Cuenca

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Nuestra Senora de la Luz

In church of San Anton, La Virgen de la Luz (light), BV found by shepherd in cleft rock by river after apparition of light.

In

Lloseta, Mallorca

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Lloseta is a small town on the island of Mallorca. On the Avenue del Coco, right above the cave where this dark mother (moreneta) was discovered, is an oratory with a 1975 copy of her. The original 13th century Madonna was moved into the village church “Mare de Deú de Lloseta”, probably to keep her safe from thieves. photo: Semir Attallah

Mother of God of Lloseta,

Mother of God of the Coco

The legend of Lloseta echoes that of nearby Lluc, which echoes many elements of Black Madonna legends around the world. Did people not have enough imagination to come up with a new story? Did the same thing, with slight variations really happen over and over again? Are there some underlying emotional and religious needs that get channeled into these stories? Yes, obviously Black Madonna legends arise out of certain human needs, otherwise they wouldn’t be circling the globe. I also believe it’s entirely possible that the divine is sympathetic to those needs and seeks to fulfill them. What needs? A, the need for a strong, sacred feminine element that is connected to the earth. B, the need for peace and reconciliation between different races and religions during centuries of wars, occupation and re-conquests.

 The chapel above the place of apparition. photo:  mallorca-alles-inklusive.de

The chapel above the place of apparition. photo: mallorca-alles-inklusive.de

Mayorca was occupied by Muslims for more than 300 years, from 902 till 1229. I suppose it took more than one Black Madonna being found by a Muslim shepherd to establish Catholicism as an acceptable religion for the whole population, lighter skinned Spaniards and darker skinned Moors.

Here’s how the story of the Mother of God of the Coco goes: One day in the 13th century, a Muslim shepherd was pasturing his sheep near a seasonal creek called Torrent d’Almadra when a resplendent light appeared at a place called a “coco”, i.e. a little cave in the rock, which fills with water when the creek is running. The shepherd went to tell the people of the surrounding villagesAyamans, Lloseta, and Robines about this phenomenon, so they would accompany him and investigate it together. In short order a group of people entered the cave, moved a stone slab and found a dark skinned image of the Virgen Mary. Since there were no chapels in Lloseta or Ayamans, everyone agreed to take her to the church of Rubines in a solemn procession. She was properly installed and the church securely locked. The next morning the faithful returned to pray to the Mother of God, but they didn’t find the statue in the church.

 the sacred "coco"

the sacred "coco"

They searched everywhere until they found her on the spot where she had been discovered. She was taken back to the church and locked even more securely in a proper vitrine. The next day, you guessed it, she went back to her cave. This time the people understood that she wished to be venerated in that place.

For six centuries she remained in her chosen place. Then, in 1884, the more famous Black Madonna in nearby Lluc (20 km, i.e. 1/2 hr to the South) was canonically crowned. This inspired the people of Lloseta to also ask for a special blessing of recognition for their Madonna. The local bishop agreed under the condition that a proper chapel would be built to house the Madonna, one with an altar that could be blessed, a place where holy mass could be celebrated. He wasn’t going to bless some wild, little cave sanctuary where there wasn’t room for an altar. Consequently in 1888, a nice little oratory was constructed right above the cave. It’s sad to me (though not surprising) that the intention of the Queen of Heaven to be sought in nature wasn’t respected. Now she dwells in a shrine slightly removed from the place of her “apparition”, but people still go to the ‘coco’ below to touch the sacred place that is said to heal certain ills.

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Tradition also recounts that this Madonna once saved her village from a famine.

Her feast days begin on the Wednesday following Easter, when the faithful gather at her shrine for a picnic. In September she is honored with a festival and procession from the village church to the chapel “Virgen del Coco”.


In

Zaragoza

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In the cathedral, Northeastern Spain, 39 cm, wood on 6 ft jasper pillar, encased in silver and gold.

Our Lady of the Pillar

The story of Our Lady of the Pillar begins in the year 40 A.D. with one of the twelve apostles. James the Greater, reputably Mother Mary's favorite apostle, came to Spain shortly after the ascension of Jesus to evangelize. When all his efforts only resulted in seven dedicated converts and many threats to his life, he despaired. Downcast he went to the banks of the river Ebro to pray. Suddenly he and his seven companions heard celestial singing and when they looked up they saw Mother Mary surrounded by angels. She smiled and said she had come to help. She took from one of the angels a six foot tall pillar on which appeared a small statue of the divine Mother. Then she instructed: "This place is to be my house and this image and column shall be the title and altar of the temple that you shall build." The Mother of God promised that she and her pillar would, "remain at the site until the end of time, so that the grace of God will work omens and marvels through my intercession for those who, in their hour of need, invoke my name." (*1)

Mother Mary was still living in Jerusalem at the time, which means that this was an instance of bilocation, a "gift of the Holy Spirit" manifested by some of the greatest saints of all religions. Christians express it in terms of angels transporting the saint in an instant to a faraway place.

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The Pillar:

One may wonder why Mary gave James such a big pillar on which to place a small statue. What is the significance of the pillar? The Hebrew word for pillar also means memorial stone. Since the time of the Jewish patriarchs, pillars mark places of special importance that are to be commemorated by future generations. But pillars or 'sacred poles' were also an ancient Jewish symbol for the feminine face of God. They represented the Tree of Life, which in turn was the image and title of the Canaanite Goddess Asherah. Lady Wisdom, the feminine aspect or companion of God described in the Old Testament, is also called Tree of Life (Proverbs 3:18). The Bible acknowledges that a sacred pillar was placed in Salomon's temple in Jerusalem and poles in other holy places to embody the feminine face of God. The pillar was near the Ark of the Covenant, so that the God (who speaks of itself in the plural and created humans in its image as male and female (Genesis 1:27)) would not miss its female side. But around 622 B.C. King Josiah reigned and since he didn't distinguish between good and bad pagan influences he destroyed everything he considered pagan. (2 Kings 23:6 + 14) It seems that centuries after he pulverized all the goddess poles of the Jews, Heaven itself brought the sacred pillar of the Heavenly Mother and the Tree of Life (also one of Mary's titles) back into Christian temples. God seems to prophesy to this in Revelation 3:12 when he says: "The victor I will make into a pillar in the temple of my God and he (or she) will never leave it again."

After this first apparition of Mary, the Apostle James built the first chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. She answered many prayers with miracles and so the conversion of Spain succeeded. Although the chapel was later destroyed, as were several other churches on the spot, the statue and its pillar have endured over the millennia and stand to this day in a magnificent basilica.


Footnotes:

*1: Quoted in: Roy Abraham Varghese, God-Sent: a History of the Accredited Apparitions of Mary, p. 70 and Barbara Calamari and Sandra DiPasqua, Visions of Mary, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, p. 125

In

Tenerife

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In the village of Candelaria on the East coast of Tenerife, South of Santa Cruz, Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, 1530 copy of older, lost original, life size wood.

The Virgin of Candelaria
La Morenita (Dear Dark One)
Patronness of the Canary Islands

According to legend, this statue washed up in Tenerife at the end of the fourteenth century, shortly before the Canary Islands were occupied by Spain and when the native African inhabitants were still Pagans.

Once upon a time there were two shepherds who used to lock their livestock in a cave at the end of the day. One day the animals refused to go in and seemed scared. Looking around to see what upset them, the shepherds saw the statue of Our Lady near the mouth of the cave on the edge of the water. They thought she was a normal living woman, and since men weren't allowed to talk to or approach women outside of settlements, they motioned to her to go away. When she didn't respond, one of the shepherds decided to throw rocks at her. Immediately his arm became paralyzed. The other man became angry and pulled his knife on the Virgin, but it only cut himself. At that they fled in fear to the palace of the king to report these strange happenings. The king and his council went to the cave at once. Since nobody dared to touch Our Lady, the king ordered the two shepherds who had already been injured by the Mother to pick up the statue and bring her to his palace. The moment they touched her with a peaceful intention, they were healed. Now the king understood that this woman was a benevolent supernatural thing and he decided to carry her himself. However, after a little while he had to ask for help because she was too heavy to carry alone. That's why today there is a big cross at the place where the Virgin was found and at the place where the king had to ask for help, there is a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, another famous icon of the Blessed Mother.

The Virgin of Candelaria was brought to a cave near the palace and worshipped as an unknown goddess. After some time a certain youngster called Anton recognized who she really was. He had been converted while enslaved by Spaniards and then escaped home to his island. Now he taught the king and his court the Christian faith. Once they got to know the "Mother of the Sustainer of Heaven and Earth," they moved her to another cave near the sea for public veneration.

The statue once was stolen by Spaniards, but they returned her after a plague broke out that was felt to be a punishment for this sacrilegious robbery. 
In 1826, an unusually high tide washed Our Lady back out to sea and she was lost. The present statue was carved to replace the original. 
The Virgin of Candelaria was officially declared Patroness of the Canary Islands in 1867 and canonically crowned in 1889.(*1)

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Many faithful still go on pilgrimage to the Virgin of Candelaria. Especially around August 15th, the feast day of the assumption of the Virgin into Heaven, it is customary for college students and families to spend a day or two hiking to their Mother. They are rewarded by great processions and festivities reenacting the legend of the Black Madonna.


