Madonna is released into the massive crowd amid a frenzy of joy, sadness and prayer which lasts throughout the night and into the following day.
© HOWARD SAYER PHOTOGRAPHY 2017