Maries de la Mer, Saintes

Maries de la Mer, Saintes


Three Ladies of Egypt; Saint Marys of the Sea

Sometime after the crucifixion of Jesus circa 33 CE, a small boat fled Roman-occupied Judea or Alexandria, Egypt. It is unclear whether the boat never had sails or oars or whether these were lost at sea before landing in what is now France’s Camargue region. The passenger list on that little boat may have included Joseph of Arimathea, Saints Lazarus and Martha, and possibly as many as four women named Mary:

• Mary Magdalen

• Mary of Bethany

• Mary Jacobe

• Mary Salomé

Upon reaching France, the party split up to have their own adventures. Mary Jacobe and Mary Salomé stayed together, and they are now the two saints venerated as Maries de la Mer: the “Marys of the Sea.” Among the group of women who stood at the cross witnessing the Crucifixion, Mary Jacobe and Mary Salomé may be the Virgin Mary’s sisters, thus Jesus’ aunts. They may be the mothers of Saints John and James, Greater and Lesser. (Another very unofficial theory suggests that they are Jesus’ sisters.)

Although there are only two Saintes Maries de la Mer, they are venerated as a trinity alongside the mysterious Sara, who may have met them in France or traveled with them on the boat. Depending on the version of the myth one prefers, she was their young Egyptian servant or the daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalen, in which case smuggling Sara to safety may have been the reason for the flight to France. The Maries are Sara’s caretakers, or she is theirs.

Although there may have been four Marys, they are usually envisioned as three: Mary Jacobe and Mary Salomé with either Mary of Bethany or the Magdalen, either because one didn’t accompany them or because Bethany and Magdalen are considered the same woman. The two constants are Mary Jacobe and Mary Salomé.

Their boat disembarked at an ancient settlement called Ra or Ratis, then a city of three goddesses—Artemis, Isis, and Kybele were venerated on its acropolis since at least the fourth century BCE. These three goddesses are interpreted as corresponding to the three Marys, with holy child Horus corresponding to Saint Sara.

In 1448, René of Anjou, King of Pro vence, found relics for which he had long been searching, identifying these bodily remains as those of les Maries de la Mer. A church was built for them and the town renamed in their honor. Marie Jacobe and Marie Salomé are official saints. Saint Sara is not and for a long time was only openly venerated by Roma (Gypsies), who were the only ones permitted to enter her crypt. In the context of the Gypsy pilgrimage, the two Marys are subordinate to Sara but still holy.

Coffin-shaped reliquaries allegedly containing Jacobe and Salomé’s relics are carried in annual processionals to the sea, accompanied by statues of Sara and the saints, which are dipped three times into the Mediterranean before being returned to their shrine. Allegedly simultaneously dipping tarot cards or other divination tools quickly into the sea enhances their power, but only if accomplished when all three statues are in the water.

Saintes Maries de la Mer are invoked for all blessings, especially healing and happiness.

Sacred site:

The French seaside town of Saintes Maries de la Mer, once called Sainte Marie de Ratis or Notre Dame de la Mer (Our Lady of the Sea)


The Roman Catholic feast of Mary Jacobe is 25 May, coinciding with that of Saint Sara. Roma from around the world begin converging on Saintes Maries de la Mer during previous weeks. This is the big festival. A second festival coinciding with the feast of Mary Salomé on 22 October includes another procession to the sea.


Navettes (traditional French pastries in the form of their boat), candles, incense, fabric, pilgrimage


Artemis of Ephesus; Horus; Isis; Kybele; Marassa; Mary Magdalen; Sara la Kali


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.