El Rocío is the most popular pilgrimage in the whole of Andalusia during which more than one hundred brotherhoods gather to pay homage to the virgin of ‘El Rocío’. An incredible number of people exceeding one million attend the festival attracted by the amazing mix of religious worship and Andalusian folklore.
The village of El Rocío
The Schrine of ‘El Rocío’ is located at the southern limits of the Municipality of Almonte, Huelva, very close to the Doñana National Park. It is a magical unpaved village, on the banks of a blue watered lake called ‘Charco de la Boca’, where it is not difficult to believe that you have been transported back in time.
About the Brotherhoods
Most of the Brotherhoods are from Andalusia but, there are a few from other Spanish regions and some are from outside the Spanish borders. The one thing they have in common is a ‘Simpecado’, a standard which normally have an image of a virgin and a feature identifying the brotherhood. They are led by pairs of oxen with decorated yokes with bells around their necks, heralding the arrival of the ‘Simpecado’, which becomes the heart of the pilgrimage.
The Pilgrimage of El Rocío
Throwing up clouds of dust, the ‘simpecados’ lead the way followed by hoards of pilgrims onfoot, horse back, on tractors, gypsy style wagons and still more ox carts with gaily covered platforms.
Many of the pilgrims are dressed in traditional Andalusian costumes; colourful Flamenco dresses as well as the, more suitable for walking, ‘rociera skirts’ for the women, short jackets and tight horse riding breeches with leather boots which are good for the dirt tracks, caps and broad-brimmed hats for the men and, besides, many people can be seen wearing the heavy medals depicting an image of the virgin.
How it is celebrated
Because of the distances they must travel, some of the brotherhoods may start their pilgrimage as many as seven days before the Saturday of Pentecost, the day on which the brotherhoods with their “Simpecados” present themselves at the Shrine of ‘El Rocío’.
In the morning of the Sunday of Pentecost (Whit Sunday) a Pontifical High Mass is celebrated, but the event that creates an unequalled expectaction is still to come. At night all the brotherhoods gather together to pray the Rosary. As they begin to pray, one after the other the brotherhoods form a candlelight procession past the Shrine, which lasts several hours. Everyone waits for the Simpecado from the Oldest Brotherhood to go into the Shrine. At that moment ‘jumping the fence’ begins, where rocieros from Almonte jump over the railing protecting the virgin of El Rocío, and with much shouting and joyous emotion carry her shoulder high in procession sorrounded by thousands of pilgrims. She is then paraded infront of the “Simpecados” before being returned to her shrine.