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Extraordinary visit of the Virgen del Saliente to the Cerricos of Oria, Chirivel and Vélez Rubio

By Francisco Castillo

THE HISTORICAL VISIT OF THE VIRGEN DEL SALIENTE TO LOS CERRICOS DE ORIA AND CHIRIVEL FLOODS THE “EMPTY ALMERIA” WITH JOY AND LIFE

The concession of Bishop Antonio Gómez Cantero has allowed the sacred image of the Pequeñica to visit those places which, for three centuries, have sent multitudes of pilgrims to the Diocesan Sanctuary of the Saliente. From Sunday, Vélez Rubio will be her shrine for almost a week.

“A GIFT FROM THE NEW BISHOP

When the new Bishop of Almería, Antonio Gómez Cantero, visited the Diocesan Shrine of El Saliente for the first time on 23 February, he did not come empty-handed. With his characteristic smile, in the solemn setting of the Roel Library, he signed the concession so that the sacred image of Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados del Buen Retiro del Saliente Coronada could visit Chirivel and Vélez Rubio for the first time.

The incalculable spiritual value of the Pequeñica means that any transfer of her image must be carried out in accordance with Canon Law and the Episcopal Decree of 2005 which regulates her visits to Albox. In fact, in its three centuries of history, the Pequeñica has only made two extraordinary visits. The first was to the city of Almería, in 1954, at the request of Bishop Alfonso Ródenas García. The second, in 1987, to Oria, at the initiative of the Rector Don Antonio Rueda Moreno and granted by Bishop Manuel Casares Hervás. It was, as the Clavario of the Sanctuary, Pedro Manuel López Navarro, sums it up: “A gift from the new Bishop”.

From that moment on, the machinery of the Diocesan Shrine of the Saliente worked hard in perfect unity with the parishes, town councils and institutions involved. When the Bishop’s concession was made public, the Parish Priest of Velez, Javier Ruiz Pérez: “It was a dream that seemed impossible to us. For centuries, the children of this land have been on pilgrimage at every special moment of their lives. The love for the Pequeñica has been passed down from generation to generation. She is the Queen of Los Vélez”.

THE WISDOM OF THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE OF ALBOX

The hard months of work, in which a large number of people and institutions have been involved, bore their first fruit last Thursday. From half past ten in the evening, while the Parish Priest of Santa María de Albox, Enrique Antonio Cortés Díaz, celebrated the evening Mass of the Sacred Heart, the Roel was filled with a multitude of pilgrims. Surprised by the unaccustomed temperature, as it was even cold, some interpreted it as a new delicacy of the Pequeñica to reward their efforts. As midnight approached, the priests and the regional authorities arrived and the expectation multiplied. The Rector of the Shrine, Antonio Jesús María Saldaña Martínez, in his homily to bless the pilgrims, said: “while thanking our Father and Shepherd for his fatherly gift of hope and joy, I want to give emotional gratitude to the people of Albox for their wisdom of heart. They, who dwell in the sacred enclosure of their Mother and Patroness, know that the best guardianship they can do is to share her and proclaim her sacred name”.

The enthusiasm overflowed when, at last, the sacred image descended from its chapel to the sounds of the Coronation hymn performed by the Coro Parroquial de la Concepción, directed by the maestro José Masegosa Chacón. Aurelio Teruel, who was making his debut as the Mayordomo de Andas de la Pequeñica, closed the fanal that guards the sacred image and the bells of the belfry proclaimed its departure.

TO LOS CERRICOS DE ORIA, FOR THE SECOND TIME

For about five kilometres, under a blanket of stars, the long procession of pilgrims walked with the litter carrying the Pequeñica through the Sierra de las Estancias. Despite the solitude of the place, as there are no farmhouses in the vicinity, three different altars were prepared for her to rest. At no time did the innumerable chants and cheers that are natural to the departures of the Pequeñica cease. Men and women of all ages, even children, took turns to be the feet of the Virgen del Saliente in this extraordinary procession. The boom of the fireworks and the bursting of the platforms with the image of the Apostle Saint Bartholomew marked the arrival at the Cerricos de Oria.

A little further on, when the pilgrims reached the village, they were dazzled. Every house and every inch of the street was lavishly decorated, and the short walk to the church was marked with candles and beautifully carpeted. The Parish Priest, José Rubén Fernández Pelegrina, and the Parochial Vicar, Theodore Lejeune Nken Nyobe, received everyone and gave a heartfelt welcome speech. It was the second time, after the 1987 visit, that the Pequeñica visited this village.

Its privileged proximity to the shrine, as well as its position on the route, justified this new visit. The villagers invited the pilgrims to chocolate and cake, while they watched over the Pequeñica with their prayers.

LOS CERRICOS, A GARDEN TO ENTERTAIN LA PEQUEÑICA

With hardly a few hours rest, and after greeting the sunrise with the Rosary of the Dawn, the normally silent village of Los Cerricos lived a Friday full of life and joy. As the occasion demanded, the old inhabitants returned, and some even came from Jerez de la Frontera. One of the villagers, with great emotion, said: “this is the greatest thing that can happen in our lives, that the Virgen del Saliente comes to see us. When have we ever seen a day like this in Los Cerricos, with so many people and so much joy?

