You might have seen on TV masses of devotees arriving at the Hermitage of El Rocío, getting nervous before leaping over the railings and taking the image of the Virgin in procession. And it is because this is no ordinary pilgrimage.
What happens in the Huelva village of El Rocío is so big, that in this place of fewer than two thousand inhabitants, at least a million people gather during this celebration.
But, where does all this come from? Why here and not somewhere else?
Starting at the very beginning, we know that there was already a hermitage to worship the virgin back in the fourteenth century and that this hermitage was destroyed, like many other things, by the earthquake that in 1755 almost swallowed the city of Cádiz.
But there is also a legend which says that in the fifteenth century, in a place they called La Rocina, a hunter found an image in the hole of a tree. It looked like it had been there for a long time, and it quickly became an object of devotion as the Virgin of La Rocina, a name that would end up being Virgin of El Rocío.
However, the cult to Rocío seems to have a pagan origin, as it’s often the case in Christian traditions. And in this occasion, it could be so old that we would have to reach the Tartessos, a remote civilisation that existed in the current territories of Huelva, Cádiz and Seville, and which was greatly influenced by the Phoenician culture.
Among the Phoenician’s divinities, there was Astarte, which is the same as the Mesopotamian Ishtar, and it represented life, fertility and nature. A cult that was spread pretty quick in the Tartessian territory.
But Astarte was also other things, like the morning star or the moon goddess, and, furthermore, it turns out that one of the ways it was represented was a white dove. And it happens, take note of this, that the Virgin of Rocío is known as The White Dove and has a half a moon at her feet.
Now we let you decide if this Christian cult is an ancient tradition transformed, or if the image that gave birth to everything, happened to be a virgin hidden by the Visigoths when the Arabs arrived with rough intentions. Who knows!