Footnotes:

*1: Virgen de la Candelaria . For more information see Spanish Wikipedia article on Virgen de la Candelaria (Islas Canarias)

In

Solsona

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In the cathedral, Province Lérida, state Catalonia, considered end of 12th century though the garter suggests end of 14th, 105 cm, stone.photo: Cleo Morris

The Mother of God of the Cloister
(La Mare de Deu del Claustre)
Patron of Solsona

This Madonna is considered the masterpiece of early Gothic sculpture. Gilabert, a great artist born in1163 in Toulouse, France, fashioned her for the monastery Santa Maria de Solsona. It is believed that he modeled her after the famous Black Madonna of Toulouse, which was destroyed during the Revolution. Hence the Mother of God of the Cloister gives us a good idea of what the original French 'Daurade' looked like. The Lady of Toulouse was one of those Pagan goddesses that were Christianized, and her ancient roots still show here. While typical Seat of Wisdom Madonnas hold Jesus squarely on their lap with the baby facing forward, this statue is even closer related to Isis than they. Like the baby of Solsona, the Egyptian son Horus usually sits sideways on his mother's left knee.

Our Lady of the Garter?!

The Madonna’s left knee is exposed, revealing a very fancy garter. It marks her as most noble royalty, as a member of the “Most Noble Order of the Garter”. This order of royal knights with its motto, metal, insignia, and robes was started by King Edward III of England in 1344. The order allows for only 24 royal Companions around the Prince of Wales (i.e. the King of England). From early on women in close association with the order were honored as “Ladies of the Garter”. These were usually highly respected wives or mothers of the royal members, but King George V bestowed this highest honor on his consort Queen Mary. Only since 1987 have women been admitted as full fledged “Companions of the Garter”.

The creation story of the order begins with a ball at the royal palace. King Edward III was dancing with his mistress, the Countess of Salisbury, when her garter fell to the floor. Some couldn’t help but snicker at the thought of how it came off her leg. To save face the king gallantly picked the garter up and, putting it on his own knee, he silenced the snikerers by saying: “Gentlemen, shamed be those who think badly of this. Those who laugh now will be very honored to wear a likeness of this, for this ribbon will be held in such honor that the mockers themselves will chase it with eagerness.” That’s how ‘honit soit qui mal y pense’ (That is French for: “Shamed be those who think badly of this”) became the motto of the order and the garter its insignia.(*1)

 Queen Victoria wearing the garder on her left wrist

Queen Victoria wearing the garder on her left wrist

 Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick Wolfenbuettel wearing the garder under his right knee

Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick Wolfenbuettel wearing the garder under his right knee

King Edward clearly wanted to tie his Order of the Garter to a tradition of King Richard I, who used to give his knights white and red garters to wear for good luck during the Crusades. Red and white were the colors of Saint George the dragon killer, patron of knights. Reminiscent of this tradition, King Edward III placed his Knights of the Garter under the patronage of Saint George.

So the order has a slight religious overtone in its patron saint and in an annual church service during which new members may be admitted. However it also has a decidedly sexual undercurrant in its creation story, in the close association of men and women of the order, in its main insignia, the garter, and in its motto. What is: “Shamed be those who think badly of this” supposed to mean? Did King Edward III want to say: “shame on you if you think of my lover’s garter on the floor beneath us as pointing to sexual activity”? Considering how reasonable such a conclusion would have been, he might have meant: “shame on you if you think lowly of sexual love, which is a great and sacred thing.”

Now one must wonder if the garter on the Black Madonna was meant to have sexual connotations or if it was simply to adorn her with a symbol of royal honor. I think the following evidence suggests that yes, this Black Madonna is portrayed as a figure who affirms worldly and celestial femininity, divine and human, even sexual, love. 

1) There is the unique scepter she holds. According to a high ranking cleric at the bishop’s seat of Solsona it is sprouting a pineapple palm as a symbol of abundance and life, the good fruit of life (as oppposed to the forbidden fruit). 

2) Unlike most Virgin Marys, she doesn’t wear a veil, but shows beautiful long brades that underline her unabashed femininity. (Also, she is not deferring to her son by poining at him as the Way, as do so many Madonnas of the ‘Hodegetria’ type. Instead Baby Jesus is pointing to her as the Way.)

3) Other Madonnas affirm sexual love. Among Black Madonnas the one of Montevergine stands out. But, as I explain in my article on Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene: “In medieval thinking Mother Mary had to fulfill all the old roles of the goddesses. That meant she was responsible for everything to do with a woman's life: love, passion, fertility, child bearing, praying, and dying.” For more see the sub-heading: “Goddess of Love: Aphrodite, Mary Magdalene or the Virgin Mary?”

Another interesting detail of the black Queen of Solsona is that under her feet she crushes an eagle (symbolizing pride) and an ape (symbolizing idolatry). Why? It seems that she is warning the Companions and Ladies of the Garter as well as those who may hold them in very high esteem, to let go of pride and to worship the Divine instead of worldly royalty.

The History of the Image

Around the year 1200, Our Lady of Solsona was hidden from iconoclasts. 'Destroyers of images' have periodically reared their heads in the Christian world ever since the 8th century. This time they weren't Byzantine Christians, nor Muslims, Protestants, or Revolutionaries, but the Cathars and one of their defenders, the French Raymond Roger, Count of Foix. They felt that fleeting matter was not worthy of embodying or reflecting heavenly energies.(*2)

To save the Black Madonna, she was hidden in a well of the monastery of Santa Maria de Solsona, which was attached to the cathedral. Eventually she was apparently forgotten. Years later, while children were playing ball around the well, a boy fell into it. To everyone's amazement the child was unharmed and the statue was found. You just had to put one and one together to figure out that the Mother of God had saved the child.

Other miracles followed and by the end of the 13th century, devotion to the Black Virgin of the Cloister was firmly established. It was passed on from generation to generation through various confraternities. One of them was called Minerva, after the Roman goddess. Our Lady earned her official title as patron of Solsona when she saved her children from the plague in 1652.

In 1810, during Napoleon's military campaigns, the French burnt the cathedral, but the Black Madonna was unharmed. The next war that threatened her, was the Spanish Civil War of 1936. This time the Mother of God of the Cloister was hidden first in a box in the bell tower and later evacuated to France. During this time the face of Baby Jesus was badly damaged, but it was restored after the war.

It wasn't until 1956 that Our Lady was solemnly and canonically crowned,(*3) but she had long since been honored with a very unique grand festival. Since 1653 Solsona has been celebrating the birthday of the Mother of Christ with its Fiesta Mayor, which lasts from the evening of September 7th to the 9th and hasn't changed much over the centuries. There are parades, music, folk dances, giant puppets each performing their own special dance, and finally the procession of the Mother of God, the Black Madonna of Solsona.


*1: Wikipedia articles on "Order of the Garter" and "Ordre de la Jarretière "
*2: A great article on 'Iconoclasts' in the on line Encyclopedia Britannica explains that when crusaders from all over Europe descended on the Cathars, one of the unintended consequences was that the old iconoclastic spirit was rekindled in many countries. And so, centuries after Catholics had massacred the Cathars, Protestant troops were still destroying sacred Catholic images. Goes to show that karma is a funny thing and that wars always lead to an exchange of ideas among enemies. 
*3: This is according to the confraternity de la Mare de Déu del Claustre's website: www.claustre.bisbatsolsona.cat. (Ean Begg quotes 1916 as the year.)

In

Sanctuary of Lord (Catalan), or Hort (Spanish), or of the Garden (English)

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The sanctuary of the Mother of God of Lord lies about10 minutes outside the town of Sant Llorenç de Morunys.(*1) 1,10m, present image probably from the 16th century, though tradition dates the original statue to 970 A.D.Photo: Marylou Hillberg

Mother of God of Lord (Mare de Déu del Lord)

According to legend, the Black Madonna of Lord appeared on her mountain in the 10th century. Here is a summary of the story as it was recorded in 1868.(*2) 
The Most Holy Mother of God was found on an estate called La Mola by the landlord’s ox and cowherd. In a remote part of the estate the cowherd had found a very special area. It had good grass for the cattle, fertile ground, and a spring that never ran dry, not even during years of drought. So he obtained permission from the landlord to fence in a little plot and grow a garden there.

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One day while pasturing the herd in his favorite place, he observed an ox that had gone off by himself to the spring. It was bellowing and running around the spring excitedly, then stood still, continued to moo, and finally began to strike the ground above the spring with its hoofs and its horns. This happened three days in a row, until the cowherd could figure out what was going on. By then the ox had moved enough earth that the cowherd could hear stones falling into a crevice under his feet. When he looked closely, he realized that there was a little grotto or niche in the ground on the bottom of which ran water from the spring. Now the ox knelt down and eagerly peered into the hole he had just uncovered. When the ox herd checked to see what was holding the animal in such rapt attention, he too fell to his knees, for he beheld in the far corner of the underground grotto a beautiful, dark-skinned, and crowned statue of the Virgin Mary. It was perfectly preserved in spite of emerging from such a wet and dirty place.
Overjoyed the cowherd ran to show this treasure to his landlord and then both hurried to the nearest church authority, the prior of a monastery. The priest organized a solemn procession so as to properly receive this apparent gift from Heaven. He set up an altar next to the spring and when he lifted the Dark Mother onto it everybody cried for joy.

 
Ox and ox herd at the feet of the Black Madonna. More on sacred oxen and Black Madonnas under Olot.

