Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
'Saint Sarah' (also Saint Sara) is a Patron Saint venerated by the Roma (Gypsy) people. She is also known as Sara-la-Kali (Sara the black), though she does not appear in the Penguin Dictionary of Saints .
The centre of her cult is Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a place of pilgrimage for Roma in the Camargue, in southern France, where legend identifies her as the servant of the two saints Mary commemorated in the town. An alternative legend has her as a pagan of noble birth coming to the aid of the Marys and being converted by them.
According to traditions, after the Crucifixion of Jesus, Mary Salome, Mary Jacobe , and Mary Magdalene were cast adrift in a boat that arrived off the coast of what is now France. Some say that the boat arrived in AD 42, and they were accompanied by Saint Joseph of Aramithea and the Holy Grail. Sarah was the black Egyptian servant of Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe according to some, servant to Mary Magdalene according to others. Saint Sarah's day is May 24. Her statue is carried down to the sea on this day to reenact her arrival in France.
Sarah (or Sara) first appears in The Legend of the Saintes-Maries (1521) by Vincent Philippon . However, there are many different opinions as to who Saint Sarah is. She is tied with the Maries as an Egyptian servant. She is closely tied with the Roma (Gypsies). She is called Sarah-la-Kali (Black Sarah), a moniker that brings together two strands of this tradition. When the Maries' boat arrived at the shore where the village now stands, she taunted the three saints in the boat, and one of the Maries climbed out of the boat and stood on the rough waters, inviting Sarah to walk out to her. Sarah attempted this but floundered and nearly drowned. One of the Maries lifted her up and carried her to safety.
Sarah was expelled by the Catholic Church as not being a proper saint, perhaps due to her triple threat of being a black saint in France, the saint of the Roma and gender. Not that any one of these would be a problem, but it has been suggested that she does not fit the mold. Records of Saint Sarah's veneration are not found before 1800s, though this could be due to her being the patron of the Roma.
It is interesting to note that Sarah-la-Kali (Black Sarah) resonates with the Indian goddess Kali. Though it was traditionally believed that the Roma came from Egypt, it is now believed that they came from India between the 8th and 14th centuries. The notion is that Sarah was a follower of Kali, or a local manifestation of Kali. One variation of the story is that she was a local witch, even a vampire witch, may be based on this tradition.
According to Franz de Ville (Tziganes, Brussels 1956), Sarah was Roma:
One of our people who received the first Revelation was Sara the Kali. She was of noble birth and was chief of her tribe on the banks of the Rhône. She knew the secrets that had been transmitted to her....The Rom at that period practiced a polytheistic religion, and once a year they took out on their shoulders the statue of Ishtari (Astarte) and went into the sea to receive benediction there. One day Sara had visions which informed her that the Saints who had been present at the death of Jesus would come, and that she must help them. Sara saw them arrive in a boat. The sea was rough, and the boat threatened to founder. Sara threw her dress on the waves and, using it as a raft, she floated towards the Saints and helped them reach land.
People on the boat
According to traditions, among the people on the boat were:
- Mary Salome , wife of Zebedee and mother of John the Apostle and James the Greater
- Mary Jacobe , wife of Cleofas, mother of apostles Saint James the Less, and possibly sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus
- Mary Magdalene
- Saint Sarah
- Martha, Lazarus' sister
- Saint Maximixin 
- Saint Sidonius 
- The Gypsy Pilgrimage at Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
- Queen of the Gypsies
- Shrine of Satine Sara la Kali
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