The feast of the Mare de Déu del Carme

Come to discover La Mare de Déu del Carme en Barcelona!

On 16 July differents towns along the coast of Catalonia celebrate the Mare de Déu del Carme (Our Lady of Mount Carmel), the patron saint of seafaring communities. Sailors, fishermen and all sorts of seafarers revere the saint as she protects them from the most common dangers of the sea.

In Barcelona the festival takes place mainly in Barceloneta, the city’s quintessential nautical neighbourhood. The festival is organised by the local fisherman’s fraternity, which every year, on the first Saturday after 16 July, takes the image of the saint from the local parish church out around the neighbourhood in a procession. After going around the waters of the port, the saint is placed on an improvised altar on the wharf while mass is held and offerings are made to her. Finally, the festivity concludes with a performance by a Barceloneta choir, a very traditional element in the neighbourhood.

Reason

The ritual is more or less the same everywhere: the local fishermen’s fraternity take the image of the virgin out in a procession as far as the port, where she is put on a boat. The procession continues at sea, with a varied fleet of vessels in tow. The boats normally sail as far as a significant point or landmark on the coast, landing there and holding a mass presided over by the virgin.

The aim of the ritual is to honour the Mare de Déu del Carme and ask her for protection against the most habitual dangers of the sea, such as storms and shipwrecks.

Origins

The origin of the festivity honouring Carme as the patron saint of seafarers lies with the legend explaining how she saved an English boat adrift in the middle of a terrible storm. Amid the desperation, one of the sailors started to pray, wrenching off the scapulary of the Carmelite order he was wearing and throwing it into the sea. The act immediately ended the storm. It seems the spreading of the legend helped consolidate the Mare de Déu del Carme as the patron saint of sailors and seafarers.

In the 18th century the Majorcan Admiral Antoni Barceló Pont de la Terra promoted the festivity among his men, who adopted her as their protector straight away and dubbed her ‘Stella Maris’. Little by little the devotion spread among sailors and gradually substituted Sant Elm, who had traditionally been the protector of Catalan sailors and seafarers.

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