People surmised that their ancestors must have buried this image of their Divine Mother about three centuries earlier during a time of strife and crisis. When the time came for everyone to return to their homes a dispute arose as to where the Madonna should be taken. The people of Morunys wanted her in their village church and the peasants who lived around La Mola wanted her to stay there. The argument was settled when the Virgin cast her vote by making herself too heavy to be moved. The priest let it be known that she would stay where God obviously wanted her as the Mother and Refuge of the area. He ordered a perpetual lamp or candle to be kept lit before her and someone to keep guard at all times. So the faithful took turns and somebody was always praying in her presence until a little “temple” could be built for her.

They gave her the title Mother of God of the Garden for two reasons: One, because she was discovered next to a garden. And two because the bride in the Song of Songs, the archetypical bride of God, of whom Mary is the foremost manifestation, is told by her lover “you are an enclosed garden and a sealed fountain.” (chapter 4:12)

A small community of hermits takes care of this Black Madonna and her sanctuary. Here’s a summary of what their website says about the history of the place and its Queen from the time of her discovery until today:(*3)

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987 and 992 The first documents written in Latin on sheep skin parchments mention a chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Lord, high up on her mesa. The document is still preserved in the archives of the local bishop. (As Christians began to re-conquer territories from the Muslims, who had occupied Spain in the 8th century, they liked to build chapels in highly visible places to “mark their turf” so to say.)

1202 Armengol Gomes and his wife Adelaycis present Mount del Hort to the Most Holy Virgin and the first real church is built.

1450 The second church is built.

1587 -1634 The sanctuary is a Dominican convent.

1636 The holy image cries tears for quite a while in the presence of many witnesses.

1637 The “miracle of El Verger” takes place, where a goatherd falls down a very steep cliff on Mount Lord without suffering a scratch, because on his way down he invokes the Virgin and she turns his deadly fall into a gentle flight with a soft landing.

1695 The church is renovated to such an extent that it is called “the new house.”

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The sanctuary on its mesa. (photo: Marylou Hillberg)

1785 The foundation for the modern church is laid.

1811 The government takes control of the sanctuary.

1812 The Spanish army uses the sanctuary as a prison camp for French prisoners.

1823 A militia burns down part of the sanctuary, but the Black Madonna is not harmed.

1824 During a frightening drought the Virgin of Lord, in response to her devotees’ pleas, causes a sudden and amazing rain.

1835 Carlist troops turn the sanctuary into a military hospital and little later General Mina occupies it.

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1836 Coronal Niubó burns the sanctuary down completely.

1837 A very reduced chapel is improvised and part of the ruined house rebuilt.

1840 Another general orders everything destroyed again so that not one wall remains standing. The Madonna is moved to the parish church in Morunys, a nearby village where her cult revives.

1854 She protects that village and its surroundings from the cholera.

1863 A devotee offers the Virgin a precious crown and forms an association to try to rebuild her sanctuary.

1866 The grounds of the sanctuary are bought back from the government.

1870 The new church is solemnly inaugurated with a huge and very emotional crowd of believers.

1881-83 French Trappists live in the sanctuary because they are persecuted in their homeland.

1896 Another fire gravely damages the sanctuary, this time by accident. The Black Madonna is rescued by three neighbors who run for miles up the steep mountain to save her.

1897 The church is repaired and Our Lady brought back into her sanctuary.

1923 The image is thoroughly restored and is given a “make over”, i.e. she receives a new crown and her previously white dress is painted in the present colors. A tear is painted onto her cheek in commemoration of the tears she cried in 1636.

1936 – 39 Nine days after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, neighbors hear of plans to destroy the Sacred Image, run up and hide it in the woods while they think of a safer place. The next day they stuff her in a pit that is used for storing potatoes. Meanwhile the Communists destroy what they can in the sanctuary. Later that year the Madonna has to be brought out of hiding when her location is revealed through imprisonment, interrogation, and torture of her devotees.
Luckily the communists don’t destroy her, but put her into a museum and later sell her, along with many other statues, to art dealers in France. Our Lady’s sanctuary is dismantled and abandoned.
After the end of the war she is found in France and brought back to her parish, though not her sanctuary, which is still in ruins.

1971 The sanctuary finally is used for religious purposes again as a few Cistercian monks move in and the locals help them clean the place up and make it usable for living and celebrating mass.

1972 - 2010 For decades the place is gradually made more habitable and more accessible. Now it is the most beautiful and welcoming retreat center that welcomes any spiritual seekers to stay without asking for money. (Though donations are appreciated.)
A few wonderful priests are left of the old community. They were hermits until the Spirit called them to open wider to the world and welcome pilgrims with a place to stay.

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I went to the sanctuary of Lord in 2009 with a friend who had had severe knee problems for many years. The fact that she made it up and down that mountain at all and without any pain at that was a miracle to us, only explicable by who was drawing her up there. She says, while her knee is still not 100% it is much improved since her visit to the Black Madonna of Lord. In gratitude she asked me to post this photo of some of the ex voti others have offered to our divine Mother. They tell the same story: The Queen of Heaven can help!


Footnotes:

*1: My world map does not give the exact location. From Sant Llorenç de Morunys head up hill towards Port del Compte, then keep left towards Coll de Jou and Sant Serni del Grau (a sweet little Romanesque church) follow the signs to the ‘santuari del Lord’, drive through a tunnel and up a tiny, winding mountain road, then park at the foot of a set of steps near a freight lift for hauling goods up to the hermitage. It’s about a 15 minutes walk up a steep path from there. 
*2: An 1868 copy of Mr. Corominas’ book "Breve Reseña Histórica del Santuario de Ntra. Sra. del Hort" is kept at the sanctuary. Her discovery is told on pp 22-27.
*3: www.comunitatdelord.org

In

Sant Llorenç de Morunys

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In the Monastery of Sant Llorenç de Morunys, in the center of the village, about 40 minutes North-East of Solsona,Catalunya, about 70 cm, 1942 copy of ancient original destroyed during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

Mare de Déu dels Colls
(Mother of God of the Mountain Pass*1)

The Mother of God of Colls is enthroned in the most amazing Baroque altar called 'the Altar of Colls'.(*2) It fills a whole chapel of the otherwise very simple Romanesque church. It's like a cave lit up with a golden light from Heaven. That light has a story to tell, the story of salvation through Mary. It depicts words from the 'Hail holy Queen' (Salve Regina) prayer, the litany of Loreto, and from the Magnificat. I particularly like the detail (see photo below) where God the Father blesses Mary as she shows Jesus how to breast feed the world, i.e. how to nourish and nurture it with your essence.

The church is part of a defunct monastery that was founded in 885 A.D. by the Benedictines. A few architectural remnants of that time have survived, but most of the church is from the 11th century.

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Legend has it that one day two monks went out into the mountains, seeking the tranquility of God’s creation. A shepherd watched them from some distance. At one point he overheard them argue with a person who seemed to stand near them. The shepherd couldn’t see the person, but when the two monks left alone he went to find out who they had been talking to. With great joy he discovered that it was this Black Madonna. 
Later the shepherd witnessed a crowd of people who came and got the Madonna with a devout procession. From then on she resided in the monastery church.

Nobody knows when these events occurred, but from time immemorial the local population has carried their Black Madonna in a yearly procession on the Day of Prayers (Día de las Rogaciones) to the place where she was found.

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In front of the church clear mountain water flows from a vulva shaped rock into a fountain and people take it home to drink. Black Madonnas are often next to ancient sacred wells and the earth used to be perceived as the body of the Goddess. Moist clefts were her vulva, round hills her breasts, and caves her womb.(*4)


Footnotes:

*1: The Catalan word colls also means neck, but here it is used in the sense of mountain pass, because of where she was found.
*2: A sign on the wall near the Black Madonna explains that the artist Josep Pujoli Juhí created this master piece around 1773-1784 out of black stone covered with gold paint. The altar was badly mutilated during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) but restored afterwards.
*3: Miquel Ballbè i Boada, Las Vírgenes Negras y Morenas en España Vol. 1, Gafiques ISTER, Moia/Terrassa: 1991, pp.327-8.
*4: Maureen Concannon, The Sacred Whore: Sheels Goddess of the Celts, The Collins Press, Cork: 2004, pp. 22-4

In

Santisteban del Puerto

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In the province Jaén of Andalusia, in the church Santisteban del Puerto on the Plaza Mayor, copy of ancient statue that was lost. Wood. photo: Pedro Salido

Our Lady of Collado, 
Patron of Santisteban del Puerto

This is one of those interesting Black Madonnas with white Baby Jesus, the Yin and Yang of popular Catholicism, if you will. For more details and other examples see Foggia paintings, San Severo, and Chipiona.

Legend recounts that this statue was found by a farm worker called Esteban Solís Palomares on April 26th 1232. It was only six years after the Muslim occupation of the area ended and the local farmers dared to expand their territories, tilling soil that had long lain fallow. That day his team of mules all of a sudden had a hard time continuing in their path. He beat them onward until, with great effort, they unearthed a big church bell. When he cleaned it up a bit, he found that a beautiful Madonna and Child were hidden inside. Full of emotion, not only he but also the mules fell on their knees and stayed there a long while absorbed in adoration. This was the first miracle the Black Madonna worked in that town. 

Once Esteban composed himself again, he picked the image up, and leaving behind the mules yoked to the plow, headed for the village. Some people who saw what was going on, followed him, and so the first of many procession of the Virgin began.

