The second annual El Rocio pilgrimage in Heathcote was a celebration of Spanish culture and colour.By Barbara Sungaila
Heathcote took on a Spanish feel over the weekend when visitors flocked to the second El Rocío pilgrimage.
The footpath outside the RSL was a swirl of colour on Friday morning while the sound of castanets and flamenco music filled the air.
Perfect autumn weather contrasted sharply with last year when El Rocío began under grey skies and umbrellas.
Celebrations started with a flamenco mass followed by the first of three walks following the Virgin del Rocio in her highly decorated cart.
Tiffany Ayres led the procession on her Andalusian horse, which hails from Yalkin Stud in South Australia.
The McIvor Creek was the first stop and symbolised the Rio Quema, the Andalusian river where new pilgrims are blessed and welcomed into the El Rocío family.
The 4km walk continued through Heathcote’s streets and ended with lunch at Barrack Reserve.
Other walks over the weekend followed longer routes and while the acts of devotion were an important part of the festival, organisers stressed in El Rocío they also sing, dance, eat, drink and have fun.
District residents were encouraged to attend and the El Rocío committee sourced as much as possible from local businesses.
El Rocío began in 1653 when the Virgin of Las Rocinas was appointed Patron Saint of Almonte in Andalusia, Spain.
In Andalusia, pilgrims travel in groups for between one and seven days, generally sleeping outdoors before taking part in a number of religious ceremonies.
The original Spanish festival has attracted more than one million pilgrims in recent years but the Australian events are on a far more modest scale.
Heathcote’s El Rocío is a newcomer to the scene; this is its second year and organisers hope to make it an ongoing event.
Festivities have previously been held in Geelong and there has been a yearly pilgrimage in the Clare Valley in South Australia since 1988.
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