TRAVEL with pat and lew

the festival of St. Vincent

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

Every August, the Festival of St. Vincent is Collioure’s biggest week of the year. There’s music, fireworks, and bullfights, and our little town is glutted with over 100,000 visitors.

The partying goes on until 5:30 in the morning, including those camped below us in the train station parking lot. However, the police are omnipresent, and we saw not a single instance of any disorder.

We did see Mayor Michel Moly, just about everywhere. He was introducing performances, directing street performers from one venue to another, and even collecting tickets at the bullfights. Early every morning, the streets were swept spotless, as they are every other morning in Collioure. I wrote a letter to the Mayor telling him how impressed I was with him and his administration.

Blessing the fleet

One of the major events, in fact the historical reason for the festival, is the blessing of the fishing fleet.

There’s a chapel overlooking the sea, and we watch four strong priests carry the relic of St. Vincent, held on their shoulders with long wooden rails, from the ancient church, along the beach, then up precarious rocky steps with no handrails. I guess if they slipped it wouldn’t be a good omen for the fleet.

Mass is conducted at the chapel, with about 50 people standing reverently for the service. Then the relic comes down the steps, an even more dangerous journey, it seems to me.

Many priests march in a dignified line along the beach at the edge of Collioure bay, then load the relic onto the signature lanteen-rigged fishing boat of Collioure, the hull painted bright blue with two horizontal stripes, one yellow and one red. Leaving their shoes behind, the priests, and the mayor, board the boat for a quick trip around the bay. They return, retrieve their shoes, and escort the relic back to the church.

Red neckerchiefs

We have coffee and croissants with Valerie and Lorcan, and begin to walk home.

There’s a group of young people outside our friend Lawrence’s Café Sola, already drinking at 10:00 am. They’re all wearing red neckerchiefs designed for the 2006 festival, and I want one.

“Where can I get one of those neckerchiefs,” I ask.

Lawrence overhears.

“I have them,” he says, and promptly produces two. A young man ties them around our necks.

“Can I pay you?” I ask Lawrence.

“No,” he says.

Then he smiles slyly. “But give me ten euros for a round of drinks for all these wonderful young people.”

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