Esteban headed straight to the village council with his precious cargo and told his story. With great solemnity it was decided to place the Madonna in the Chapter House where she was adored by all who heard about the event. That same day the village council and clergy held a public meeting at which it was agreed to call the image Virgin of Collado, after the site where she was found, to build her a hermitage in that same place, and to make her the patroness of their town. 

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During the construction of her first hermitage Our Lady was placed in an old Romanesque church at the foot of the castle. The following year the town took a solemn vow to hold festivals every year in honor of the Black Madonna on Pentecost, the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit. They continue to this day.

For some reason a certain Don Amador Chércoles Colomo published a booklet in 1886, in which he claimed that the Madonna was found in 1532. Yet many documents prove that the discovery took place many years before. E.g. the confraternity of Our Lady of Collado was founded in 1502. It too continues to this day and lists more historical facts on its website.

The Black Madonna of Santisteban holds a stick that symbolizes her rule over her town. Baby Jesus holds the world in his left hand and blesses it with his right.

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Her Romanesque church was either built on top of an even older one or using construction materials from an older dwelling. In any case, visigothic elements from the 5th – 8th century are found in the church and it was declared a national historical monument in 1978.

Not far from Santisteban, in the town Bailen there is another Black Madonna in her Santuario de Santa Maria de la Cabeza.(*1)


Footnotes:

*1: Miquel Ballbè i Boada, Las Vírgenes Negras y Morenas en España Vol. 1, Gafiques ISTER, Moia/Terrassa: 1991, p. 326.

In

Puigcerda

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In the church Sant Dominic, (Puigcerdá is pronounced Pucherda) province Girona, in the Pyrenees, only open during masses, daily at 9:30 a.m., Sat 8 p.m., Sun 10 a.m., noon, and 8 p.m. Original from 13th century disapppeared during Spanish Civil War in 1936, 85 cm. Photo, left: Dennis Aubrey right: Mark Veermans

Mother of God of the Sacristy
( Mare de Déu de la Sacristia)
Patroness of Puigcerda
Mother of God of the Milk
(Mare de Déu de la Llet)
Our Lady of the Cerdagne
(Notre-Dame de la Cerdagne)

As a nursing Madonna her title used to be Virgin of the Milk, but since 1585 she is known as Mother of God of the Sacristy. Father Jean Sarrète explains why and recounts her whole history in his article “Notre-Dame de la Cerdagne” (*1):

The Patroness of Puigcerdá began her life in Hix, a hamlet 7-8 km away, across the border in France. That’s where she was given the title Our Lady of Cerdagne (the name of the county). But the counts of Hix were in conflict with King Alphonso II of Aragon. Most of them were killed in 1177 and the one surviving relative was forced to move his residence to Puigcerdá, where he founded this new city as the new capital of the Cerdagne. Gradually more and more people were persuaded to move there so that the town became far bigger than Hix. Eventually the people of Puigcerdá, many of them former residence of Hix, wanted their patroness to follow them to their new home. Since the people of Hix weren’t going to let her go voluntarily, the bishop obtain a decree and soldiers from the king to force her move against the violent objections of the people of Hix. This happened around 1184. 

Fearing that the people of Hix may come and steal her back, an altar was built for the Black Madonna in the sacristy of her new church where she could be locked in. And there she remained until 1585; hence her name ‘Mother of God of the Sacristy'.

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She served her children in Puigcerdá well and is credited with protecting them from all kinds of disasters: 
In 1652 the plague was advancing towards Puigcerdá. The people implored their patron saint to spare them and the disease stopped in nearby Bolvir. 
That same year she kept French enemy troops from entering the city. That’s when the people vowed to celebrate a feast day with a procession in honor of their protectress every year in perpetuity, on September 8th, the birthday of the Virgin Mary.

In 1687 an infestation of crickets destroyed the harvest in the area. Again the people prayed with their bishop before the ‘holy image’ and the scourge was taken away.
Similarly she helped with a drought in 1764, with frosts in Mai of 1765, and incessant heavy snow storms in 1778-9.
In 1785 a fire destroyed the church of the Black Madonna. Everything went up in smoke, only she stood unharmed in the ruins.
During the Revolution she was miraculously saved by a young maiden called Julia, who grabbed her from the pyre where she was to be burned along with many other statues.
What finally got her was the Spanish Civil War, but she was replaced with this modern work of art, enthroned as the new incarnation of the Patroness of Puigcerdá.

The photographer Dennis Aubrey reports that she came to Puigcerdá from Hix only recently on September 8th.(*2) But Father Jean Sarrète doesn’t mention anything about her moving back to Hix after her forced conveyance to Puigcerdá. Since September 8th is her feast day celebrated with a procession, I think she may have been solemnly carried to Hix and back on that day in acknowledgment of her first home.

Hix has another 12th century Seat of Wisdom Madonna in a beautiful Romanesque church, who holds the throne from which the Mother of God of the Sacristy was taken. She is 68 cm high and used to be called morena, dark, but she had been whitened.


Footnotes:

*1: Father Jean Sarrète, “Notre-Dame de la Cerdagne” in the on-line “Bulletin de la Société agricole, scientifique, & littéraire des Pyrenées-Orientales” Vol 43-44, pp. 299-318. This is a very detailed and well researched piece and where it is in disagreement with Ean Begg’s The Cult of the Black Virgin, Arkana: 1985, pp. 191 and 259 I trust the former source more. 
*2: Visit Dennis Aubrey’s phantastic internet photo presentation at http://photo.net/photos/Aginbyte

In

Pena-de-Francia

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During the summer she is in her sanctuary 75 km SW of Salamanca, 15km W of La Alberca, on Mt. Peña de Francia (1723 m high),during the winter in the convent of the Poor Clares in Zarzoso, the remnants of the ancient original (possibly 8th century) are enclosed in this rendition of 1890; one can see them through a window in the chest of the new statue.

La Virgen Morena (the dark skinned Virgin), La Morenita, Queen of Castile

This is a story about pilgrimage - the journey of uncovering the divine. It's about the perseverance it takes to stay awake to the calling of our hearts. Staying awake is a central theme not only in this story but also in the gospels and in Eastern religious teachings. What staying awake might mean and how we might accomplish it, is for each of us to find out in meditation and prayer.

According to Ean Begg this Black Madonna was already around during the reign of Charlemagne (742-814). In those days French knights came to Spain to fight the Muslim invaders in a region that had been settled by French refugees fleeing their own Muslim occupiers. (Hence the name of the mountain, which means 'rocky hill of France) The knights found the statue on Mt. Peña de Francia, attacked and won the day. A French bishop consecrated the mountain as Monte Sacro.(1) Some time later the Christians ran out of luck and blessings, they lost that territory to the Muslims after all and buried the Madonna in order to save her from being destroyed at the hands of the "infidels".

All the Spanish, American, and Philippine websites I searched begin their stories in the 15th century. Some of them disagree on details, but here is a combined account of what may have happened.

It was the year 1424. In a little village called Sequeros, in the Sierra de Francia mountain range there lived a young woman by the name of Juana Hernández, whom everyone called la moza santa, 'the holy youngster'. On her death bed she prophesied and admonished the people: "Turn your faces to Mt. Peña de Francia and pray to the Virgin Mary. That's where an image of her has been hidden for two hundred years. It will soon come to light and Our Lord will work many miracles through it. That glorious image must be shown to a man of good life. In that same place, out of reverence for the Mother of God, a new monastery of the preaching brothers [the Dominicans] must be built. That's where God and the Blessed Mother of the Christian people will be. It will be a house of much devotion and many people will come from foreign lands and nations with great dovotion, seeking the Mother of God and her blessed image."(2)

Meanwhile, in Paris there lived "a man of good life" called Simon Rolan. He was a Franciscan lay brother, not real bright, but richly endowed with a good heart and great devotion to the Mother of God. He had come from a wealthy family and had accumulated much merit when he sold his entire estate and gave all proceeds to the Church and the needy. 

Once, while he was absorbed in deep contemplation of the beauty of the Holy Mother, he lost ordinary consciousness. Then he heard a clear voice: ""Simon, vela y no duermas! (That's: "Stay awake and do not sleep" in Spanish.) Go to Peña de Francia, which lies in Western regions, and search for an image similar to me. You will find it in a cave and once there, I will tell you what you must do."

Simon told his confessor about this experience, but the man advised him not to do anything. Several days later Simon was praying as usual before the altar of the Holy Virgin, when he heard the voice again: "Simon, vela y no duermas, stay awake and don't sleep, go to Peña de Francia and there you will find what you have been longing to see." This time the Mother's devotee did not ask his confessor's opinion but he did ask for his blessing, because he was going to set out the next day, as his heavenly Mother demanded.

Simon believed that Peña de Francia was in France, West of Paris. For five long years he searched every cave, hill and mountain, between Paris and the sea, not imagining that "Western regions" could mean South-West, in Spain. (Interesting how often the masters give us approximate hints rather than easy answers. Maybe the answers don't stick, we won't stay awake to them, unless we have struggled to find them.)

Simon became so discouraged with that struggle that one day he decided to give up. But on his way back to Paris he heard the same voice once more saying: "Simon, vela y no duermas, stay awake and do not sleep, do not give up the search; do not give up what you have begun. Persevere. A great reward awaits a great sacrifice; your labors will be recompensed." This lifted his spirits and he resumed his quest. He also changed his last name from Rolan to Vela, so that every time someone called him, he might hear in his name Heaven calling him to awaken.

