Sunday, July 17, 2016

Star Of The Sea: Virgen del Carmen

Mount Carmel and the Spanish Navy would, on the face of it, have little in common. One is a mountain range in northern Israel and the other isn't. But such are the ways of religious developments that Carmel and the navy have a great deal in common: Our Lady of Carmel, the Virgen del Carmen, whose day was yesterday and for whom today there will be fireworks and flotillas transporting her image.

The Carmelite Order was founded some time in the twelfth century. No one knows for sure by whom or when exactly. What is generally accepted is that this founding was on Mount Carmel. (If it weren't, then explaining the name of the order becomes rather tricky.) Given the uncertainties surrounding the order's background, it is somewhat surprising that 16 July can so definitively be identified as the day when the Carmelite Simon Stock had his vision of the Virgin and the brown scapular and was thus to be responsible for a summer fiesta. There again, dates for feast days are rarely hard and fast: take Christmas as just one example.

Making the leap from Mount Carmel to the navy is equally uncertain. How did she become patron of the sea and also the patron of the navy? Well, Mount Carmel is a coastal mountain range, but then so is the Tramuntana, which has its own version of the Virgin, the one of Lluc. Mere proximity to the sea doesn't necessarily seem to have anything to do with the choice of patron. Maybe it all stems from the prayer to the Blessed Mother of Mount Carmel. One line goes: "O star of the sea, help me and show me you are my mother." As the Virgin is also patron of protecting people from harm and from dangerous situations, including those at sea, perhaps here are further reasons why the navy co-opted her as patron.

But how did she come to be looked upon as a protector from danger for those at sea? That line in the prayer unlocks the clue, as also in fact does the proximity of the sea. For the Carmelites, she was, among other things, their Stella Maris. "Ave Maris Stella" are Latin words in the hymn for fiestas devoted to seafaring. In the Old Testament, the title of Star of the Sea (or Estrella del Mar in Spanish) and its application to the Virgin stems from the prophet Elijah, conveniently on Mount Carmel, conjuring up a small cloud over the sea. As you might guess, it rained and drought came to an end. From such biblical legends are saints made, patronage created and fiestas organised.

This all helps to explain why the dedication is made to Our Lady of Carmel by the Spanish Navy every 16 July, though it has only officially been made since 1901. This was a time when the navy and the whole Spanish military apparatus were still reeling from the losses at the hands of the Americans three years before. The navy probably needed all the protection it could get.

The hymn that will be sung at naval ceremonies is not the same as the one quoted above. The naval version comes from a work written and composed in 1870. "Hail, the star of the seas. Of the iris seas, of eternal bliss. Hail, O Phoenix of beauty. Mother of Divine love."

Coming to the fiesta flotillas bearing the image of the Virgin, they are in a way the most important of the flotillas, given the Latin words of the hymn for such events: more so than those for Sant Pere (Saint Peter), even with his patronage of fishermen. In Puerto Pollensa, though, the two are combined - Peter and Our Lady. Both will appear this evening, as the resort's fiestas reach their climax of procession, flotilla, demons on the loose and fireworks.

Most of the flotillas took place yesterday - the day of Virgen del Carmen - but Puerto Pollensa opts for the Sunday of the fiestas to have its flotilla, as also does Sa Rapita.

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