CAMARGUE CROSS is an emblem formed with a Latin cross whose upper ends represent a three-pronged fork or “trident” (a working tool used by “gardians” or cowboys) and whose lower end is a sea anchor topped by a heart. The Camargue Cross stands for the three cardinal virtues:
cross of tridents for F A I T H
anchor for H O P E
heart for L O V E
Camargue Cross origin
The Camargue is the biggest Mediterranean delta after the Nile. It is located where two branches of the Rhône River meet the sea. To the north is the Camargue capital city of Arles, to the south is the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the Mediterrannean. The marshes and wetlands of the Camargue cover part of the departments of Gard and Bouches-du-Rhône (mouth of the Rhône). A third of the Camargue is either lakes or marshland.
The stunning ecosystem of the Camargue is a paradise to over 350 species of birds, the most famous being the pink flamingo. Flamingos are born with grey feathers, which gradually turn pink in the wild because of a natural pink pigment called canthaxanthin that they obtain from their diet of brine shrimp and blue-green algae. Thousands of pink flamingos can be seen wading, feeding and flying in formation over the shallow lagoons of the Camargue. The best place to view the flamingos is the Parc Ornithologique du Pont de Gau (on the D570, 5 km (3 miles) north of Saintes Maries de la Mer).
Rice paddies and salt, have been harvested in the Camargue since the Middle Ages. There are now 10,000 hectares of rice grown in the region, much of it exported across the world.
The soil is prepared in winter and then fertilized and ploughed again in April. When the temperature is right, the fields are flooded with water from the Rhône river by pumps into canals. In May rice seed is sown into the shallow water. By the end of May the rice emerges above the water. In June the level of water is crucial to the growth and development of the maximum number of grains per rice stalk. Throughout the summer the rice continues to grow and what you think is a lovely meadow is actually a rice field, the water being hidden from view. The rice paddies are harvested from September to November.
But the most beautiful treasure of the Camargue are its white horses and black, long-horned bulls that roam free over much of the 360 square mile area.
Camargue horses and bulls
The Camargue horse is one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world. For centuries these small horses have lived wild in the harsh environment of the Camargue marshes and wetlands of the Rhône delta. They are the last ridden work horse bred in France, and help manage the herds of cattle and bulls.
Camargue horses are born with a hair coat that is black or dark brown in color, but as they grow to adulthood (about their fourth year), their hair coat becomes intermingled with white hairs until it is completely white.
Camargue horses running on the beach near Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Riders are called “gardians.” Gardians are as near to anyone comes nowadays to living the cowboy way of life. They play a major role in guarding Camarguais traditions. They live in traditional cabanes, thatched and windowless single-storey structures furnished with bulls’ horns over the door to ward off evil spirits.
A gardian’s traditional tools are a trident and a black hat.
Since the 1500’s the men (and more recently, women) of the Brotherhood of the Camargue Horsemen have been tending to herds of horses and bulls in the unfenced coastal region of the Camargue in southern France. Working with the bulls and the beautiful white horses of the region is a noble tradition, but economic and social pressures are taking their toll on the professional guardians. And their way of life is becoming harder to maintain.
Camargue bulls are raised for fighting in the hundreds of arenas throughout the towns and villages in this region of France. Camargue bulls aren’t killed in the rings as they are in Spain. The Camargue bull can fight for a decade. They make progress and get tougher as the years go on because they are extremely smart.
In the Course Camarguaise or Camargue bullfight, the goal of the Camargue matador (or raseteur) is to pluck a ribbon from between the bull’s horns. It is extremely dangerous for the men trying to get that ribbon. The dozen or so raseteurs, all dressed up in white, criss-cross the arena calling out to the bull to attract him. They constantly have to leap up into the bleachers to escape the charging bull.
Marquis Folco de Baroncelli
moves to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Born in Aix-en-Provence in 1869, Baroncelli was of Italian (father) and French aristocratic (mother) origins. He was baptized in Avignon where his parents lived in the Baroncelli-Javon mansion. For five centuries, from 1469 to 1908, the Baroncelli family, originally from Florence, lived in this Gothic home, transformed into a city mansion in the 17th century. It is now the “Palais du Roure.”
Though aritsocratic, the family spoke the Provençal language (Occitan), which was rather controversial at a time when it was considered to be a language of the common people.
In 1895 the “Marquis” as Baroncelli was known, moved to the Camargue and raised a herd of cattle called the Manado sentanco (the ‘holy herd’) in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. He married the daughter of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape landowner, and had three daughters. He became tenant of a mas, or traditional ranch, called the Mas de l’Amarée.
The Marquis played an active role in maintaining and fostering a native Camarguais culture. He was very involved in the local style of bullfighting, in which the object was to snatch a rose from the bull’s head. He put a lot of effort into raising purebred Camargue bulls, and his own bull, Prouvenço, was a particularly fiercesome and well-known example.
In 1909 he founded the Nacioun Gardiano (‘gardian nation’) to preserve the traditions of the Camargue.
The first Camargue Cross
In 1924, Marquis Folco de Baroncelli commissioned the artist Hermann Paul to design an emblem of the Camargue: The Camargue Cross.
This Camargue Cross was forged by Gédéon Blatière in 1930. It is near the Maure bridge not far from the Simbeu farmhouse, former home of the Marquis. Similar crosses are found in various parts of the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
UPDATE: On July 10-11, 2017, I was in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and specifically went walking to the edge of town to see the original Camargue Cross. To my astonishment, it was no longer there! From the locals I heard that a drunken man tried to destroy it one night, a month before. The man served prison time and the original Camargue Cross is being repaired so it can return to its original spot on the Simbeu farm, once owned by the Marquis. I will look for it the next time I return to Saintes-Maries.
UPDATE: On August 12, 2017, I returned to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer with my daughter Camilla who lives in London and was enjoying the beautiful sun and clear skies of Provence. I told her about the missing original Camargue Cross. So we walked out to the edge of the old Simbeu farm and happily the original Camargue Cross had been repaired and returned to its proper place!
If you keep your eyes open as you stroll through this town of 2,500 inhabitants that swells to 50,000 during the Gypsy Festival (the feast of Sainte Sara, also known as Sara-la-Kali, the patron saint of the Romani people on May 24th), you will see Camargue Crosses E V E R Y W H E R E in the little town of its origin:
If you look closely when walking through the streets of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer near the parish church (old fortress) you will see small brass Camargue Crosses like this embedded in the pavement….
….and on the window bars.
On a gate guarding the entrance to a property with cabanes….
….and as a window covering.
Over the entrance of the fortress church of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer….
….and on a gate with Camargue horses and flamingos.
The Camargue Cross contains three separate emblems: an anchor, a heart, and a cross of three tridents. The tridents represent the cowboy gardians and Christian virtue of faith. The anchor represents the fishermen of the region and hope, in fact the anchor cross is also an early Christian symbol. The heart represents love or chairty.
And to everyone in the world the Camargue Cross is a symbol of L O V E.
Camargue Crosses in the Mary Magdalene gift shop
There are several different sizes of Camargue Crosses in the Mary Magdalene gift shop that are made in both sterling silver and 18K gold vermeil, including lovely Camargue Cross earrings. They are also sold with chains as Camargue Cross necklaces in the NECKLACE section.