Giving up on the West of France, Simon decided to take the "French Road" to the most important pilgrimage site in Europe, Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He thought it might lead him to the "French Mountain", Peña de Francia. He spoke to countless pilgrims on the way, always asking if anybody had heard of his mountain, but nobody could help him. And so his pilgrimage continued long after everyone else had reached their goal.

Having found no clue whatsoever between Paris and Santiago de Compostela, Simon decided to visit the famous university of Salamanca. But instead of receiving help from pilgrims or professors, a simple vendor in the market place gave him his first clue. It was a coal vendor yelling out the superior quality of his coal from Mt. Peña de Francia. When Simón Vela heard the name of the mountain of his dreams spoken in plain day light, he cried of joy. Giving thanks to the Holy Mother of God, he approached the vendor as if he was a long lost friend and asked him to guide him to the mountain. But the man did not trust this eccentric stranger and refused any information. So Simon waited until the vendor headed back towards his home in the mountains and followed him from afar.

When they arrived in a village called San Martin de Castañar he lost sight of the merchant. Luckily some good women were willing and able to show him where Mt. Peña de Francia laid off in the distance. When he finally beheld the place his divine Mother had told him about, he felt like he was seeing the Promised Land. It was by now May 14, 1434, five to nine years (depending on which account you believe) after the Madonna had first sent him on his quest.
After another long tiresome day of hiking, Simon came to the steep mountain. By now his provisions were depleted and he was hungry. Trusting that God would not forsake him, he continued on the deserted road. Suddenly he stumbled upon a packet containing a loaf of bread and a piece of meat. He gladly accepted this much needed gift of God.

 Mt. Peña de Francia

Mt. Peña de Francia

When night drew near he found a cave. Full of hope that this might be the place the Virgin had told him about, he fell asleep. Early the next morning, Simon began searching for the holy treasure in every corner of the cave, but could not find anything. Distressed and discouraged he prayed for strength and courage. Soon he heard the same voice he had heard before sounding clearly through the cave: "Simon, stay awake: do not sleep!" At a distance further up the mountain, he saw a dazzling light filling the place with its brilliance. Trembling with joy, he approached it and there he found an apparition of the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus in her arms sittings on a golden throne. He knelt before her and prayed with all the fervor of his soul. Overflowing with ineffable joy he said: "Oh, Lady, the dream of my soul, the inspiration of men and women! My labors are now ended. Many years have I traveled far and wide to seek you and to drink in the beauty of your eyes! Do not forsake me, be my protection." 

The Lady answered: "Simon, rejoice! Your constancy will be rewarded. Your dream will be realized. Your labors are now ended. Take heed and keep in your heart what I wish you to do. Dig in this spot and take what you can see and place it on the summit of this rocky hill. Build on this hill a beautiful dwelling. You are to begin it and others will come to finish it. This must come to pass as it has been the wish of my child." Then the Lady suddenly disappeared and Simon was left standing alone and rooted in the spot with wonder and awe.

The next morning Simon began the work of digging and excavating. However, he heard the same voice again saying: "Simon, vela y no duermas! Do not attempt to undertake this big task alone. Undertake it in the presence and with the help of two, three, or more people." Evidently this was to avert any doubt or suspicion from people as to the veracity of the miracle and the credibility of Simon. So Simon went back to San Martin de Castañar to look for help. He found a group of four men who remembered hearing the prophesy of La Moza Santa, the holy youngster. Elated to be asked to enter the story of the holy treasure hidden in their mountains, they agreed to help. For three days they dug until finally, on May 19,1434, after removing a huge stone, they found imbedded among the rocks the most holy image of the Black Madonna.

Right then and there, all five men received special graces from the Lady. Simon Vela, who suffered a head wound during the excavations was instantly cured; Pascual Sanchez' defect in the eye disappeared; Juan Fernandez was relieved of a stomach trouble that had been nagging him for ten years; Antonio Fernandez, who had been deaf could hear; and Benito Sanchez' crippled finger was healed. The official document of these miracles and this discovery, duly signed by those present and a Notary Public, is preserved in the archives of San Martin de Castañar.

Three years after the discovery the Dominican order opened a hermitage and guest house for pilgrims on this holy mountain of the Black Madonna. It stands to this day though only one single monk remains, who runs it. The present church dates from the 16th century.

During the first half of the 19th century various villages of the region fought over the possession of the holy image. As a result the Virgin moved around quite a bit. For a while she resided in Sequeros, Mogarraz, and La Alberca. In 1859 she was brought back to her sanctuary on the summit of Mt. Peña de Francia, but in 1872 someone stole her. For 17 years she was abused and neglected. When she finally reappeared she was in such a sorry state that it was beyond repair. That's why it was decided to encase her remains in a new statue.

The devotion of her people was not at all diminshed by her modern looks. She remained their beloved Morenita and was solemnly crowned as Queen of Castile in 1952 on the main place of Salamanca.

You can still visit the 'gruta de la Virgen' the grotto where the statue was found. It is inside a chapel called La Blanca. Some think of it as the crypt of the sanctuary. In the hermitage 'del Robledal', near Sequeros one can visit the graves of Simon Vela and La Moza Santa.


Footnotes:

*1: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, 1985, p.258. 
*2: Cited in the article "Virgen de la Peña de Francia" on www.galeon.com/sierradefrancia/2_pena_fran.htm.

In

Olot

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In the church by the same name, Carrer de l’Aigua, 12, state: Catalonia, open daily 8 a.m. – 9 p.m., original image from 872(?), present one from 11th/12th century and heavily restored in more recent years, 60 cm, painted wood. Olot lies between three dormant volcanoes. Walking a few minutes up the road from the front door of the church will take you to a crater.

Mother of God of the Bull (Mare de Déu del Tura),
Patron of Olot

Legend recounts that the Black Madonna del Tura was discovered in the Cueva de Mas Caritat outside the city, in 872. A bull kept strangely bellowing in a certain place until people dug and uncovered this treasure. She ows her name to this animal with spiritual sensitivity, for ‘tura’ is an old Catalan word for ‘toro’ i.e. bull. Almost all copies, holy cards, and paintings of this Madonna show her with her bull.

While the original statue has been whitened during recent renovations, all the copies around the church and in the sacristy show the Mother of God of the Bull to be a Black Madonna.

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While the original statue has been whitened during recent renovations, 
all the copies around the church and in the sacristy show the Mother of God of the Bull to be a Black Madonna.

Sacred Bulls, Oxen, and Cows in Christianity?

It is very striking how many Black Madonnas are said to have been buried in the earth and later found with the help of an ox, bull, or cow with a spiritual sense. Heaven used these animals as guides for humans and as conveyors of the will of God. Examples in my index are: FoggiaGuadalupe de CáseresLordMiliciaNuriaPrats-de-Mollo, and Telgte but there are many more. So many in fact that Ean Begg in his trend setting index tires of telling the story over and over. He abbreviates it with one word ‘cattle’.(*1) 

The question here is not whether animals have souls or consciousness and are able to pick up on spiritual energies. Neither do we need to wonder how many of these cattle stories might have been real. What’s important, I think, is to ask why this legend of the bull, ox, or cow finding a Black Madonna in the earth was so popular that it was told all over Europe with minor variations? What is its message and intent? The answer is manifold.

In the article “Nuestra Señora del Tura” Gozo argues that such stories are invented to augment the veneration of a certain image by giving it an air of ancient origins and mystical blessings. 
Furthermore, since the bull was the preferred animal sacrificed in sin offerings by Jews and Roman followers of Mithraism and other cults, the bull resembles Christ who was also sacrificed for others’ sins.(*2)

I agree with that author, but there is more to it. So let’s take a closer look at the role of bovines in Christianity and the religions that had an influence on it.

Foremost of course there is Judaism out of which Christianity grew. The prophet Ezekiel describes a vision of God on his throne accompanied by four beings with four faces each: a human, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. (chapter1:1-14) They are expressions of the power of God that Christians later adopted as symbols for their four evangelists.

I Kings 7:23-26 describe a basin in the temple of Salomon that is supported by 12 oxen, presumably representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Again, Christians copied this idea and built baptismal founts supported by 12 oxen, representing the12 apostles of Jesus.(*3) 
The Canaanites, in whose land the Israelites settled, worshipped a God called El (the same name Jesus uses for God when he cries out on the cross “Eli, Eli…!” which means “my God, my God”). El was figured as the infamous Golden Calf Aaron sculpted for the people while Moses spent time with God on Mount Sinai. El was often addressed as Bull.

In the Roman Empire the devotees of Attis would literally be showered, washed in the blood of a consecrated dying bull and thereby felt themselves freed of all sin and “born again”. (Compare Leviticus 17:11 and Revelation 7:14)

 Pasiphae with her Minotaur son

Pasiphae with her Minotaur son

During the first centuries of the Common Era Mithraism was the chief rival of Christianity. It worshipped the God Mithra, whose main feat it was to have hunted down and finally sacrificed a heavenly bull. By his death the bull gave birth to all living things and eternal life to his devotees. Every meeting place of this cult included a representation of Mithra sacrificing the bull. These images spread all over the Roman Empire, all the way to England, because Mithraism was particularly popular among Roman soldiers. (It was a men’s religion that excluded women completely.)

