Black is Beautiful: A Black Madonna gallery

Virgin of Montserrat

Who are they?

The Black Madonnas are ostensibly medieval images of the Christian Mother of God, often with her child, the incarnate God Jesus, in which she is depicted as black.  Mary is so typically presented throughout medieval Europe as white and often even blonde (even though the human Mary would not have been) that many believe that black depictions of Mary are intended to convey a specific, perhaps secret, spiritual belief about her.  The most popular theories are:

1-Her color is a reference to the Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs), a biblical book containing a love story about a man (often assumed to be King Solomon) and his beloved, who is described as black. (“I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem,” she sings in Song of Solomon 1:5)

2-Her depiction as black refers to a “dark secret,” a hidden truth. Some assert that the secret identity of this woman is Mary Magdalene, alleged to be Jesus’ wife, and the child is theirs, allegedly the carrier of the royal blood (the Holy Grail).  This theory has been presented clearly by Margaret Starbird’s book The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, which was one of the sources for Dan Brown’s popular (and controversial) conspiracy thriller novel The DaVinci Code.  It has also been suggested that the black color might refer to a less literal, more abstract identity of the Feminine Divine as, for example, personifying wisdom.

Isis nursing Horus

3-The dark color is due to the fact that the Christian converts of Middle Ages France and Spain (where most are found) were still actually worshiping older earth goddesses, which were often thought of as black, like the earth. In particular, both France and Spain were areas where Isis with her son Horus were worshiped during the days when they were part of the Roman Empire, and Isis was often depicted as black.  It’s worth noting that these explanations are not mutually exclusive. More than one of them could be true.  The Feminine Divine has great staying power and many of her devotees have been less concerned with dogma than with felt experience.  Her maternal presence, and her evoking of the idea of the bride or beloved (directly or by analogy the beloved of God) are what is sought.  Her name may have been less important.

Where are they?

There are several hundred Black Madonnas found throughout Europe but most of these are to be found in France and Spain. Famous Black Madonnas also appeared in Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines after contact from Spanish explorers/conquerors.

Some Black Madonnas:

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa (above) is a Polish icon at least 600 years old and possibly much older. It was allegedly created by St. Luke himself while Mary told him the story of Jesus’ life, later to be retold as the Gospel of Luke. The fleur-de-lis, the symbol of France, must necessarily have been added later. Whatever her origins, the Madonna arrived in Poland sometime during the Middle Ages and is credited, like so many Black Madonnas, with both personal healings and wartime victories. She is said to have protected Poland from Swedish invasion in the 17th Century. The scars on her cheek were made by the sword of one of the thieves who attempted to steal the painting from the monastery in which she was living in the 15th Century. They were unable to steal the painting. Those familiar with Black Madonnas have learned that her images turn up where they want to, demand to dwell in particular locations, and cannot be moved from them unless they choose to go. This Madonna was crowned Queen and Protector of Poland in 1656 and was more recently beloved by John Paul II (1920-2005), the first Polish pope.

Black Madonna of Einsielden

The Black Madonna of Einsiedeln, Switzerland (right) was given by Abbess Hildegarde to the hermit St. Meinrad in the 9th century.  Poor Meinrad just wanted to worship alone but continued to be sought out by the faithful no matter how far he retreated into the wilderness.  Once his retreat in the Dark Forest near Lake Lucerne was discovered, he felt it necessary to build a chapel and placed this statue in it. She gained a reputation for answering prayers and thus the chapel became a pilgrimage site.  In the 10th century, a church was built around the chapel. Allegedly the night before the church was to be consecrated, God himself was seen standing at the altar of the church.  Also in attendance was the Queen of Heaven on a throne of light surrounded by angels.  Interestingly, the angels purportedly altered the usual prayers by saying of Jesus  “blessed be the Son of Mary” rather than “he who cometh in the name of the Lord.” In the 11th century the church was destroyed by fire, but the older chapel inside and the Black Madonna within it survived. This same pattern — church burned to the ground but chapel survived — repeated itself four more times over the centuries.  Despite the evidence that the chapel could fend for itself, the faithful eventually decided to surround it with marble — just in case.

Our Lady of Vassiviere

The original statue of Our Lady of Vassiviere (above) was unfortunately destroyed during the French Revolution. (It was recreated in 1805.) The original was located near a sacred spring in the mountain town of Vassiviere, France, whose name means the temple of water. Reportedly, unorthodox rites performed there earned the disapproval of the church. The modern replica is semi-nomadic.  She is carried to Vassiviere every summer and remains until just before the Autumn Equinox.  She spends the school year in another town, Besse et Saint Anastaise.

