1. Saint Sarah's first appearance stems from Vincent Philippon's book
The Legend of the Saintes-Maries, written in 1521.(*2)
In this record of an older oral tradition she is the Egyptian servant
of three Maries, Mary Magdalene and two other women who came to Jesus'
tomb the morning of his resurrection, carrying spices for anointing the
dead. The people of Provence call them Marie Jacobé and Marie Salomé,
though Mark the evangelist calls them Salome and Mary the mother of James.
Vincent Philippon portrays Sarah as a charitable woman, who helped people
by collecting alms. This activity led to the popular belief that she was
2. The Gypsies picked up the belief that Sarah was one of them and turned her into a French Gypsy princess, schooled in the esoteric wisdom of her people. One day Sarah had visions which informed her that the saints who had been present at the death of Jesus would come, and that she must help them. Soon she saw them arrive in a boat struggling against a rough sea. She threw her cloak on the waves and by the power of her prayer it became a raft with which she helped the saints reach the shore safely. Soon she became their first convert in France.(*3)
3. Yet another legend claims that the 3 Marys coming to France after Jesus' ascension into Heaven carried with them the "Holy Grail" and that this holy blood was actually Sarah, the daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. (Other similar legends call their child St. Michael.)
4. Some say Sara la Kali is a form of Kali, the Hindu goddess of death.
This seems plausible since the Gypsies themselves are descendents of India.
Kali means black both in Sanskrit and in Romani, the language still spoken
by many European Gypsies. Perhaps for the purpose of appeasing the Catholic
Church, Kali was hidden inside another story of the sacred feminine, that
of Sarah. The Gypsies couldn't very well tell the clergy: "By the way,
we're keeping our goddess of death and destruction in your basement!"
5. In 2006 I prayed and meditated at the feet of Sara la Kali, asking her: "Who are you?" The response was a somewhat angry insistence: "I will not answer that question!" Then I realized that the black feminine at the heart of the white Church is meant to hold the place of unlabeled mystery, a space that is to remain free of any concepts, free of arrogant claims like: "I know the absolute truth about her and you'd better listen to me!"
The Gypsies say, at the time of Sarah, they worshipped the Goddess Ishtari
or Astarte. Once a year they carried a statue of her on their shoulders
into the sea to receive its blessings. Now it is Sarah herself who is
carried to the sea. Each year on May 24-25, a great crowd of European
Gypsies, tourists, and local Catholics gathers to process the statues
of Saints Sarah, Mary Salome and Mary Jacob into the waters and then back
to their church. Only in 1935 did the Gypsies obtain permission to dip
their queen into the sea.(*6)
In 1448 the King of Provence had a part of the crypt excavated and found some remains of Marie Jacobé and Marie Salomé, plus a sacred healing stone that is referred to as 'the pillow of the saints'. Now the relics accompany Sarah and the two Maries during the great procession.