Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Fiesta Virgen del Mar, May 20, 2013

Mass at La Ermita, Virgen del Mar, May 20, 2013

The festival of Virgen del Mar is held every year on Whit Monday (the day after Pentecost), in Virgen del Mar, a suburb of Santander to the north.  It's a fiesta (holiday) in Santander, because Virgen del Mar is their patron saint, but not in the rest of Cantabria.  The mass and the festival are celebrated on the island of Virgen del Mar, at the chapel/shrine called La Ermita.  

To get there, it was a 10 minute bus ride from central Santander (from A to B on the map below.  We live on the port/bay side of Santander (A); Virgen del Mar (B) is a suburb on the Cantabrian sea, on the north of the peninsula.  

A = my house; B = Virgen del Mar

I arrived early, at about 10 o'clock.  Like all of Cantabria, the setting was gorgeous and the views in every direction were spectacular.  The chapel is on an island, reached from the mainland by a short bridge.  It was low tide when I arrived, so the island was also accessible by crossing the beach, as in the picture below.  (However, when the tide comes in, the bridge is the only way across unless you have a boat or want to swim!)

At low tide you can walk to the island across the beach

Just in front of the bridge, vendors had set up their stalls full of typical Cantabrian cuisine such as bread, quesadas, sabaos, cheese, ham, and pastries (click links for pictures and recipes).  On a grassy area next to the beach, bouncy castles and trampolines were being assembled.   

Across the bridge on the island, the sound engineers were setting up in front of the chapel, and the musicians (a wind band) were rehearsing behind it.  Naturally, there were beautiful views from the cliffs, like this one looking west towards Liencres.  

view from behind the chapel, Cantabrian sea and coast.

Off to the side, two men were preparing lunch for everyone to eat after the mass; a mixture of chorizo, potatoes, and red peppers.  

At about 11:30, the bells started ringing, signaling that the procession was about to begin.  This is the most famous part of the fiesta, where the statue of Virgen del Mar is carried across the bridge.  

the bells ringing; the procession will be starting soon!

As the procession began, I was lucky enough to find myself in a perfect spot to take the pictures below (although you can find even better ones at this official website).  

First came flags:

Next, oars:

And finally, the statue of Virgen del Mar, the patron saint of Santander.

The Virgen del Mar was set down in front of the church, and the mass began. 

In addition to the priest and other clergy, many had important roles to play during the mass:  The musicians,  

the wind band plays at the mass

the sound engineers,

and the Guardia Civil.

taking care of public safety....

I was surprised, and pleased, to find that I could understand almost all of the sermon.  The enunciation and speed of delivery were just right for a second language learner like me, and the exaggerated rolled Rs were powerful and mesmerizing.  The main theme of the sermon was the economic crisis and an appeal to the Virgin del Mar, the patron saint of Santander, for help in these difficult times. The priest acknowledged some of the current challenges such as unemployment, foreclosures/evictions, and the lack of opportunities for young people.  He also touched on politics: 'the government can't stop providing essential services', and how we all need to 'work together to find a solution.'  

after the mass, the tide has come in and the bridge is the only way across

I walked back to Santander via the coastal route.  Below are some views and wildflowers from along the way:  

This is scarlet pimpernel, a common coastal wildflower 

looking back across the cliffs at Virgen del Mar

following the coastal route. 

this wildflower that grows on the cliffs is called Thrift, and comes in many
shades of pink and purple. 

one of many coves along the coast

this flower is called 'baby's slippers.'

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