During this time, on 16 July 1251, the English born head of the Carmelite Order Simon Stock claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary with her baby son in her arms, which led to the effigy that proceeds today’s processions in honour of ‘El Virgen del Carmel’. Then, with the invasion of the Saracens, the Carmelites were forced to leave. One ancient tradition says that before departing, the Virgin appeared to them as they prayed for her protection and promised to be their Star of the Sea, (‘Stella Maris’).
Mariners, particularly in Spain as well as the Spanish Armada, soon embraced this title and therefore the ‘Virgen del Carmen’ also became known as ‘Stella Maris’, and was adopted by sailors and fishermen as their patron. To seafarers, Stella Maris is also the Polaris or Pole Star, the guide which early mariners relied on for their safe navigation.
It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century that the seaborne processions were initiated to celebrate El Día de la Virgen del Carmen on 16 July, which led to the official recognition of the ‘Virgen del Carmen’ as patron saint of the Navy a century later.
Today, ‘Salve Marinera’ (Salutation of the seas), the official anthem of the Spanish Navy, is sung during the Blessing of the Boats, the first line of which is “¡Salve!, Estrella de los mares’, (Hail, Star of the Sea).
For more information about the Fiesta del Virgen del Carmen, click here.