The Cross of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer: symbol of the Camargue

From a purely aesthetic point of view, the Camargue Cross is formed of three tridents at the top, a heart in the center and fish tails at its base . This cross is the emblem of the French town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, an important entity in the Camargue, in Bouches-du-Rhône.

Before focusing on the Camargue cross as such, let's first talk about the region from which it originated, and more particularly the city that we have just mentioned.

It is in fact always good to put a symbol, religious or not, in its context to understand its full meaning. Obviously, the same goes for the Camargue cross.

Contents :

Geography and particularities of the Camargue

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer: genesis and origin of a town in the Camargue

Marquis Folco de Baroncelli: great patron of the Camargue

The creation of the Camargue cross

Meaning of the Camargue cross

The manadiers: representatives of the spirit of the country

Camargue landscape, with marshes.

Geography and particularities of the Camargue

The Camargue is the largest Mediterranean delta after the Nile. It is located where two branches of the Rhône meet the sea. To the north is Arles, the capital of the Camargue, to the south is the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the Mediterranean. The marshes and wetlands of Camargue cover part of the departments of Gard and Bouches-du-Rhône. Around a third of the Camargue is made up of lakes or marshes.

This unique ecosystem in the world is a paradise for more than 350 species of birds, the most famous being the pink flamingo. Thousands of flamingos can wade, feed and fly in formation on the shallow lagoons of the Camargue.

It is therefore in this very particular biotope that the Camargue cross appeared.

Several Christian lucky charms in the shape of a cross.

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Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer: genesis and origin of a town in the Camargue

A town well known to travelers for being the destination of the largest gypsy pilgrimage, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer sees the most beautiful cross in the Camargue erected.

The city owes its name to a medieval legend which tells us of the journey of the three Marys : Mary of Clopas, Mary Magdalene and Mary Salomé, mother of the apostles James and John. These three women were the companions and friends of another even better known Mary: the Most Holy Virgin, mother of Jesus Christ.

A few years later, around the year 40, the three women tried to escape the persecution then taking place in the city of Jerusalem by fleeing by boat. According to some sources, they arrived on the southern shores of what would later become France. Certain archaeological discoveries made in the 15th century, notably bones and relics, support this thesis.

Let us point out, however, that this is not a fact of which historians are completely sure.

It doesn't matter in the end: the Camargue cross is obviously a Christian religious symbol, this kind of story teaches us more about the soil from which it was born.

Period image of a manade of the Marquis Baroncelli.

Marquis Folco de Baroncelli: great patron of the Camargue

But in fact, where does the Camargue lucky charm that is the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer cross come from?

Born in Aix-en-Provence in 1869, Marquis Baroncelli was of both Italian (through his father) and French (through his mother) aristocratic origins. For five centuries, from 1469 to 1908, the Baroncelli family, although originally from Florence, lived in the city of Avignon, occupying the famous “Palais du Roure”.

In 1895, Folco de Baroncelli settled in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue to raise a herd of cattle that he called the Manado sentanco (or “sacred herd,” just that).

The marquis played an active role in maintaining and promoting local Camargue culture. He was very involved in the tradition of bullfighting. In particular, he paid particular attention to the breeding and preservation of Camargue bull breeds.

In 1909, he founded the Nacioun Gardiano (or “guardian nation”) to preserve the traditions and symbols of the Camargue.

It was notably under the leadership and patronage of this man that the cross was born.

Ironworker who forged the Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer cross.

The creation of the Camargue cross

The Camargue cross is a magnificent symbol created by the artist Paul Hermann in 1924 at the request of the Marquis Folco de Baroncelli. The most emblematic cross which dominates the city was forged by the ironworker Gédéon Blatière in 1930. It is located near the Moorish bridge not far from the Simbeu farmhouse, former home of the Marquis.

Similar crosses, although smaller in size, can be found in various parts of the city. Some tourists like to organize their visit to the city to see as much as possible.

The city has long been (and still is) appreciated for its charm. Celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway, Picasso and Van Gogh said they kept a special place in their hearts for Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Several symbols of gypsy culture.

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Meaning of the Camargue cross

Overall, the Camargue cross represents three Christian virtues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:13:

Now therefore these three remain: faith, hope, charity; but the greatest of these things is charity. ”

We thus have:

  • The cross for faith
  • The anchor for hope (this notion is also found more widely in the crosses associated with gypsy culture )
  • The heart for love (synonymous with the concept of charity from a biblical perspective)

This extract from the Bible teaches us a lot about the place we must give to love, and even more so on the Camargue cross. Of the three virtues that this Christian cross presents to us (faith, love and hope), love is the most important of all.

In fact, love (or charity) is the key to everything, because where there is love, there can be no failure. Paul said that a person cannot use his spiritual gifts without knowing what it is to love. Love is greater than all other gifts and qualities because where there is love, prophecies will cease and tongues will be silenced.

Love is above all and is something we must learn in order to truly live for Christ and help those around us.

Once this analysis has been made, however, there remains an element of the Camargue cross which is not explained by biblical interpretation: the trident.

More precisely, it is the three-pronged fork, a tool used by the manadiers, breeders who formerly guided horses and cattle in the Rhône delta.

Manadier on horseback, in front of the Camargue sky.

The manadiers: representatives of the spirit of the country

The Camargue horse is one of the oldest breeds in the world. For centuries, these little horses lived in the wild in the hostile environment of the Camargue marshes and the wetlands of the Rhône delta. They are the last breed of mounted draft horse bred in France and have long contributed to the management of herds of cattle and bulls.

Such fierce animals and these horses require men of character to be tamed. Obviously, using lucky charms was sometimes necessary for them, and the Camargue cross was a model of choice here.

The riders who guarded them were called manadier or gardian. In all of modern history, they led a lifestyle closest to that of the cowboys of the American West. They lived a harsh life in traditional huts, single-story structures with thatched roofs, no windows and doors adorned with bull horns.

Their history also occupies an important place in the traditions and collective imagination of Camargue. This is therefore found in particular in the symbol of the Camargue cross.

author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.