In Egypt the god Osiris was believed to be embodied by ritually perfect bulls, who lived in his temples their whole lives and were embalmed at the time of their deaths. Meanwhile his wife Isis was associated with cows. She often wears cow’s horns on her head. 

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Before Isis the mother goddess Hathor or Hesat was already seen as a heavenly milk cow, who kindly quenched the thirst of human kind with her abundant divine nectar. She was depicted as a woman with the head of a cow, as a cow, or as a woman wearing cow horns.She was the “daily companion” of the Solar Bull.(*4)

The matriarchal Minoan civilization of Crete consistently linked their goddesses and holy sites to sacred bulls. Bulls’ horns marked a place as having sacred authority. As the consort and son of the goddess heavenly bulls were sacrificed and resurrected each year.(*5)Since at least 2600 BCE bull leaping festivals were held throughout the year, marking the passing of the seasons. But bulls were also killed and sacrificed by priestesses as a way of passing life force from the gods and ancestors to living individuals.(*6) Pasiphae, a later Cretan moon-goddess, coupled with a bull, the Taurus of astrology, and gave birth to a Minotaur, a son with a human body but a bull’s head.

In Greece Hera was the Queen of Heaven who presided over all things feminine. Homer complimented her by calling her “cow-eyed” or “cow-faced” and cows were sacred to her. The earth-goddess of agriculture, Demeter or Ceres, was also sometimes portrayed as a peasant woman riding a bull.(*7) Dionysus was not just the Greek god of wine but also another god of death and resurrection with strong links to the bull. He was frequently portrayed with bull horns.(*8)

The Celtic religion also knew a divine bull and sacrifices of consecrated bulls. On the right you see "The Holy Bull", a Celtic monument found in Paris in 1711, under the choir of Notre-Dame-de-Paris. (It is preserved in the Musée de Cluny ot des Thermes.)

Pagan deities in general were often close to the earth, worshipped in sacred groves and accompanied by sacred animals.

In Christianity, besides being the symbol for Luke the Evangelist, the ox, bull, or cow doesn’t really get mentioned until Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) popularizes the image of baby Jesus in the manger accompanied by ox and ass. Saint Francis is the Christian champion of nature and animals. He preached to them and appreciated how well they lived out his ideal of poverty in flesh and spirit (that poverty which was his way to divine union).
Other than next to the manger, cattle only plays a significant role in the Christian world in the context of the Black Madonna. Why? Because, as I explain in the introduction, she has strong ties to the earth and to pre-Christian goddesses. I would argue that if the Queen of Heaven insists on being dug up from the earth, or at last sensed in the earth, by animals that were held sacred in pre-Christian religions, she is making a strong statement. Or, if not she, then her devotees want to say something about the divine being present not just in heaven, but also in the earth, not just in humans, but also in animals, not just since the birth of Jesus, but since time immemorial. 

I wouldn’t doubt that with so many sacred bovines tredding through the Roman Empire and the Bible the sacred cow, bull, or ox had sunk deep into the subconscious of the people. They surely didn’t remember why, but somehow those animals still had a connection to the divine in the collective unconscious.

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The biggest church in Olot is Sant Esteve, where you’ll find these two copies of Black Madonnas. One is Santa Maria del Tura (notice the bull on the bottom right) the other Our Lady of Montserrat held in her mountains as in the hands of the earth. Many Spanish images of the Dark Mother of Montserrat show her with her mountain. Here you see again how the people appreciate her closeness to Mother Nature.

First Steps before the Black Madonna: a Unique Olot Tradition

It is a local ritual: when your baby is about ready to walk, you bring it before Santa Maria del Tura, put brand new shoes on its feet and let it take its first steps in the presence of the Virgin while the mother recites this prayer: “Here I bring you this child of mine, because in jumping from my arms I want it to take its first steps before you and before God.” As Mary presented Jesus in the temple, the parents present their child to God through Mary.

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*1: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Arkana: 1985. By coincidence my index doesn’t yet include any cattle stories from France, but Begg’s infinitely more complete index certainly does. E.g. Manosque, Limoux, Font-Romeu/Odeillo
*2: In the internet magazine of the Spanish ministry of culture “Animalario: Visiones humanos sobre mundos animals
*3: Two such fonts survive from Romanesque times in Liège, Belgium and Trier, Germany.
*4: Jack Dempsey, Calendar House, chapter 7. A great book on Minoan culture.
*5: L. Caruana, the Rape of Europa
*6: Jack Dempsey, op. cit.
*7: Miquel Ballbè i Boada, Las Vírgenes Negras y Morenas en España, Vol. 1, Gafiques ISTER, Moia/Terrassa: 1991, p.31.
*8: Wikipedia article on “Dionysus” 

 

In

Nuria

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In her own sanctuary high in the Pyrenees, about one hour from Barcelona, 7th - 12th century, 56 cm, painted wood, recently whitened during restoration. 
Photos: Ella Rozett

Our Lady of Nuria
The Dear Dark One (La Morenita)
Queen of the Pyrenees
Patroness of Shepherds and of the Diocese of Urgel

 

The story begins in the 7th century with St. Gil (c.650 - c.710), a hermit who came from Athens, Greece to the Pyrenees to live in solitude. He is said to have carved this archaic statue when he spent four years in those mountains living with the local shepherds as their spiritual father and sharing with them the simple meals he cooked. When he had to flee from undisclosed enemies he closed off the entrance to his cave-hermitage to hide his 'treasure:' the statue of Our Lady, a crucifix, the bell he had used to call the shepherds to mass and to meals, and the cauldron he used to cook in. Eventually these things were forgotten.

But some time in the 11th century, a lover of the Virgin came from the Orient. He was a pilgrim from Damascus by the name of Amadeus. An angel had appeared to him in a dream, telling him to go to the Pyrenees and to build a temple to the Madonna in a place where a white stone stood between two rivers. If he dug there he would find a great treasure. When he arrived at the site, local shepherds watched him and miraculously understood when he addressed them in Syrian. He found the place he saw in his dream, built the chapel and a hermitage, but couldn't find the treasure. Seven years passed until a bull was seen beating his horns into a stone wall and roaring. (For more on the relationship between bulls and Black Madonnas see Olot.) The shepherds took this as a sign that something important was behind that wall. Busting through it, they found a cave of white stone that shone so brightly when it was lit up that it almost looked like crystal. That day too it was filled with an otherworldly light that revealed St. Gil's cherished objects.

 One of three caves near the sanctuary that were inhabited by Gil and Amadeus.

One of three caves near the sanctuary that were inhabited by Gil and Amadeus.

 St. Gil and his only companion later in life: a deer whom he saved from hunters by intersepting their arrow with his body, which earned him the post of patron saint of cripples. A painting in the chapel of the Black Madonna.

St. Gil and his only companion later in life: a deer whom he saved from hunters by intersepting their arrow with his body, which earned him the post of patron saint of cripples. A painting in the chapel of the Black Madonna.

Soon the hermitage was restored and its reputation for being a powerful holy place spread. Everything about it was considered sacred: The stone had curative properties and people pulverized it and took it as medicine. (It's all gone now.) The water from the spring next to the cave is also said to heal. The cross is said to cure eye diseases. The bell and cauldron are used in a unique fertility ritual performed by barren couples.(*1) While the woman prays and sticks her head into the cauldron, her husband carefully rings St. Gil's bell. He must be very attentive because each ring will result in a birth! When a girl is born in answer to this ceremony one is to name her Nuria, if it's a boy, Gil. There are lots of Nurias in Catalonia!

In 1075 high ranking clergymen decided to move the Dear Dark One out of the wild mountains and bring her down to the more civilized environs of Caralps. But as so often, Our Lady refused. She gradually became more and more heavy until no one could move her and the people realized that she insisted on remaining in her sanctuary. On the return journey she seemed to weigh nothing.(*2)

During the 13th century a hermit brother of the Knights Templar was guardian of the sanctuary. Centuries later, during the Spanish Civil War, it was destroyed, but Our Lady was kept safe in a Suisse Bank! After the war this holy site with its guest houses for pilgrims was restored. A Knights Templar cross still adorns the modern church.

La Morenita's feast day is September 8th. On that day a reunion of many girls and women named Nuria is celebrated. The Virgin is carried in procession from her 'temple' to the hermitage of St. Gil where her devotees sing her praises.(*3)

Tips for the pilgrim: 
A cog train takes you the last bit of the way and drops you off right next to the sanctuary at the 'Vall de Nuria' station. The line begins in Ribes-Enllaç, but if you want you can drive as far up as Ribes de Freser. Nuria is not only a sanctuary but also a small ski and hiking resort. So there are hotel rooms and cafeterias available. The modern architecture is not all beautiful, but it's a magical place anyway. The Queen of Heaven rains supreme here and, as in Montserrat, you can sit and meditate right behind her throne in a room up behind the main altar.


Footnotes:

*1: Sophie Cassagnes-Brouquet, p.201 and www.Mercaba.org
*2: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, London, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1985, p.257.
*3: http://pirineos.com/article/articleview/1063/4/ 4. El Santuario de Nuria, entre la Leyenda y los Milagros. 

