St. Tropez: Les Bravades Celebrations

Lynne Alderson (May 2005)

Les Bravades de St Tropez are an ancient Provencal tradition when the people of the town venerate their patron saint, Tropes and celebrate their military achievements. This year they will be held from 16-18 May.

Tropes, a high steward in the home of the Roman Emperor, Nero, converted to Christianity in 68 AD; Nero had him beheaded and his body was thrown into a boat on the river Arno at Pisa. It drifted to the Provencal coast and was found by some early Christians, who adopted him as their patron saint.

Later, in the sixteenth century, the citizens of St Tropez were given special permission to form a defensive force to counter the attacks of the saracens. Today, during the Bravades, the locals don the military costumes of the time and march to the sound of bands.

The celebrations begin early on the 16 May, when the head of the Bravades Brotherhood fires 21 shots into the air. This is followed by the Petite Bravade at 3pm in the Place de la Mairie, when the town council hands over the symbols of their authority (a pike and a flag) to the Bravades' leader and his lieutenant.

The 180-strong Bravades Brotherhood then fire their muskets into the air, honouring St Tropes, whose bust heads up a procession borne by the Cross Bearers, followed by the Bravades Brotherhood and rounded off by the Pisans, pilgrims dressed in red robes who represent the executors of St Tropes. After five hours of parading, firing their guns at traditional stops, the bust of the Saint is brought back to his Church.

On 17 May, there is a morning mass, when townspeople wear traditional Provencal costume, sing special songs from St Tropez and carry red and white flowers. At 4pm, the Grand Bravade follows the format of the preceding day, although the stops are longer and the shooting more intense.

Finally on 18 May, the whole town follows St Tropes' bust out of the town to the hillside Chapelle Sainte-Anne. After an outdoor mass, everyone settles down to a lovely picnic before dancing their way back to the church in the Farandole, where St Tropes is interred for another year.

Copyright © 2008 Anglo-American Group of Provence