Virgin of Montserrat

Legend has it that the Virgin of Montserrat (above) was carved in Jerusalem in the early days of the Christian church and brought to Spain. It reportedly disappeared in the 7th century when the Saracens invaded Barcelona and was rediscovered 200 years later, in 890, in a cave in Montserrat mountain.  She was discovered because shepherds saw mysterious lights and heard singing coming from that place and brought the Bishop, who witnessed the phenomenon as well. The current statue may be a 12th century replica of the earlier one. Her popularity has never decreased. More than one million people visit her each year.

Virgin of Rocamadour

The Virgin of Rocamadour (right) is believed to be about 1,000 years old. Her shrine, reached by climbing 216 stairs carved into the rocks of a large gorge, was one of the four most popular pilgrimage sites of the Middle Ages.  She was reportedly visited by Charlemagne and by Henry II of England (which included western France at the time. Henry was the father of Richard the Lionheart, the “true king” of the Robin Hood stories).

Virgin of St. Chrostophe les Gorges

The two  images below are of Black Madonnas believed to have been brought to the rural region of Auvergne, France during the crusades. Below left is an 11th century statue which resides at St. Christophe les Gorges. Below right is the virgin of Molompize, thought to have originally come from Antioch.

Virgin of Molompize

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11 Responses to Black is Beautiful: A Black Madonna gallery

  1. Pingback: Virgin of Guadalupe, Spain « Queen of Heaven

  2. achurchguy says:

    This is a very interesting post. I do want to point out, however, that no Christian – neither Catholic nor Protestant — considers Mary as divine. She was Christ first and best disciple; human, yes, divine, no.

  3. celadon says:

    We have to consider that we as humans can have no judgement about Mary being Divine or Human. Who are we to know? Only those who know can say and most of the time they keep silent. As it is not of any importance, because it is about the amount of love radiated into the World. The compassion for All.

  4. Kofi says:

    thanks for the postings.you confirm what i was generally aware of.but everytime i see the images of jesus and mary depicted this way, it really hits my soul.thanks again

  5. How very “rich” these images are…and how very affirming to my soul and spirit!

  6. pixalight says:

    the black Madonnas represent an esoteric doctrine of the super natural concept of immaculate conception,regeneration and redemption. something from nothing, a star born to the black voidness of space or the womb, form from the formless, the term black in regards to spiritual terminology means lost, blind, without hope, without grace, without soul,death,evil,selfish,of low character,unenlightened. and the christ child is the star,the light,the life giver the illuminator,the hope bringer ,redeemer ect .It does not as some uneducated people think have anything to do with black Africans which is obvious from the physiognomy of the Madonnas as well as the associated esoteric doctrine .Many (most) of the Madonnas are not intended to be black but have tarnished, have a patina, are made from wood which has darkened due to age,or are covered in soot from candles.The reference to the apocryphal Song of Solomon on some monuments “I am dark like the tents of Kedar, but comely like the tent curtains of Solomon”.means though I am impure I am still beautiful in the eyes of my king or messiah. though I am unworthy I am redeemed. this refers to the principal of the black sin tainted heart of woman being redeemable in christ or in Judaism by her husband and child.in other words the dark stained exterior of the tents of kedar (nomads) can house within them beautiful tapestry like those of the tent of Solomon which you would expect to be of the finest ornate quality as he is a king- bren michael apollo

    • Know thyself says:

      Pixalight i find your desire to believe any explanation except the one that you can see amusing. Research the “physiognomy” of Mediteranian cultures. Why would these tarnish when other statues from that time period have not. Jesus, his mother, the disciples, and evey one else in that region did not look like Micheal Angelo. Maybe the statues are a reminder that someone has been telling the world a very elaborate white lie.

  7. Duvaughn says:

    Any excuse to xclude the fact they was black as nite

  8. Pingback: Handmaidens and Icons: Interpreting Women’s History | Jeanne de Montbaston

  9. Ken Williams Sr. says:

    It’s always AMAZING this hear all these white racist dillusional discussions about the Black Modonna and why it’s colored black . Europe stole all of their spiritual worship systems from ancient Black Kemet (egypt ) . and then try to make it theirs while rewritting history . Africa has given Europe everything and that fact is reality .

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