The very traditional Saint-Pierre celebration

Published in BBBMidi, July 2012

As we mentioned in last month’s issue, Sète is considered by many to
be the most exciting seasports resort in the South of France. Apart
from its famous gastronomy and great atmosphere of serenity, the
so-called ‘ile singulière’ also benefits from a wide range of
traditional festivals and keeps surprising us.

Since 1948, every year on the first week-end of July, the
‘Saint-Pierre’ festival takes place and many traditional events awake
within Sète. This festival is to commemorate the humble Galilean
fisherman for a few days.

Indeed, the seaport exhibits jousting tournaments, as well as
commemorative walks and cruises and even a fun fair for kids.

We went there this year to file a detailed report for you of this
magnificent and historical happening!

A little bit of background first … Saint Peter (Saint-Pierre in
French) was one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus from his first
disciples. Originally a fisherman, he was considered by many to be the
first pope.

It is believed that Jesus once said to Pierre: ”On this rock I will
build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”
Several cathedral churches were since built in his memory, notably in
Sète. It is said that Pierre died crucified under Emperor Nero’s
orders.

As Mr Roger Délia, the president of the fishermen association of Sète,
describes it, the Saint-Pierre celebration is 80% religious and 20%
folk.

The festival starts on the first Friday of July, and during the whole
day jousting tournaments take place in the city centre. Kids,
teenagers, dads and granddads fight on the blue or red boat.

For anyone native from Sète, being a water knight is a honour and is
taught from generation to generation.

However, jousting does not really have anything to do with the legend
of the Saint-Pierre. It has been included in the tradition as it has
always been the most famous and enjoyed game in Sète and is a sign of
celebration in the city.

On the Saturday night, hundreds of fishermen and jousters walk down
the city of Sète carrying a statue of Saint-Pierre on a small boat
surrounded by beautiful flowers. The crowd includes young and old
jousters, fishermen, fishmongers and also an orchestra. This
impressive ‘must see’ is called the Torchlight descent (La descente
aux flambeaux).

Finally, on Sunday after the mass, fishermen and their family pay
tribute to those deceased at sea. Trawlers and other boats sail away
and thousands of flowers are thrown down onto the water from planes.
This is a majestic and extraordinary moment, surely the most
breathtaking of the whole festival.

It is not to be forgotten that this celebration was created in 1948 by
a group of ambitious young fishermen who simply liked to party…

The president of the fishermen association I met is one of the
founders of the festival. He confessed that when they initiated it,
they never thought it would ever become so popular and continue for so
many years.

If you missed it, make sure to be in Sète next year for a week-end
full of traditional culture and fun! If you get bored of the festival,
you can still enjoy the endless beaches or the great restaurants in
the city…

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