In

Montserrat

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In her sanctuary in the mountains near Barcelona, 12th century (?), painted wood, 38 inches. photos: Mark Veermans

Our Lady of Montserrat
La Moreneta (Catalan: the Dear Dark One)
La Jerosolimitana (the Jerusalemite) 
Patroness of Catalunia

According to one legend, Luke carved this statue with Mary sitting as his model and him using the carpentry tools of Joseph. Later Peter brought it from Jerusalem to Barcelona. - Another story says that some other disciple in Jerusalem carved her and that she had some connection with St. James, the brother of Jesus who led the church in Jerusalem and later went to Spain. This version credits Bishop St. Eteres with bringing the image to Barcelona.

Asides from these discrepancies, the story continues uniformly. In the 8th century Spain was invaded by Muslims and Barcelona besieged for three years. In 718, when defeat was imminent, Our Lady was taken to the nearby mountains, hidden in a cave, and apparently forgotten. 
Then, in 890 she decided to come out of hiding. One night two young shepherds saw a mysterious light and heard angelic singing in the mountains. They alerted a priest, who witnessed the same phenomena. He in turn called the bishop who perceived the same signs and found them coming from a cave. Entering, they found the Jerusalemite. When the bishop tried to take her to his cathedral, no one could move the 38 inch small statue. Only when it was decided to build her a sanctuary right in those mountains, a little ways above her cave, did she allow herself to be picked up. The Santa Cova, her Holy Cave, can still be visited. A beautiful, steep foot path or the cog train from the sanctuary will lead you there.

A monastery grew up around the Jerusalemite, which became instrumental in spreading the cult of Black Madonnas throughout the world. Many churches, settlements, even islands in the New World (in Mexico, Chile and Peru) were named after Our Lady of Montserrat. So she may be seen as the Mother of the dark Madonnas of the Americas.

 Her church with surrounding monastery and hotels. Photo: Ella Rozett

Her church with surrounding monastery and hotels. Photo: Ella Rozett

 I love this painting of the Black Madonna's holy mountain, where she is held as in the palms of God, surrounded by praying hands of flesh and rock.  By J.A. Ricci, "Mare de Déu de Montserrat", c. 1640, in Museu de Montserrat

I love this painting of the Black Madonna's holy mountain, where she is held as in the palms of God, surrounded by praying hands of flesh and rock. 
By J.A. Ricci, "Mare de Déu de Montserrat", c. 1640, in Museu de Montserrat

In the course of the centuries many miracles have been attributed to Our Lady of Montserrat and in 1881 she was the first Spanish Virgin to be crowned by the Church.

Of the many saints who went on pilgrimage to the Dear Dark One the most famous is St. Ignatius of Loyola. It was at her feet that he definitively abandoned his worldly life, offering her his saber and all it represented after spending a whole night in a prayer vigil before her.

One of the treasures of the monastery of Montserrat is the Libre Vermell, the "Red Book" of 14th century music. Its introduction explains: "As it happens that the pilgrims, while holding night vigil in the church of the Blessed Virgin of Montserrat, sometimes desire to sing and to dance and even so during the day, in the church square, where only virtuous and pious songs may be sung, some suitable songs have been written down here for this need. These should be used in a respectful and moderate manner, so as not to disturb those who wish to continue their prayers and religious contemplations."(*1) - Is that what St. Ignatius did all night with the Virgin: sing and dance?! Let's go spend a night dancing and singing to Mary!

 Morning view from the sanctuary on the way to the Santa Cova. Photo: Ella Rozett

Morning view from the sanctuary on the way to the Santa Cova. Photo: Ella Rozett


In

Montblanc

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Montblanc lies 119km West of Barcelona and is the capital of the la Conca de Barberà region of Catalunya. The Madonna resides in the Santuario de Nostra Senyora de la Serra on a hill above the town, just outside the beautiful medieval city walls. Early 14th century, stone, 34 cm. photos: Ella Rozett

Our Lady of the Green Cross (Nostra Senyora de la Creu Verda) 
Our Lady of the Mountain (N.S. de la Serra) 
Patron of Montblanc


Around the year 1292 a green marble cross was found in the hills outside the town of Montblanc. It soon became known as the miraculous Green Cross. A little while later a shepherd found a Black Madonna near the cross, also under miraculous circumstances. It became known as the Madonna of the Green Cross. Unfortunately it was destroyed in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War. 

Very quickly a small chapel and hermitage of Poor Clare nuns was built near the Green Cross. It was called ermita de la Serra (mountain hermitage) and housed the Madonna statue. (To this day the nuns live next to the sanctuary and take care of it.) 

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Over time four important statues gathered in the hermitage and all were venerated under the title Our Lady of the Mountains: 1) The original one that was miraculously found and then mundanely lost. 2) The copy of the Green Cross with Madonna still venerated in the church as Our Lady of the Green Cross. 3) The white alabaster almost live size Madonna above the main altar. 4) A very small silver Madonna that was used during processions and for visiting the sick. She too was lost during the Civil War.

Of these, only the original Madonna of the Green Cross and her extant copy fall into the Black Madonna category. The copy was sculpted onto a copy of the Green Cross in the early 1300’s in order to unite the miraculous cross and Madonna into one. Before it was moved into the church, this cross with Madonna used to stand on the way between the hermitage and the Green Cross. There it is said to have been blessed by divine lights descending from Heaven. Soon the place with its Madonna on the Green Cross was so famous for its miraculous powers that a bell was installed there, for people to ring in the event of yet another miracle. Whenever the locals heard the bell toll, they would come running. So many sick were healed in this place that the kings of Murcia, Valencia, Aragón, and Catalunya all came here on pilgrimage.
Once the cross with the Black Madonna was brought into the church, miracles kept happening and literally lighting up the church. One night many devotees witnessed the church being miraculously lit up very brightly and a most solemn mass being chanted by sweet voices. Once the chanting ended the place turned dark again like it had been before.
Over the centuries three books have been filled with every conceivable miracle attributed to the Madonna de la Serra. We have collections from 1359, 1444, and 1707.

Whenever epidemics plagued the city one or the other representation of Our Lady of the Mountains was brought down into it for a while.

The white Madonna of the Mountains

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The oldest records of the white Lady of the Mountains say that she arrived in Montblanc in 1305. She was meant for some other place, but as she was passing Montblanc Heaven showed the people who were transporting her that they were to halt here and leave the statue. 

In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, a small group of revolutionaries was sent to destroy the Madonna, but they failed. When the first man stood before her with a pick ax already raised to smash her, he noticed all of a sudden that the lady was looking at him like a living person and he froze in that position, unable to move. His comrade, seeing that the guy was unable to follow through with the act of destruction, took the pick ax from him. But then he too was paralyzed by Our Lady’s eyes. This struck enough fear into the group that they decided just to hide the Madonna right where she stood. They threw rags and paper over her and borded up the niche that houses her above the altar, as well as any access to the niche. It does seem however that they managed to cut one of her fingers off. Legend says they took it as a souvenir of their encounter. Later the church served to house refugees without anybody knowing that Our Lady was with them all the time, hidden under rags, behind barred doors. Nowadays one can once more climb up behind the altar and stand right before her. She was canonically crowned in 1906, but long before that she was already regarded as the Commander in Chief of Montblanc.


Footnotes:

* All information on this page is based on Miquel Ballbè i Boada's, Las Vírgenes Negras y Morenas en España Vol. 1, Gafiques ISTER, Moia/Terrassa: 1991, chapter on the sanctuary of Our Lady of the Mountains, pp. 338-46. Unfortunately his two volume collection of 225 Black and Brown Madonnas in Spain is out of print.

 

In

Madrid

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In her church Royal Basilica Nuestra Señora de Atocha at Julián Gayarre 1, 28014 Madrid, 7th century? 25 inches, wood..

Our Lady of Atocha, Patron of the Royal House of Spain, 
Custodian of the Dominicans

Ean Begg dates her to the 12th century, but the Spaniards say the earliest written record of her is from the 7th century and that she is the oldest statue in Madrid.(*1) In her right hand she holds an apple out to the world. This marks her as the New Eve, obedient, but still desirous of the fruit of wisdom. Jesus is the New Adam, and through both of them the fruit of the tree of knowledge is freely given to all who ask for it with a pure heart. 
Jesus’ right hand is raised in blessing. The Dominican website of the Basilica explains the meaning of her seat of wisdom position thus: “it wants to confirm her teaching authority over the Church since the death of her divine Son.”(*2) Hmmm… I wish the Church submitted to her teaching authority more often!

Madridpedia.com and Begg explain Atocha as the name of a plant under which the statue was found. Spanish Wikipedia sees it as the corrupted Spanish pronunciation of the Greek Theotoca, i.e. Mother of God.(*3)

The legend of this Black Madonna says that she was sculpted by Luke the Evangelist and that the apostles Peter and James brought her to Spain. When their paths split and St. James went to Zaragoza, St. Peter brought the Lady to Madrid (which was called Mantua at the time.) Roughly six centuries later she disappeared during the Muslim occupation. One day the nobleman Don Gracián Ramirez de Vargas came to her church to pray before her, but found her gone. Disturbed, he organized a search party on the hill of St. Blaise and she was found in a thick tuft of a plant called atocha. Don Gracián decided to build her a fortified church in the spot where he had found her. As he and other Christian volunteers were still working on the building a great contingent of Muslims fighters appeared. Taking the construction for a fort, they got ready to attack. It didn’t seem like the Christians had a chance. Nonetheless the Don’s wife and daughters begged him to defend Our Lady to the last and promised to do the same. But as they prepared before the Black Madonna to sacrifice themselves to the enemy, Gracián couldn’t take the thought of strangers having their way with his women folk. Figuring that it was better for them to die at his hands than at the hands of a cruel enemy, who might enslave or kill them, he stabbed them all in the neck. Then he went into battle and surprisingly, beat the Muslim attackers. When he returned home and went before Our Lady in order to give her thanks for the victory and to ask pardon for his rash deeds, lo and behold the divine Mother had restored the women back to life!

