Accepted Paper:

Replaced and redefined: a local Andalusian Virgin Mary in the Flemish town of Vilvoorde  

Author:

Eddy Plasquy (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven)

Paper short abstract:

The celebration in honour of the Virgin Mary of El Rocío by the local Spanish migrant community in Vilvoorde (Belgium) will be documented as well as the symbolic meaning in both the use of the local urban space and the negotiations with the Church representatives and the local authorities.

Paper long abstract:

The migration of Spanish workmen in the industrial city of Vilvoorde led from the sixties on to a vivid community in which the social life was structured around a few Spanish clubs with football as their major activity. When in 1990 a couple of Spanish youngsters launched the idea to organize a 'romeria', or pilgrimage, neither a 'Virgin' nor a specific devotion was present. Only the fact that the 'romeria' had to go together with the traditionally huge festivity, was clear from the beginning. By agreement the 'Virgen del Rocío', a local Virgen of Andalusia of which the romeria is encredibly famed, was chosen.

Less than ten years later, their local 'Virgen del Rocío' is honoured with a procession in the city, a Spanish mass in the main church, and a pilgrimage towards a huge chapel especially constructed for that reason in the main court of an historic building in a park on the outskirts of the city. There, thousands of people gather during two days to offer flowers to the Virgen and to dance in the typical 'Andalusian'style. The event mobilizes the whole Spanish local community and attracts not only a lot of curious Flemish townsmen but also Spaniards from all over the country and even from the neighbouring countries.

After documenting the highly unusual beginning and growth of this local devotion, the paper will clarify the symbolic meaning in both the use of the local urban space and the negotiations with the Church representatives and the local authorities. Subsequently it shall elucidate the importance of this local devotion as a crystallizing moment around which the actual Spanish community not only came to identify itself but also became more visible and integrated in the larger society. Extended fieldwork in the Andalusian village of Almonte, where the original 'romeria del Rocío' takes place, provides the background to comment on the significance of this local form of devotion and the transformations in the author's native town.

Panel W067
Transnational religious networks and their European emplacement