In Malaga, we’re used to seeing processions of all kinds. However, on 16 July every year, a procession of unique characteristics takes place as local fishing communities honour the Virgen del Carmen.
The celebration combines a procession of an exquisite figurine, crafted from wood and porcelain, of the Virgen del Carmen (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) through the streets, followed by her transfer to a jábega, a beautifully decorated traditional fishing boat from Malaga.
Once at sea, the waters are then sanctified, and those who have lost their lives at sea are commemorated.
The Virgin is then taken on a short journey around the bay, accompanied by a flotilla of other fishing boats, with brass bands filling the air with melodic tunes, crowds cheering in excitement, and rockets and fireworks illuminating the late dusk sky.
One of the oldest celebrations in Malaga
The Virgen del Carmen festival is not only one of the oldest celebrations in Malaga, but also represents a unique spectacle that reflects the deep connection between the faith and culture of the city.
Those attending can witness the acts of devotion and participate in the shared joy of this festivity rooted in the identity of the city’s oldest fishing communities.
In Pedregalejo and El Palo, the primary festivities take place on 16 July, showcasing the vibrant community spirit of each area.
On 22 July, the central El Perchel neighbourhood will host a full day of activities that extend to Malagueta beach. A captivating ritual unfolds as a skilled brotherhood of divers raises a submerged statue of Our Lady from the sea.
The Huelin district marks the grand finale of the year’s celebrations in Malaga city on 23 July. In the evening, thousands of people participate in the procession of the Virgen del Carmen, creating a remarkable spectacle.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel and seafarers
To comprehend the deep reverence towards the Virgen del Carmen held by the seaside communities of Malaga, you must look back to the origins of the Carmelite Order.
According to tradition, in the 12th century, a group of Christian hermits settled on Mount Carmel near Haifa in modern-day Israel and formed a community dedicated to a life of prayer and contemplation. These hermits eventually became the Carmelite Order, one of the oldest religious orders in the Catholic Church. The Carmelites developed a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary, whom they regarded as their spiritual mother and model of contemplative prayer.
Over time, the title “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” emerged as a way to honour and venerate Mary in her role as their patroness. Devotion to her spread throughout the Catholic Church and she became widely regarded as a powerful intercessor and protector.
As the Carmelites had a significant presence in the coastal regions of Europe, particularly in maritime cities, seafarers and fishermen often sought the protection and guidance of the Carmelites and their patroness. Over time, Our Lady of Mount Carmel became associated across the world with interceding for those who worked at sea or depended on the sea for their livelihood, becoming the patron saint of sailors and fishermen worldwide.
Nowadays, especially in Malaga, and in neighbouring fishing towns such as Rincón de la Victoria and La Cala del Moral, devotion to the Virgen del Carmen as their patron saint remains strong.
Daryl is the co-founder of Malaga Guru. He is a copywriter, editor and translator who moved to Malaga a decade ago having first fallen in love with the city on his Erasmus year. After working for many years at local expat newspaper SUR in English, Daryl gained expert knowledge in life from the perspective of foreign residents and decided to co-found this site in 2016.