The miracle of El Rocío
From Seville the satnav was set for El Rocío and it only took just over an hour to arrive, and right away it was an eye opener. El Rocío is a whitewashed village like so many in Spain, but this one is known for being akin to a place in the ‘Wild West’ due to its unpaved sandy streets and abundance of people riding horses. The stand out feature however is a modern church called Nuestra Señora del Rocio, dating from the 1960s, a stunning sight when viewed from across the water of a lake where the dazzling white sanctuary stands out against the deep blue of the water and sky.
There were a few motorhomes parked beside the lake so we joined them and headed into El Rocío to do a brief recce as it was almost lunchtime, then after lunch in the van we were going to have a good look about. As you walk into the village the lake is on your right which seems a bird watchers paradise with loads of varieties, even to an untrained eye. There is a fairly large square with a few bars and shops selling religious artefacts and other tourist related gifts which strangely were, flat caps for men and flamenco dresses for women!
With the lake at my back I used the GoPro video camera to take a panning shot of the square from left to right, finishing up focused on the church. I mention this now as it is relevant to what happens next.
After walking past the shops we headed across to the imposing whitewashed church which has a particular claim to fame. Every year in late May up to a million people descend on this village, the object of the pilgrimage is a 13th century statue of the Virgen Del Rocio (Virgin of the Dew). This pilgrimage dates back to the 13th century, when a hunter from the village of Villamanrique discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary in a tree trunk in the Doñana park, now a huge nature reserve. A chapel was built where the tree stood, and it became a place of pilgrimage. Devotion to this particular version of the Virgin was initially a local affair, then, by the 17th century, hermandades (brotherhoods) were making the trip from nearby towns on horseback and in covered wagons at Pentecost, and by the 19th century they came from all over Huelva, Cadiz, Jerez and Seville, but nowadays from all over Spain and beyond.
We entered the church and the incredibly intricate and imposing wall of gold carving is the setting for the aforementioned statue.
There were only a handful of people in the church when we arrived but within a few minutes a bus load of ‘pilgrims’ arrived so we took a seat on a pew to take in the sight. There were signs up warning against taking photographs which I had observed up to now but all these people were taking pictures and selfies so I thought that once they had gone I would film the statue too. After about half an hour most of them had taken their pictures, said their prayers and were leaving.
I reached into my bag to get the GoPro out and…it wasn’t there. I had it attached to a gimble I had bought at Christmas (a motorised device to steady the camera) and the attachment was empty – no camera! The Navigator realised from the look of panic on my face that something was wrong and we immediately started searching the church, but to no avail. I went quickly outside and retraced my steps to the point where I had taking the panning shot of the square but could not find it. As the square was all sand it should have been easy to spot a black and silver camera even though it is very small. We searched everywhere. A waiter at one of the bars helpfully looked about as did an old one-armed lottery ticket salesman at the entrance to the church but there was no sign of it anywhere.
The waiter gave us directions to the Guardia Civil police station as I thought that if it was handed in it would be to there but in failing that, if I had to make an insurance claim I would need a form from the Police to say I had reported it missing. We actually found the Local Police office first and tried to report it there but he wasn’t interested and pointed towards the Guardia Civil office further up on the other side of the street. The door there was closed but we could hear voices and an officer eventually came and with the aid of the Google Translate App on my phone eventually managed to give him all the details and get the form I thought I would need.
Back at the van and time for calm reflection, although I really was mad at myself for not having secured the camera properly. There were 2 choices to make a claim, either via the motorhome insurance or our home and contents which fortunately we had extended for ‘away from home cover’ before we left. I discounted the motorhome insurance as I didn’t want that affected by a claim. Our home and contents is with The Caravan & Motorhome Club who outsource to Devitts who in turn act as a broker for Sagit so after 3 phone calls I spoke to someone in the claims department who gave me the advice I needed.
I didn’t want to be without a video camera for the next 6 weeks or so and the insurance company said I could buy a new replacement. I searched online and found the nearest Media Mart (the Spanish equivalent of Currys) was about 45 minutes away, was open till 10pm and had the newer GoPro 5 model in stock. Feeling slightly better, but still annoyed with myself, we had some lunch then decided to have one final walk round this incredibly quirky place and at least take some pictures with my phone, if nothing else, before moving on.
As we passed the bar the waiter conveyed that no one had found it near the shops and the old man selling lottery tickets outside the church said the same (we think). I took a chance and asked inside the church but no luck there either. I was convinced it had fallen on the sandy street as I would have heard it falling onto the concrete floor in one of the shops or the church. We set off for a walk about round the village and as we returned to a big sandy square near the back of the church the old lottery salesman came and found us and started talking to us.
We did not understand a word he was saying as he had very slurred speech, maybe from a stroke, but he persisted and pulled on my sleeve wanting me to go to the front entrance of the church. There, the guy who actually seemed in charge of the lottery operation got his phone out, and I mine, and we had a Google Translate conversation, the upshot of which was that a man was coming to see me in 12 minutes if I could wait here for him to arrive. The Navigator decided to go into the church and sit in the pews, alone as it turned out as the crowds of this morning had all gone and she had the place to herself.
After what seemed like an eternity the man appeared with a scruffy looking dog and there were handshakes all round with the lottery sellers before he turned to me and said “GoPro Hero 4”. How did he know the make and model as I had just asked everyone to look out for a missing camera? I confirmed to him that was indeed my missing camera and then he reached into his jacket pocket and handed it to me! I was slightly dumbstruck as this was some 3 hours after it went missing and puzzled as to how this man who appeared from nowhere got to know who had lost it and that I was back in the village.
Great joy. More handshakes all round and ‘muchos gracias’ before I entered the church to give the good news to The Navigator. She was as puzzled as I was about the chain of events that led to me being reunited with the camera, but delighted that there was now no need to make an insurance claim or head off to buy another camera. This conversation took place under the fixed gaze of the 13th century statue of the Virgin Mary that so many people come from all over Spain to see.
Did the Virgen Del Rocío perform a modern day miracle by somehow reuniting me with the camera?
Did The Navigator say a few quiet words in the church asking for help which did the trick?
Did this small tight knit community get the word out somehow so that the finder knew I was back in the village again? But how?
What had just occurred can never properly be understood or explained, but even for a non-believer, my faith in human nature was greatly restored this afternoon.
We had a tea and coffee in the square in front of the church, both to have a seat in the sun and come to terms with the events of this afternoon, but also to thank the waiter for his earlier efforts, and he seemed genuinely pleased at the outcome. After all of this, a decision was made to spend the night where we were parked in the company of 3 other British vans, probably the coldest night in a good few months, since the Pyrenees anyway, but at least I now had an inner glow!
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