Today, the 24th of May, the Romani, or at least some Romani, celebrate Saint Sarah, sometimes called Black Sarah, or Sarah the Black, Sara e Kali in Romani, as their patron.
Like many popular saints in the Roman Catholic calendar, her historicity is shrouded. Some like the idea that her cult in fact came with the Romani from India, on their ancient journey to Europe. In this telling she is a distant remembering of the goddess Kali. Others like the idea that she is a remembering of a Celtic fertility goddess.
Others like a blending.
The Christian version of the story is that Sarah was a servant to one of the Three Marys. Perhaps she was a black Egyptian. A popular legend tells us that in the year 42, Lazarus (of the raised from the dead fame), led a group including the Three Marys and others fleeing persecution. The band eventually made shore at Saintes–Maries–de–la–Mer, in the south of France.
Another version of the story has Sarah already there and greeting the band when they arrived, or maybe even saving them from a storm by miraculous means, after which she serves them.
To elaborate on this, as Wikipedia so deliciously says “the pseudohistorical book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, suggest that Sarah was the daughter of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene.” This would inspire Dan Brown’s wildly popular pot-boiler the Da Vinci Code, and a small host of others. The themes of Holy Blood and the Da Vinci Code generated quite a cottage industry for a few years.
Lots of versions of the story of Sarah the Black. Like the best of saint stories.
Today many people will gather at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where her enshrined statue will be taken by a throng who will process with her down to the sea. And in doing so, share blessings with the Romani people, and, I think, I believe, with all the world.
A lovely thing…