For Americans, Memorial Day conjures images of hamburgers and hot dogs roasting on the grill. But for hundreds of Spaniards living in the United States, images of the Romería pilgrimage in Spain in honor of the Virgin of El Rocío emerge.
“The pilgrimage here takes place in an environment very similar to the one found in the Doñana Park in Huelva, Spain,” said Miguel Coves, who with his wife, Dorothea Darden, started the event on their 500-acre Spanish horse-breeding farm in Springfield, South Carolina.
Since the annual event coincides with Memorial Day weekend, the festivities involve generous helpings of typical dishes from Spain’s Andalusia region. They include but are not limited to such specialties as tasty salmorejo (a cold soup similar to gazpacho), embutidos, (meticulously hand-stuffed pork cold cuts), jamón serrano (Spanish ham), delicious Spanish tortillas, and the familiar paella, Spain’s rice and seafood dish.
This year’s observance begins Friday, May 22, and continues through the evening of Monday, May 25, at the Coves-Darden farm, where participants may spend the weekend in guesthouses. Aiken, a city some 20 miles from Springfield, also has various hotels with rooms available during the four-day event.
The South Carolina pilgrimage began May 2013 following the dedication of an “ermita,” or hermitage or chapel containing a statue of the virgin. Thanks to “hermandades” or brotherhoods, news of the pilgrimage spread to Georgia, Florida, Texas, and beyond, attracting nearly 300 pilgrims to the first-ever Romería in the United States.
“The idea to start a Romería began with the building of an ermita in honor of the Virgin of El Rocío on our farm here in May 2012. Since I’m a Romería devotee, I thought it was a perfect place for an ermita. It’s the only ermita in the United States dedicated to the Virgin of El Rocío,” said Coves, a native of Alicante, Spain.
For the past two years, modern-day pilgrims have made their way to Coves-Darden’s sycamore-rich farm by plane, by car and in campers. But this is not a solemn procession; it’s a joyous observance filled with flamenco music and spontaneous dancing in keeping with the traditional Romería in Southern Spain.
Coves said he’s even mounted a tapas restaurant, called El Tingladillo, on the premises. There the Spanish food aficionado creates his own delectable dishes from the Moorish-influenced and diverse Andalusian cuisine.
This year, pilgrims strolling along the verdant rolling hills and sycamores heading for the ermita will be joined by professional flamenco entertainers from Spain. The well-known Juan Paredes will hold a workshop for flamenco enthusiasts.