The Candlemas festivities in Marseille

For many many people Candlemas is synonymous with pancakes, but not in Provence, where Candlemas is synonymous with Navette biscuits from Marseille !  The Navettes of Saint-Victor ! But do you know what Candlemas really is ? Let us explain …

Published on 29 January 2021

What is Candlemas ?

Contrary to what you might think, Candlemas is not the festival of Pancakes ! Candlemas is a pagan festival where in Roman times, people used to parade through the streets with candles (that’s where the word “candlemas” comes from) and lit torches to celebrate the god Pan. Later, with Christianity, this feast became religious. It is celebrated 40 days after the birth of Jesus (presentation of Jesus in the temple). Since then, every 2nd of February,  the believers parade in processions with blessed and lit candles.

Candlemas in Marseille

The tradition in Marseille goes back to the year 1000. The Candlemas festival lasts 9 days and takes place in the Abbey of Saint Victor.  It begins on February 2nd at 5 pm.  A procession that leaves from the Old Port and goes up to Abbey Saint Victor  via the street Sainte, most of the pilgrims have lit candles. The Black Virgin (Madonna) kept all year round in the Abbey’s crypts, is covered with a green cloak and presented to the crowd present. The Archbishop then blesses the Virgin, the green candles and the town which offers itself before him and celebrates mass. He then goes to the famous pastry shop  “Le Four des Navettes”  which is not far away and blesses in turn the biscuits ” les Navettes”, the tradition is that everyone buys the blessed Navettes. Thousands of pilgrims are expected every year.

Why the “Navettes” ?

The “Navettes ” is a dry biscuit (extremely dry) perfumed with orange blossom, in a shape of a tray, whose origin has several interpretations. For some it represents the  shape of the boat that brought the Saintes Maries to the Provençal coast, for others, it symbolises the shape of a statue of the Virgin who ran aground on the banks of the Lacydon. But whatever the legend, in Marseille the “Navette” is beautiful and a symbol of Candlemas !

There are 2 companies in Marseille which offer the traditional “Navettes”, each on a side of the ” Vieux-Port”, one on the “Saint Victor” side and the other on the” Panier” side.

Navettes des Accoules
68 Rue Caisserie, 13002 Marseille

Four des Navettes
136 Rue Sainte, 13007 Marseille

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