Haitian vodou, Haitian voodoo
Rituals and Traditions

Haitian Healing Pilgrimage: Saut-d’Eau Waterfall


For more than a century now, the Haitian healing pilgrimage has been undertaken yearly to the picturesque grove where, legend has it, the Virgin Mary – or Erzuli Dantor – appeared in the middle of the 19th century on a palm tree near the 100-foot waterfall and began to adminster to the sick.


Pilgrimage of Healing in Haiti

Every year from July 14 to 16, rich, poor and middle class Haitians makes the pilgrimage to the Saut d’Eau Waterfalls located near Mirebalais and 60 miles north of Port au Prince.

Haitian vodou, Haitian voodoo
Saut-d’Eau (Creole: Sodo) Waterfalls are the site of a large, important religious pilgrimage in Haiti, during the festival of Our Lady of Carmel, from July 14–16. A Eucharistic rite is held during the festival, as well as various vodou rituals, but the penultimate devotional activity is bathing in the waters of the falls, and asking favors of the Virgin or Erzulie.

For three days, thousands have flocked — traveling by motorcycle, tap-tap, even donkey, along a stretch of gravel road carved in 2010 — to Saut-d’Eau (Sodo in Creole), whose name in French means waterfall. In the central Haitian town of Ville-Bonheur, or happy village, live two of Haiti’s most mystic and venerated beauties: the spectacular waterfall and miracle of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, its patron saint.

Vodou-Catholic pilgrimage : 16 July 2003

Unvoiced APTN news feature. Every year tens of thousands of Haitians come to Saut d’Eau and Ville Bonheur (Happiness Village) to pay homage to the gods or God, and to ask for favors.

Ezili Dantor, Erzulie D'En Tort, Haitian vodou
Loa of Motherhood: The most common depiction of Erzulie Dantor is derived from this variant of Black Madonna of Czestochowa, brought to Haiti by Polish mercenary soldiers hired by Napoleon to subdue the Haitian Revolution. Other depictions include Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Image from Wikipedia.

For more than a century now, Haitians have trekked to the picturesque grove where, legend has it, the Virgin Mary – or Ezili Danto – appeared in the middle of the 19th century on a palm tree near the 100-foot waterfall and began healing the sick. Also known as Erzulie Dantor, this lwa, or spirit in Haitian Vodou, represents motherhood, and single motherhood in particular. She is also depicted as the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa or Our Lady of Lourdes.

Mama Mambo Ezili Danto – Haitian Vodou Petro Lwa

So each July, two days before the annual July 16 feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the sick and the needy, journey in a pilgrimage that’s both Catholic and Vodou to revere the Virgin in the form of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Erzulie, the Vodou spirit often portrayed as the Virgin Mary.

Saut-D'Eau pilgrimage mixes vodou with Catholicism

It’s a sojourn that has taken on even more significance six months after the catastrophic Jan. 12,2010 earthquake that claimed an estimated 300,000 lives and displaced 1.5 million.

Updated 1 February 2024

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  1. Christine Goethals

    On East 115th Street in East Harlem, NY, you’ll find an old Italian church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. It’s empty most of the year, but on July 16th it overflows with the faithful for the feast of its patron saint. There’s a street festival and a statue of Our Lady–imported years ago from Italy, a realistic, life-sized image with hand-sewn clothing and human hair–is paraded through the streets for a candlelight vigil.
    I witnessed this in 1988, and it felt very surreal but I was genuinely shocked by the presence of hundreds of Haitians. These Haitian Catholics came from far away. They lined the church and screamed and cried, tears streaming down their faces, as they prayed aloud and shook with inspiration. They groped at the statue of the Virgin and pinned dollar bills to her clothes. It really freaked me out. And here you have revealed the origin of this mysterious ritual which struck me as bizarre and superstitious. The waterfall explains it all.

  2. Pingback: To Erzulie of the Seductive Summoning Sea | WilderUtopia.com

  3. Pierre Jean

    Yes, that is the way the faithful practice their religion. Vodou Haitian Vodou religion is of african origin but creolized with Roman Catholic and native american spiritual and mysticism.

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