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The principal town within the confines of the Parc Régional de Camargue, Stes-Maries is a beach resort with a fascinating history. Provençal legend has it that around AD 45 a band of the very first Christians were rounded up and set adrift at sea without provisions in a boat without a sail. Their stellar ranks included Mary Magdalene, and Martha and Mary Salome, mother of apostles James and John; Mary Jacoby, sister of the Virgin; and Lazarus, not necessarily the one risen from the dead. Joining them in their fate was a dark-skin servant girl named Sara. Miraculously, their boat washed ashore at this ancient site, and the grateful Marys built a chapel in thanks.
Two extraordinary festivals (www.saintesmariesdelamer.com) celebrating the Marys take place every year in Stes-Maries, one on May 24-25, which includes Sara's pilgrimage, and the other on the Sunday nearest October 22. In addition, the town honors the arrival of the Marys with its navette, a small pastry baked in the shape of the boat. But pilgrims attracted to Stes-Maries aren't only lighting candles to the two St. Marys: Sarah has been adopted as an honorary saint by the Gypsies of the world.
Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer at a Glance
Elsewhere in Provence
- Abbaye de Montmajour
- The Camargue
- Crillon le Brave
- Iles d'Hyères
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