Located in the province of Huelva, Andalucía, El Rocío is a peculiar little town that could easily be mistaken for some Western film set starring Clint Eastwood. The streets are quite literally flooded with fine sand, the houses are constructed out of thick timber and the preferred mode of transport is on horseback. I half-expected to see drifting tumbleweed and cactus-studded fields.
The Hermitage of El Rocío is perhaps better known for its annual pilgrimage which begins on the second day of Pentecost in honour of the Virgen del Rocio translated literally as ‘Madonna of the Dew’. Each year, great droves of locals and fellow pilgrims arrive in town dressed in traditional Andalusian ‘trajes’, lines of jangling horse-drawn wagons following behind.
Predominantly now a tourist honey trap, the town of El Rocío was abuzz with foreign visitors stopping to stare at the miniature ponies hobbling around the dusty square. Tourist shops spill out onto the streets, tempting passers-by with leather riding boots, wide-brimmed straw hats and religious trinkets. Immediately, my eyes are drawn to the lurid flamenco dresses, their flashes of neon orange polka dots and hibiscus-red frills framing windows and entranceways.
Heading towards the celebrated Church, we notice an adjoining chapel with two men seated on either side of the doorway. One appeared to be asleep whilst the other was unwittingly shouting down the phone, repeating both ‘ehhh?’ and ‘como?’ with alarming frequency in a thick Andalusian accent. Inside, the chapel was quite literally glowing with a jumble of slender white candles, arching sideways from the heat of collective flames. Beneath, their predecessors lay together in a fused heap resembling the sculptures of Anish Kapoor.
Leaving the luminescent oasis of candles behind us, we enter the Church home to the Virgin who dominates the apse in her golden glory. She stands perched in the centre, adorned with pink flowers. Above her, four large angels peer down protectively, some with trumpets raised high, others positioned at an angle with drums fixed in the crook of their arms.
Before leaving el Rocío, I head over to one of the nearby tourist shops and select two candles, 50 cents each. To my horror, the return car journey deformed them irreparably to a state not so dissimilar from the melted candles witnessed in the chapel. My search for interesting candles would continue alas.
– Phoebe Tatham
(featured image from http://www.robertharding.com)