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).
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