In the days before Pentecost, the town lives its main festival, “Villamanrique, Passing of the Confraternities”, declared an Andalusian Event of Tourist Interest. The town becomes the kilometre zero and official route to the Shrine of the “Blanca Paloma” in the village of El Rocío. This religious event and colourful tourist attraction have two centuries of history. Every year thousands of visitors come together in the Plaza de España.
The oral tradition holds that Villamanrique’s “monteros” or hunters who accompanied King Alfonso XI on his hunts introduced this devotion to the town. This tradition has been corroborated by documents found in Seville’s Cathedral, or the Libro de la Montería, which King Alfonso XI commissioned. On 20 October 1388, the hunters founded the Confraternity of Monteros de Santa María de las Rocinas in Mures (the old name of Villamanrique de la Condesa). The Libro de la Montería (big game hunting with hounds) was commissioned by the King and described in detail the rich diversity of trees and animals in the Spanish forests and mountains during his reign (14th century).
The Confraternity of Villamanrique de la Condesa were not only the first to express their devotion to Our Lady of El Rocío but also the first to make the pilgrimage to the village of El Rocío. They followed the route known today as the “Way from Villamanrique to El Rocío”. It was also the first Confraternity to create the first “Simpecado” in the 16th century, a Rocio-themed relic with the earliest pictorial representation of Our Lady of El Rocío. (The Simpecado is a banner usually embroidered with the motto “sine labe concepta” (conceived without sin) and the ultimate representation of the Virgin Mary). This Confraternity was also the first in many other things. It built the first “Cajón”, a portable temple in which the ‘Simpecado’ was taken in pilgrimage and the first house in the village of El Rocío; the first to write a set of Rules for good governance, to make pilgrimages on foot in winter to fulfil promises, to sign a contract appointing the Head of the Confraternity, to create staffs or insignias of office for the members of the Governing Board, to use the titles ‘Real and Imperia’ legally, etc.
Having made history as the first in many things, this Confraternity is the mentor of many other Confraternities of the Archdiocese of Seville, including Triana, Benacazón, Bollullos de la Mitación, Sevilla El Salvador, Cerro del Aguila, Sevilla Sur, Santiponce, Carmona and Tomares.
Once the pilgrimage of the Confraternities begins at Pentecost, the Confraternity of El Rocío of Villamanrique is “on-call” to greet the other Confraternities in the atrium of its Church amidst crowds of people. These Confraternities have crossed the River Quema on their way to the Raya Real. The people travelling with the Confraternity are welcomed with affection, brotherly love, kindness and without discrimination. Most Confraternities do not want to miss this emotive ceremony and fraternal welcome, reciprocating equally by making a detour and crossing the dreaded “Raya Real”, instead of going to the Palace through the Way of La Cigüeña. (After fording the River Quema, the Confraternities travel through the “Raya Real”, one of the hardest sections of the Way, to the King’s Palace to spend the last night before arriving at the Aldea de El Rocío. The “Raya Real” is a wide, sandy trail that crosses Doñana. It has some of the most beautiful landscape of the Way to El Rocío). The pilgrims of some Confraternities even help the oxen climb the stone steps to place the Simpecado at the door of the Church, where a representation of the Villamanrique Confraternity greets them.