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Ceuta in its purest state: The Virgin of Carmen marine tradition

What we really like in Ceuta is looking far out into the sea and feel proud of our long seafaring tradition. This is the reason why this month acquires a special meaning, when we wait for the Our Lady of Carmen festivities with open arms. It is the moment when the Queen of the Seas displays her protection of our waters and sailors. The neighbourhood of Almadraba, with purely seafaring roots, is adorned with great enthusiasm to thank the Virgin for her vigilance over its fishermen, and all the families who owe so much to the sea.

The Virgin of Carmen procession has been celebrated in Ceuta for 77 years, without fail. In the 40’s, Almadraba witnessed the blessing of its church raised in honour of the patron saint of the Spanish Armada, sailors and sea folk. A year later, the Virgin was carried in procession for the first time in this area and its surroundings, under the watchful eye of her devotees. It truly was the most perfect scenario to frame this tradition, which will forever hold the vision of a beach full of fishing boats and the unloading of thousands of tunas in its memory.

The devotion to Our Lady of Carmen echoes particularly every 16th of July, especially in coastal cities. In Ceuta, fishermen and other devotees carry the image of the Virgin proudly on their shoulders, from the Almadraba church to the sea. Another procession is also celebrated solemly, starting at the Shrine of Our Lady of Africa.

Marine devotion to the Virgin of Carmen

According to tradition, the worship of Our Lady of Carmen dates back to the 16th of July, 1251, when the Virgin visited the devout San Simon Stock (later founder of the Carmelite Order) on the Israelite hill of Hakkarmel (Carmel). Since the Middle Ages, the also called Star of the Sea (attributed to "Mary") is venerated as the guide to sailors on their way to safe harbours during storms, same as the stars that were key to setting the course of the journey.

Since then, navigational journals and blogs from around the world have collected the miracles that helped spread this devotion. One of the more renowned took place in the early 19th century, when an English ship (the King of the Ocean) was surprised by a strong storm. Thereupon, a young Irishman opened his shirt to show the sea a scapular of the Virgin of Carmen that hung around his neck. After throwing it into the water, the situation changed completely. According to records, only one more wave hit the boat, and it was to return the scapular to its owner.

The fervour for this Virgin in our country was extended mainly through the work of a Majorcan admiral, who in the 18th century promoted the celebration of this holiday among his crew.

The devotion to the Star of the Seas increased over the centuries, until it became an inseparable icon for sailors in recreation, fishing, and merchant boats. Every 16th of July, the sea witnesses this spectacular veneration while receiving numerous flower offerings. Our bunkering agency in Ceuta highly recommends not missing this wonderfully historical tradition.

José Salama y CIA S.L CIF: B29901303 Avd. Juan Carlos I Rey 12, 1ºD Melilla, España. Inscrita en el Registro Mercantil de Melilla. Tomo 19, sección 2,ª Folio 95, Hoja 348