The rociera music announced the beginning of the Holy Mass which was presided over by the Parish Priest. During the sacred ceremony, the Mayor of Oria, Marcos Reche Galera, offered with great emotion a votive lamp with the municipal coat of arms to burn in perpetuity in the Sanctuary, a gift from the Town Hall. A commemorative stone was also blessed in the atrium of the church. The subsequent procession of praise took place through the picturesque streets of this village, which was transformed into a garden to welcome the Pequeñica. Every inch of the route was lavishly decorated with thousands of flowers and festive hangings. The Fines Music Band, fireworks and songs marked this unforgettable procession. Every few metres, dozens of ephemeral altars forced the procession to stop. A funeral service was also held in front of the Cemetery and the patron images of the farmhouses of La Yegua and El Margen were also present.

AND, AT LAST, THE PEQUEÑICA SET FOOT ON VÉLEZ-RUBIO.

After the popular meal, the arrival of the people of Chirivel, with their Mayor and Parish Priest at the head, reminded the villagers of Los Cerricos that it was time to say goodbye. Almost two hours were spent in saying goodbye to the Pequeñica, contrasting their sorrow with the joy of the people of Velez to receive her. Finally, after a vibrant speech by the Rector of the Sanctuary, who emphasised the link between the Virgen del Saliente and Oria, the procession resumed. The enthusiasm grew when, at last, the Pequeñica set foot on Velezian soil for the first time. At the Cantal, the Cuadrillas de Ánimas turned the long awaited visit of the Virgen del Saliente to Los Vélez into music. This music was not silenced for the remaining ten kilometres and, together with the rush of the people of Chirivel to get hold of the sacred image, brought forward its arrival in Chirivel. Once again, the bursting of fireworks and the ringing of bells heralded its arrival in Chirivel, as well as the applause that shook the vaults of the Parish Church of San Isidoro. The Parish Priest, as soon as the processions were placed on the main altar, shouted: “the Virgen del Saliente comes to return the visits that, for three centuries, we and our parents have been making to her. She is our true Mother”. Chocolate and a fervent vigil occupied the remaining hours of sleep.

A LAMP WITH THE CHIRIVELLO FOR THE PEQUEÑICA

The neighbours of the village of El Contador, with great tenderness, renewed the flowers on her platform during the night and offered them to her with devotion. In the morning, with great fanfare and various offerings, came the Holy Mass of the Immaculate Heart. The Parish Priest presided, with the Rector of the Sanctuary and the Granada priest Tomás Sola concelebrating.

The Parish Choir, with great skill, performed several songs they had composed for the occasion. After the Eucharistic Offertory, the Mayor José Torregrosa Mota took the floor and offered the Pequeñica a silver votive lamp to burn in the Sanctuary as a sign of the devotion of the people. In this offering, the famous Chirivello is sculpted. It is the remains of a sculpture from the 1st century AD, found at the Villar site and is the true symbol of Chirivel. Many of the faithful present in the church, as they themselves confessed, had been living elsewhere for many years. But, on the occasion of the visit of the Pequeñica, they returned expressly to accompany her. Almost all of them came to receive communion, and there were so many that the priests had to break the sacred hosts to make sure there were enough.

LA PEQUEÑICA, “MAYORESS” OF CHIRIVEL FOR A FEW HOURS

As the procession of the “Pequeñica” was leaving for the procession of praise, in a beautiful gesture made from the heart, the Mayor – who had just presented his son Hernán, born five months ago, to the Virgen del Saliente – took off his baton and placed it at her feet. Emblazoned with this emblem, which she only carries in Albox as she has been its Perpetual Mayoress since 1988, she walked through the charming streets of Chirivel to the music of the Auroros de Lorca, the Cuadrilla de Ánimas del Saliente and the Municipal Band.

The first stop was at the Bautista Galera Residence, where she received the affectionate affection of the elderly, which brought tears to the eyes of all those present. The old ladies even took off their humble bracelets to offer them to the Virgen del Saliente and, since they did it with so much affection, they were placed on her platform like the most valuable jewels. Dozens of poets spontaneously declaimed their verses as the Pequeñica passed by.

It should not be forgotten that the poet Julio Alfredo Egea, from Chirivel, wrote the lyrics of the Coronation hymn in 1988. The stifling heat did not hinder the slow procession, which was followed by a delicious paella under the ancient trees of the Paseo de Chirivel.

DESTINATION: VÉLEZ RUBIO…

Once again, six o’clock in the evening was the time to say goodbye, although the inhabitants of Chirivel showed their sincere gratitude for receiving the visit of the Pequeñica. The temperature was warmer than on previous days, and the departure from Chirivel was in the direction of Vélez Rubio. This village was reached in the early hours of Sunday morning. The floats and altars that welcome her suggest that the people of Velez will give her an exceptional reception. During these days, as the Virgen del Saliente passes by, the “emptied Almería” is filled with a joy and a life that only faith can give it.

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