The Catholic Church explains the legend about Sarah this way…
Among the first followers of Jesus were three women: Mary Jacob, Mary Salome (the mothers of the Apostles John and James) and Mary Magdalene! After the crucifixion, the Romans exiled the three Mary’s from the Holy Land along with their Egyptian servant, Sarah. They were put on a ship with neither sail nor oar and set adrift in the Mediterranean Sea.
Guided by Providence, the Mary’s ship miraculously found its way safely to the shores of the French Camargue at the town that would become known as Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, The Saint Marys of the Sea. Here, the three Mary’s began preaching the word of Christ throughout Europe.
But there is another version of the legend, as well. The Gypsies of France, or Romas as they prefer to be called, have their own secret version which they tell around their caravan campfires.
The Gypsies describe Sarah as a Provencal Gypsy. After a vision of the coming of the Marys’ ship, Sarah waded out into the tumultuous sea and saved them when their boat capsized in a violent storm off the Camargue coast. She was later converted to Christianity and spread the word of Christ among members of her own tribe.
To the Roman Catholic Church, Sarah remains unrecognized. To the Gypsies, however, the true story is clear. Sarah is their patron saint.
So, on the 24th of May each year, for as long as anyone can remember, Gypsies from throughout Europe descend upon Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to venerate their Saint Sarah in prayer and in music. Thousands of Gypsy caravans fill this small town at the end of the road in France that has become a crossroads of wild Gypsy music, mixing traditional Tziganes music, flamenco and jazz. And the prayers and dancing, the celebration and singing go on throughout the night… but the music stays in your heart forever.
I walked purposefully along a long set of well-worn stone steps leading to the fortified Church of Saint-Maries-de-la-Mer. The caravans, thousands of them, which have been arriving all week, are settling in to Camargue. I entered the church and headed directly to the basement crypt. For a moment, the statue of Black Sarah, the Patron Saint of the Gypsies, stood alone on her altar in the dark surrounded by hundreds of tall white candles. Most of them were lit.
I stood at the altar and wrote a note of intention–my wish, my hope, my prayer. After lighting a candle, I placed my note on the altar like so many others have done before me. I turned suddenly and walked out into the warm morning sun.
The faraway strumming of a flamenco guitar caused me to pause for a moment.
I was unaware of the dark-skinned man lurking in the shadows.
In one week from this very day, I would die at my home in Beverly Hills, California.