Romería del Rocío is one of the oldest pilgrimages within Europe and probably the largest festival in Spain. Every year, around Whitsun, the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday, around one million people converge on the shrine of El Rocio, southwest of Sevilla. Their romeria, or pilgrimage, brings devotees of the Virgen del Rocio - Our Lady of the Dew - to the place where, according to an old tale, the shrine, also called Blanca Paloma (white dove), was was found in a swamp during the seventh century.
Hundreds of »brotherhoods« from the surrounding villages and towns organize the processions. Travellers (or »romeros«) come from all over Andalucia on foot, on horseback or by cart, all of which are decorated effusively. Most of these pilgrims wear traditional clothes, women in bright flamenco dresses and men in traditional jackets. They are accompanied by supporters with cars carrying food, alcoholic beverages, blankets and tents.
On their way the participants eat, drink, sing, pray, dance and flirt with each other. It is a tough trip on dirt roads, through pine tree forests and sand dunes. The temperatures are high. When they finally reach El Rocío, the fiesta begins and it lasts for three days. On Monday, when the shrine of the Virgin Mary is carried from the white church through masses of devoted participants, the pilgrimage reaches an ecstatic point of culmination.
In 2006, photographer Loïc Bréard took part in the pilgrimage. He travelled with a brotherhood from Sevilla to El Rocío, a 70 kilometer-long journey. He took his Leica camera with him and was quickly fascinated by the romería and its unique mix of tradition and modern life. »He probably was the only participant who walked the whole time«, says one of his companions.
Bréard‘s stark black-and-white images capture the process and the rituals, the beauty and moments of multi-facetted aspects of the human and religious experiences which the pilgrimage encapsulates. But his work adds up to more than just a photo essay.
With his feel for the aesthetics of composition and his intuitive grasp of lines, of light and shadows, of emotional expressions on faces, suspense and inconsistencies, he shows his strength as a photographer. In tradition of Roland Barthes - who spoke of the „punctum“ in a picture- Bréard catches details and moments which are telling and moving at the same time.