BLACK MADONNAS | VIERGES NOIRES
BLACK MADONNAS: Women, Spirit and healing
Darkness precedes light and she is mother
Inscription in the altar of the Salerno Cathedral in Italy.
The Black Madonna is the alter ego of the Virgin Mary, they are Queen of the Earth as Mary is Queen in Heaven and fertile and sensual as Mary is icon of the Immaculate Conception and Incorruptibility. The Black Madonna is the Virgin who belongs to no man or deity, since all life emanated from her as Mother Nature. In contrast Mary received the seed of God in the form of the Holy Spirit (see the chapter on the Virgin Mary and Sophia).
Black Madonnas are found all over Europe, especially in France, the most famous ones being at Chartres and Puy-en-Velay in France, Czestochowa in Poland and Montserrat in Spain.
Some Black Madonna figures are pregnant rather than holding a baby, representing the fertile mother of the Earth. The symbol of the Goddess with the swollen belly dates back to Palaeolithic times. At Lozere in France in the cathedral Notre-Dame de Mende, the fecund Madonna made of walnut or apple wood, both fertility trees, was brought back from the Holy Land by Crusaders in 1253. Sometimes shrines of Black Madonnas are inscribed with the words from the Song of Songs referring to the Queen of Sheba whose wisdom was greater than that of Solomon, I am black but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem...
Sheba, like the Black Madonna, was linked with wise Sophia.
The Black Madonna as a Christianised Mother Goddess
The Black Madonnas in Europe for centuries provided a bridge between the old and new ways. The Mediterranean region was culturally influenced by Egypt and North Africa through the Moorish conquest as well as being geographically close to Africa and the Middle East.
Black Madonnas are most frequently associated with the Egyptian Mother Goddess Isis, depicted with the infant Horus in her lap, the original Mother and Child icon.
Other sources of her identity may be Cybele or Diana of Ephesus, all black goddesses who were still worshipped in France and the Mediterranean coast from Antibes to Barcelona during the later centuries of the Roman Empire.
Cybele was during the 3rd century the supreme deity of the town of Lyon that was capital of a vast area of South-eastern France. Isis gave her name to Paris (par Isis)
Ceres, the Roman goddess of agricultural fertility, another black goddess is yet another fertility icon associated with the Black Madonna.
In the Middle Ages when the majority of the Black Madonna statues were created, often modelled on older statues that were lost or destroyed, there was still a strong undercurrent of the old ways. This secret paganism was given impetus by Madonna-like Isis images brought back by the Crusaders from the Middle East; other statues survive from the Moorish occupation of Spain that did not end until the late fifteenth century.
Further evidence of the Black Madonna/pagan association is the fact that Black Madonnas were frequently discovered hidden in trees in France and Spain as late as the seventeenth century. These may have been representations of the pagan goddesses who were still worshipped in groves, especially the woodland Goddess of the Hunt Artemis in her black eastern form, known also as Diana of the Wood or the Golden Bough.
Legends grew up that suggested these statues had magical powers, that called the chosen finders to hiding places sometimes deep in undergrowth. For example at Heas in the Hautes-Pyrenees region of France in the 16th century, shepherds were led to the wooden Madonna by two doves, symbols of the Goddess in her form of Sophia. This statue like so many survived the destruction of its church, it was believed by magic, in this case by an avalanche in 1915.
Indeed, as Ean Begg who has researched the subject extensively says: 'Again and again in the stories of the Black Virgin, a statue is found in a forest or a bush or discovered when ploughing animals refuse to pass a certain spot. The statue is taken to the parish church, only to return miraculously by night to her own place, where a chapel is then built in her honour. Almost invariably her cult is associated with natural phenomena, especially healing waters or striking geographical features’.
Black Madonnas are also associated with and found close to caves, symbols of the womb of the Earth Mother. In churches too right through Christian times the statues were kept in a crypt or subterranean part of a church or cathedral, usually near a sacred spring or well. In this sense the Black Madonna links with the winter aspect of the Corn Goddess Demeter whose daughter Persephone remained in the underworld for three months, thus causing winter on earth.
Both mother and daughter were linked with the ancient mystery religions whose rites were practised in subterranean places.
Mary Magdalene, who it was said became the wife of Christ and mother of his son, is (especially in parts of France) believed to be the true Black Madonna.
It is known that the Merovingians in France worshipped Cybele as Diana of the nine fires and in 679 Dagobert II, who became Saint Meroginy, established the cult to the one which today receives the name of Our Lady and who is our Eternal Isis.
They incorporated this into the identification of the Black Madonna as Mary Magdalene and through her the Merovingians claimed to be the rightful Kings of France with descent from Christ’s son by Mary Magdalene, the infant in her arms in the Black Madonna statues.
According to the folklore and mythology of Provence, Mary Magdalene migrated with her son, from the Middle East to Saintes Maries de-la-Mer, a small village on the French Mediterranean, thirteen years after the Crucifixion. She reportedly spent the last thirty years of her life in seclusion at the cave of St. Baume in the French Alps. Although the literature in the monastery that is currently at St. Baume contains this story, it has never entered mainstream Christian doctrine.
Black Madonna statues are also found in places associated with the Grail pilgrimages. The Grail guardians were female and the original Grail cup was the Celtic Cauldron of nourishment that symbolised the womb of the Earth Mother (see the chapters on Cauldron Goddesses and Grail Women ) Mary Magdalene is in one tradition believed to be the original owner of the Grail Cup in which she collected the blood of Christ after the Crucifixion and took it to France with her.
Great powers of healing are associated with Black Madonna statues. One explanation is that the statues conduct the powerful earth energies associated with ley lines along which many Madonna sites are found. Ley lines are invisible psychic energy tracks beneath the earth along which people from ancient times built their temples and shrines. The original Black Madonna of Chartres in France stood in a grotto underneath the mediaeval Cathedral next to a healing well. Chartres Cathedral is said to be the most perfect example of Christian sacred geometry and like many sacred buildings has a ley line running through it.
A shrine to the Mother Goddess has been there since Druidic times, though the Celts did not have statues as such. Chartres Cathedral is aligned so that the altar and nave are lit by the midsummer sun and has a complex labyrinth set in the floor of the nave (see the chapter on section on Labyrinths). Though the statue was destroyed during the French Revolution in the 1790s, there are many account of its healing powers, perhaps as a result of the concentration of earth powers in the statue of an Earth Mother.
The Black Madonna of Montserrat in Spain not only has many attested case of healing, but it is able to awaken healing powers in those who touch her. Shirley who lives on the Isle of Wight, told me about her experience at the Cathedral:
As a result of her experience Shirley now cares for and heals elderly people who can no longer live in their own homes.
Debbie and I are in the process of researching a new book/project on Black Madonnas of France.
Between us we hope to visit every single one that is known of, and also hope to re-discover a few lost ones (we have had some success already on this).
Of the books already published, most are lacking a full listing of all Black Madonnas (Vierges Noire) that still exist today in France and are able to be seen by the public. We aim to address this and provide an encyclopaedic resource to help anyone in search of Black Madonnas.
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