MAY 1st In ARLES
THE GARDIAN FESTIVAL
The feast of Arles is organized on May 1st each year by the Brotherhood of the Guardians. This tradition brings together the peoples of Camargue, the Arlesians, and visitors from abroad.
Since the inception of the feast, the Brotherhood of the Guardians has hosted the event which is marked by the celebration of a solemn high Mass and followed by a religious procession on Saint George's Day, April 23rd. Over time, it came to be celebrated on the Sunday nearest Saint George’s feast day. Finally, in 1984, the festival was fixed on May 1st.
Annual proceedings generally consist of a program which includes:
- A parade of the guards through in town;
- Blessing of the horses in the forecourt of Our Lady of the Major;
- Celebration of the Provencal Mass;
- Handing over of the sacred loaves to the authorities;
- The presentation of the Queen of Arles and her daughters of Honor; and
a show at the Arena.
Guardians salute the statue of Frédéric Mistral on the Place du Forum on the morning of the feast day, then join the church of the Major where they pay tribute to their patron St. George and where the Archbishop of Arles and Aix concelebrate a solemn high Mass. Following the Mass, the guardians are gathered in the Place de la Mairie for the handing over of the sacred loaves and to the Queen of Arles is elected.
In the afternoon, a show is organized in the arenas with camarguaise races and featuring other games favored by the Brotherhood of the Guardians.
COLLEGIUM OF THE GARDIANS: HISTORY OF 500 YEARS
The guardians founded their brotherhood on January 2, 1512. At the beginning of the XVIth century Provence was designated as a part of the kingdom of France, which was preparing in those days for a war against Italian principalities. The guardians, valued for their capabilities as cavaliers, reorganized themselves therefore to avoid their arbitrary enlistment by the royal armies. In 2012, the Brotherhood of the Guardians celebrated its 500th anniversary.
The Mass of the first of Mai take place in Notre-Dame la Major in front of the altar established for guardians in 1802.
SAINT GEORGES - THE PATRON SAINT OF GUARDIANS
Georges, the protector of cavalry and soldiers on horseback, was chosen as patron saint at the time of the creation of Brotherhood.
A Knight and soldier in the Roman army, he was martyred around 303 during the persecution of Diocletian. During persecutions against Christians, Georges left the army, renounced all his possessions and joined his brothers then being persecuted by their Roman overlords.
Captured, he underwent a terrible martyrdom. According to the different versions, he was tortured to death, his body cut to pieces, he was thrown into a well, he was forced to swallow molten lead, or given over to birds of prey. In the end, Georges was beheaded and thusly martyred was granted eternal rest.
SAINT GEORGES: THE LEGEND OF HIS COMBAT WITH THE DRAGON
The famous legend of the battle with the Dragon appeared in the 11th century.
One day, he came upon a city terrorized by a dragon devouring cattle and demanding two young men to feast upon every day. Eventually, Fate willed the sacrifice of the king's own daughter. The princess was heading for the lake where the dragon was sheltering when she met Georges, who advised her to deny her Fate and flee the misbegotten place.
The noble Georges thence commended himself to God and set about to confront the monster in mortal combat.
Legend records that the dragon was wounded during the fight and that Georges brought him back to the city lashed to his belt.
Having arrived at the town, Georges urged its inhabitants to convert to Christianity. Once the king and the inhabitants had received their baptisms, Georges killed the dragon.
Universally, Saint George symbolizes the victory of good over evil. The subject of Georges mythic struggle with the Dragon inspired the great painters such as Raphael, Ucello or Donatello.