There is only a single person in this photo – the guy to the left of the entrance – but at Pentecost each year the Hermitage becomes the target destination for up to a million (!) pilgrims. The event is known as the 'Romería de El Rocío' and it is Spain's largest religious pilgrimage. The reason that brings people together here is the much venerated statue of the Virgin of El Rocío which is housed inside the church. The tile mural in the photo below shows the statue in its centre.
At the climax of the Romería the Rocío Virgin is taken from the altar and paraded through the streets of the town – with such huge crowds this cannot be an easy task and I am surprised the statue is still in one piece.
The next two shots show the Hermitage from different perspectives.
There has been a place of worship here since the 13th century, but the present building is just under 50 years old. The large (antique) cross at the top apparently was placed there only in 1980.
The town has a peculiar 'Wild West' feel to it. The streets are unpaved and the buildings are low and have large verandas. Most of the houses belong to so-called 'brotherhoods' – religious fraternities, who also own the numerous small chapels dotted around the town. For much of the time the properties are left empty.
The fact that we came across a number of horse riders added to the Wild West atmosphere. Some of the bars have made special provisions for customers on horseback. (When we first arrived we were mystified by the strange wooden 'barriers' – now we know!)
El Rocío is also famous for being a key gateway to the Doñana National Park, an area of marshland and sand dunes with a unique biodiversity. It is on UNESCO's World Heritage list. We enjoyed watching the numerous kinds of birds flying over the shallow lake just in front of the Hermitage.