Virgin of Guadalupe, Spain

The Black Madonna of Guadalupe, Spain.

Since writing my previous post on Mary in the Americas, it has come to my attention that yet another possible source for Our Lady of Guadalupe (besides religious vision and Aztec mythology) is a Black Madonna in the town of Guadalupe, Spain (pictured right).  According to legend, this image of the divine mother was created in 580 A.D. but hidden away in the 8th century, during the time when Spain was conquered by the Islamic empire.  One version says she was hidden in a cave; another that she was buried.  Either way, it is said that she was hidden with written information about her origin and that she was found by means of a vision.  In a scene reminiscent of the Aztec Juan Diego’s encounter with the Mexican Guadalupe,  a cowherd named Gil Cordero was approached by a radiantly shining woman.  The woman, identifying herself as Mother Mary, asked that a shrine be built to her on the spot.  Subsequently her ancient statue was discovered and placed in the shrine.

It is said that a replica of this image was carried by Christopher Columbus when he headed to the New World and that replicas were carried by the conquistadors.   If so,this might undermine the theory that Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Americas was based on an Aztec goddess.  Then again, the Aztec Tonantzen (Mother of the Gods, a title applied to multiple mother goddesses of ancient Mexico), could be seen as the same mother goddess known throughout most of the world –  “old” and “new” before Christianity’s arrival.

One explanation for the ubiquitous Black Madonnas of Europe, many of which are found in Spain and France, is that they were copies of earth goddesses (the black referring to the color of fertile soil) which predated Christianity.  The statue of Diana of Ephesus – the place in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) where Mary was officially pronounced Mother of God – was said to have been made of ebony. Equally prominent in the Roman world was a Greco-Roman adaptation of Isis who assimilated a number of goddesses into her persona and who was often pictured with her child Horus on her lap. Isis’ story paralleled Mary’s in that her child was a sun god and Jesus’ birth story was linked to the sun’s birth when the date for its celebration was set at the Winter Solstice. Also, Isis’  husband Osiris was torn to pieces, died and was brought back to life, after which he took on the responsibility of welcoming the dead to the afterlife, a story which parallels that of Jesus (who is identical to the God who fathered him in Christian tradition).

Another Black Madonna from Spain is the Virgin of Montserrat, also reportedly found by divine intervention when Mary appeared to shepherds and asked them to build a chapel for her rediscovered statue.

The goddess Isis, also called Queen of Heaven, suckling her son Horus.

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See also: Black Madonna gallery

For information about Guadalupe and Mary in the Americas see An American Goddess: Mary in the New World.

For more about Mary’s goddess connections, see Theotokos: How the Mother Goddess became Mary

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3 Responses to Virgin of Guadalupe, Spain

  1. carol delaney says:

    Where can I find information about Columbus carrying an image of the Black Madonna of Guadalupe on his voyage(s)?? thanks. carol

    • Carisa says:

      Hello Professor Delaney,
      Welcome and thanks for reading. It’s an honor to have you here. The best I can say about Columbus carrying a replica of the Spanish Guadalupe is that it appears to be Catholic legend. Whether it’s historically accurate I can’t say. My source for that is a Catholic publication, the book Miraculous Images of Our Lady: 100 Famous Catholic Portraits and Statues, by Joan Carroll Cruz. Cruz is a devout secular (in the sense of not being a nun) Carmelite who treats all the legends about these images as gospel truth. She says she collected most of her information from the shrines, churches and monasteries where the images are located. It might be worth contacting the Monastery of Guadalupe.

      There is a more objective scholarly source for the fact that Columbus prayed to Guadalupe in Spain, as well as that he made a vow to her which he fulfilled by returning to her shrine to pray and by bringing back two Taino Indians to Spain to be baptized as Christians. Gretchen D. Starr-LeBeau reports this in her book In the Shadow of the Virgin: Inquisitors, Friars and Conversos in Guadalupe, Spain. I haven’t read her book, which appears to be mainly about the Inquisition, but ran across the reference in an internet search. She thanks Jodi Bilinkoff for the information that he had made this vow prior to his voyage. Starr-LeBeau is a history professor at the University of Kentucky and Jodi Bilinkoff is a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which lists her email as jodi_bilinkoff@uncg.edu .

      Miri Rubin in her excellent recent book Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary in Chapter 22: “From Europe to the Rest of the World,” has lots of interesting info about Spanish Mary in the “New” World. Spanish Guadalupe is mentioned only in a footnote, however, where she refers the reader to Starr-LeBeau’s book and to Peter Linehan, ‘The Beginnings of Santa Maria de Guadalupe and the Direction of Fourteenth-Century Castile,’ in Journal of Ecclesiastical History 36 (1985), pp 284-304.

      Marina Warner in a footnote to Chapter 20 of Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary mentions Guadalupe the town but claims the origin of Mary’s name Guadalupe is the Nahuatl language words for serpent goddess coatl (serpent) and (tealoc) goddess. Perhaps the Latin American Guadalupe is both, but the fact she bears the name of a preexisting European Mary suggests strongly that somebody brought her over. In Mexico that would be either conquistadors or priests I would think.

      BTW, I wonder if you’ve had a chance to visit New Mexico and see the early 17th century statues of Mary at Santa Fe or Taos? They aren’t Black Madonnas, but I’ve seen the latter and she’s really something. In particular I recommend attending the Christmas Eve ceremony at the Taos Pueblo.

      I hope some of this has been helpful and wish you good luck in your research.

      –Carisa

  2. Pingback: Catholic Church’s best ambassador - Blues for Levantium Lost » Blues for Levantium Lost

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