Virgen del Carmen Day 2023: Origin, Meaning, and Celebrations

Virgen del carmen parade

A maritime procession, which has been observed since 1940. Image: Shutterstock/Q77photo

On July 16, Spain celebrates one of its most renowned festivities, the Virgen del Carmen Day. This celebration is closely associated with the sea and the fishing traditions of Spanish fishing villages, as well as those of other Latin American countries. The Virgen del Carmen is the patron saint of fishermen and sailors and because of this the ceremony and fiesta of the Virgen del Carmen is an important occasion throughout Spain in coastal towns where maritime activities are important. Hermits that travelled by sea often ask the Virgen del Carmen for protection and that is how she became their patron saint. They refer to her as ‘La Reina de los Mares’ (the queen of the seas).

The Virgen del Carmen, also known as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Her name is derived from her veneration of Mount Carmel, located in the Holy Land. The word “Carmel” originates from the Hebrew term “Karmel” or “Al-Karem,” which translates to “garden of God.”

The Virgen del Carmen is celebrated on July 16 due to its historical and religious significance. The choice of this date can be attributed to various factors:

Historical Connection: July 16 is believed to be the date when the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was given to St. Simon Stock, an English Carmelite, in the 13th century. The scapular is a significant religious symbol associated with the Virgin Mary’s protection and intercession. This event is considered a pivotal moment in the history of the Carmelite Order and the devotion to the Virgen del Carmen.

Feast Day: The Catholic Church designates July 16 as the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is an occasion to honour and pay tribute to the Virgin Mary under this specific title and to commemorate her role as the patroness of the Carmelite Order.

Tradition and Custom: Over time, July 16 has become deeply rooted in the cultural and religious traditions of regions where the Virgen del Carmen is venerated, particularly in Spain.

Seasonal Significance: July is a time when many fishing communities are at the height of their fishing activities, especially in coastal regions. As the Virgen del Carmen is often associated with the sea and protection of sailors and fishermen, celebrating her on July 16 aligns with the rhythms of the fishing season.

Virgen del Carmen on aboat on the sea
The Virgen del Carmen is the patron saint of fishermen and sailors . Image: Shutterstock/Salvador Aznar

A maritime procession, which has been observed since 1940, and the Rosary of the Dawn, are great traditions related to this celebration. The image of the Virgen del Carmen is carried through streets adorned by local residents, and the procession lasts well beyond midday. As they pass by, the locals usually set off fireworks

In the town of Galaroza,  July 16 holds great importance. It marks the feast day of Virgen del Carmen, who is the patron saint of the village. Their unique carving of the Virgen del Carmen in Galaroza is particularly noteworthy. Crafted by Luisa La Roldana, the statue is pregnant, deviating from the traditional depiction of the Virgin with a child in her arms. The locals and visitors appreciate the artistic beauty of this representation.

Unlike coastal regions, where the Virgen del Carmen is typically associated with sailors, Galaroza portrays her as a market gardener. This artistic interpretation, as described by local writer Jesús Arcensio Gómez, adds a poetic touch to the celebration and highlights the cultural and regional diversity of the festival.

The religious and festive cycle in honour of the Virgen del Carmen begins on July 16 and extends throughout the following days. The programme usually includes a midnight Mass on July 15, a Holy Rosary, and a novena in the Parish Church. Most towns that celebrate this festivity will have their own schedule of events lined up over the coming days. For more information, you can consult the town hall websites or their social media accounts.

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Written by

Catherine McGeer

I am an Irish writer who has been living in Spain for the past twenty years. My writing centers around the Costa Cálida. As a mother I also write about family life on the coast of Spain and every now and then I try to break down the world of Spanish politics!