This is the most important pilgrimage in the whole of Andalusia, even extending beyond the autonomous region. It takes place in the Huelva town of Almonte. Its massive nature, with the participation of more than one hundred brotherhoods, associations and thousands of people, together with the fact that a significant part of the pilgrimage takes place in the protected environmental area of Doñana National Park (declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and extended in 2005), requires a complex organisation involving several public administrations and the brotherhoods that come on pilgrimage.

Like other pilgrimages, El Rocío involves numerous preparations, as many of the brotherhoods start their pilgrimage from other towns and cities, which implies a long journey and several days’ stay in El Rocío. Most of them come from towns of the provinces of Seville, Huelva and Cádiz, although there are many others that come from different points of Spain. For the people of Almonte, El Rocío, the festival of their patron saint, begins on Wednesday morning before Pentecost. After picking up the President of the Brotherhood and the Simpecado (standard) from the church of Nuestra Sra. de la Asunción and celebrating a pilgrim mass, the Mother brotherhood’s entourage walks through the streets of Almonte, before setting off on the road to the village. The brotherhood enters El Rocío at dawn and heads to the sanctuary along the path of Camino de los Llanos, before appearing in front of the Virgin and singing the salve (Hail Mary). On the following days, the Mother brotherhood receives the filiales (subsidiary brotherhoods), who arrive gradually to the village.

Saturday (Pentecost’s eve) is the first official day of the festivity of the Virgen del Rocío. Around midday, outside the main door of the sanctuary of El Rocío, the reception begins with the welcoming of all the subsidiary brotherhoods that parade before the Virgin del Rocío, the Mother brotherhood, the bishop of Huelva and other members of the clergy and the representatives of Almonte town council. The parade of the wagons carrying the Simpecados symbolically marks the end of El Camino (the Path).

On Sunday, at ten o’clock in the morning, one of the central events of the pilgrimage is celebrated: the Pentecost mass, officiated by the bishop of Huelva and attended by all the brotherhoods. Around midnight the Holy Rosary is celebrated, a solemn act in which all the brotherhoods take part carrying their Simpecados. At the end of the Rosary, the rocieros (pilgrims) wait with fervour for the so-called Reina de las Marismas (Queen of the Marshes) to be carried in procession. The youngsters of Almonte are then the main protagonists: gathered around the grille that separates the image from the worshippers inside the hermitage, they await for the arrival of the Mother brotherhood’s Simpecado. When, at an unspecified time, the Simpecado appears at the door of the church, the thousands of people gathered there burst into shouts and clapping of hands, encouraging the people of Almonte to jump over the fence. Before the Simpecado reaches the altar, the lads from Almonte have already taken their patron saint on their shoulders and the gate is opened, so the procession begins inside the church. Amidst chants, praises and hails to the Virgin, the procession goes through the village, visiting each of the Simpecados of the subsidiary brotherhoods. After almost twelve hours, the Virgin arrives at the house of the Mother brotherhood and enters the Church, while the pilgrims sing the “salve rociera” (El Rocío Salve Regina).

At dusk, the wagons set off for their places of origin, with the mother brotherhood being the last to leave El Rocío.

The Pilgrimage of El Rocío takes place on a variable date between the months of May and June, depending on the liturgical calendar. Although the pilgrims start their journey a few days earlier, the events in the village begin on the Saturday before Whit Monday.

Por el Camino de los Llanos. Photo: Rosa Satué López. © Instituto Andaluz del Patrimonio Histórico

IAPH image under the conditions established under license cc-by 3.0 de Creative Common.

Desfile de romeros saliendo del Chaparral tras la misa. Photo: Rosa Satué López. © Instituto Andaluz del Patrimonio Histórico

IAPH image under the conditions established under license cc-by 3.0 de Creative Common.

Calle Ermita, El Rocío. Turismo y Deporte de Andalucía.

Vista del Santuario en la Aldea del Rocío. En primer plano la marisma seca por la estación. Photo: Isabel Dugo Cobacho. © Instituto Andaluz del Patrimonio Histórico

IAPH image under the conditions established under license cc-by 3.0 de Creative Common.

Canal Sur Turismo. (June, 2016). La Romería del Rocío, camino a la Aldea. Almonte. Huelva.

Instituto Andaluz del Patrimonio Histórico. Rosa. SATUÉ LÓPEZ, Atlas del Patrimonio Inmaterial de Andalucía. Fase 2. Zona 6. Romería de El Rocío, 2010.