Since 1523 the hermitage has been a Dominican monastery. Later the present day basilica was built in place of Don Gracián’s hermitage. This Black Madonna’s feast day is celebrated on the 1st Sunday of October with a procession.


*1: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Arkana: 1985, p. 256 and Madridpedia article: La Virgen de Atocha, la talla más antigua de Madrid
*2: Basílica-Parroquia Nuestra Señora de Atocha, Historia de la Basílica: La imagen de la Virgen de Atocha
*3: Virgen de Atocha

In

Lluc, Majorca

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In her sanctuary, 61cm, stone, original at least 13th century.

Mother of God of Lluc (Catalan: Mare de Deú de Lluc)
Dear Dark One (La Moreneta)
Patroness and Queen of Majorca

 

Inland and up in the Tramuntana mountains, the sanctuary of Lluc not only lays in the physical center of Majorca, but also is the spiritual center of the island. The place may have been sacred for many millennia, for near the sanctuary the remains of a prehistoric settlement have been excavated, known as la Cometa dels Morts. The Romans also held the place holy, calling it Lucus, that is ‘sacred woods’. In the Arabic language of the medieval Muslim settlers ‘Lucus’ became ‘Al-luc’, which became Luc and then Lluc when the Christians had re-conquered the isle.

Though the Queen of Majorca doesn’t look that dark in this picture, there can be no doubt that she is officially a Black Madonna. It says so right on her halo, though it’s hard to see: “Nigra sum sed formosa”. This quote from the Song of Songs means “I am black but beautiful”. For more on its significance in the context of Black Madonnas read in the introduction’s sub-heading: “the Church’s Explanations, 7.” Her blackness and her power to work miracles are also attested in the museum (open daily 10-5), adjacent to her sanctuary.

 photo: a great  flickr photographer

photo: a great flickr photographer

A folk tradition explains why the Madonna is called Our Lady of Lluc, why she is so dark, and why her shrine lays in a remote area. It follows many of the usual elements of a Black Madonna legend: a statue buried in the wilderness, revealed to a young shepherd by divine light, is carried into an existing church but lets people know that it wants a sanctuary for itself in a designated place in nature.

The Majorcan version of these recurring themes takes place shortly after the Reconquista (when Christian troops re-conquered Spanish territories that had been held by Muslims for centuries): An Arabic family had to hand its estate over to the new rulers of the land and had to convert to Christianity if it wanted to live. One of the sons, little Lluc (presumably Arabic for Luke) was in charge of pasturing the family’s goats and sheep on the same mountains that used to belong to them. One day he observed a strange light coming from a cleft rock. Drawn by curiosity, he climbed into the rock and found this statue of the Virgin, which barely peaked out from the earth. What surprised him most was that she was of the same dark skin color as he himself. Very excited, the young shepherd brought the treasure he had found to the parish priest of the church Sant Pere d'Escorca, 6 km away. The clergy man gave her a place of honor in his church, but by the next day, when the faithful were already flocking in to venerate her, she had disappeared. Lluc found her back in the same place as the day before and returned her to the parish church. But again she disappeared over night, returning to her mountain abode. This time the priest understood that the Black Madonna wanted to remain in the place where her radiance first revealed her. So that’s where he had a chapel built for her.

Note how the story deals with Muslim-Christian relations. It seems to express some concern over Muslims loosing lands they considered their own for hundreds of years and over being forced to convert. The Madonna seems to reach out to them affectionately by revealing herself to an Arab in a skin tone closer to his than to the Spaniards. She also forces Christians to have respect for their newly converted Arabic brothers and sisters by leading one of them to her treasure. Furthermore she seems to say: “This land belongs neither to Arabic nor to Spanish lords but to me! Let this be a place where all can come and worship the Creator and his Mother.” (More on Black Madonnas and race relations in the introduction.)

So much for the legend. More prosaic people explain that Lluc means ‘forest’ in the Majorcan dialect and to this day the area is densely forested. The word comes from the Latin lucus, which originally designated a forest or grove that was dedicated to a deity. Later the word was used as a poetic term for forest. Also Spanish reconquistadores often sought to establish holy sites in well visible places overlooking newly re-conquered terrains, which may be another reason why a chapel with an important Black Madonna was built in the mountains. Ean Begg’s explanation for why the statue was buried is that she was hidden from the Muslim invaders in the 9th century.(*1) However, the style of the image is gothic rather than Romanesque. Maybe the original was lost and replaced? According to Begg she was repaired in 1884 and stolen but replaced in1978. 
Whether in response to real events, to a legend, or simply to a Black Madonna: so many pilgrims flocked to the place that the first monastery and hermitage was begun in 1260. It was to care for and house the pilgrims. The earliest extant record stems from 1268. The first monks to inhabit the place were Augustinians, who seem to have a special connection to Black Madonnas. (See: Chipiona) That seems befitting for an order founded by an African saint. Later a seminary was added to the compound and now the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary are the caretakers of the sanctuary.

When la Moreneta was canonically crowned in 1884 more than 12,000 people attended the festivities.

Reminiscent of Montserrat, one of the sanctuary’s main attractions is its children’s choir, which was founded in the 16th century and is called the Blauets. Only Lluc’s choir seems to include girls. On Christmas Eve one of them gets to impersonate a sibyl (pre-Christian female oracles who supposedly prophesied the coming of Christ). She performs an ancient ceremony and ‘Chant of the Sibyl’ that only survives in Alguer and Majorca. On ordinary days the choir sings the Salve Regina prayer to Mary in the mornings and evenings before the Black Madonna.

Although her official feast day is the 12th of September, since 1974 an annual pilgrimage takes place on the first Saturday night of August. The 48 km walk is known as ‘the march from Güell a Lluc’. Often more than 10,000 faithful set off from Plaça des Güell in Palma de Mallorca at 11 p.m. They walk all night and arrive at the sanctuary some time the next day.


Footnotes:

*1: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Arkana: 1985, p. 256.
*2: Much information for this article was gleaned from: http://www.mallorcaweb.com/reportajes/monasterios-y-santuarios/santuario-de-lluc/ , and http://www.serviciocatolico.com/files/virgen_de_lluc.htm, and http://mallorcaphotoblog.wordpress.com/2008/08/03/the-annual-marxa-a-lluc/

In

Jerez

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In her Basílica Nuestra Señora de la Merced on the Plaza de la Merced. Jerez is in the province Cadiz in Andalusia, 13/14th century, life size.

Nuestra Señora de la Merced Coronada (Our Crowned Lady of Mercy)
Patroness of Jerez de la Frontera

There are two opinions concerning the origins of the devotion of the people of Jerez to their patroness, each with its legend. 
One says that St. Pedro Pascual opened a monastery of Mercy outside the city walls of Jerez la Frontera in 1268. The “heavenly, royal, and military Order of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives” had been founded in Northern Spain in 1218 by St. Peter Nolasco. He had been granted a vision of the Virgin Mary, in which she identified herself as Mercy and asked him to take up the work of redeeming prisoners that were held as slaves of Muslim invaders. Captives who came from wealthy families were often freed by ransoms, but the poor remained enslaved. This order was to level the playing field, mostly by raising money for ransoms. It also fostered devotion to Mother Mary and missionary work. 

When the group of Mercy monks under the guidance of St. Pedro Pascual was planning to open its first house in the area of Jerez, the city council asigned them a field outside the city walls where they could build. It was known that there had been a tile and brick manufactory in that place, of which some parts of the oven still stood. When the workers were demolishing the remaining ruins in order to build the new foundations, they found a cavity with a small niche containing a beautiful image of the Blessed Virgin all blackened, no doubt by the smoke of the tile burner. 

When the discovery was reported to St. Pedro Pascual he was very pleased. He declared it to be manifest proof that the Queen of Heaven would protect the futue monastery and the city. The Black Madonna was worshipped in a temporary location until the new monastery was built and she could be installed in her place of honor behind the main altar. Nobody doubted that she should be known as Our Lady of Mercy and be the celestial head of the order she had come to protect and lead. According to this version she was declared patroness of Jerez already in 1272 and the city swore her loyalty in 1300.(*1)

 The Black Madonna placed behind the altar as if she was presiding at mass

The Black Madonna placed behind the altar as if she was presiding at mass

The other opinion claims that Our Lady of Mercy didn’t come to Jerez until the 14th century.(*2) It recounts that in 1340 Christian forces reconquered the town of Algeciras from the Muslim occupiers, who had held it for a few hundred years. They converted a mosque into a Christian church and installed in it the Virgin of the Palm Tree. The Virgen de la Palma, as the locals call her, is another Mary statue that had been discovered under somewhat mysterious circumstances. To this day she is celebrated as the patroness of Algeciras. 

The Christian dominion of the town didn’t last long. During the second half of the 14th century, Muslim forces in their turn reconquered Algeciras without much difficulty. Many inhabitants fled as soon as they saw the Muslims approaching, taking with them a few belongins. Among these was a soldier, whose name is unknown. Anticipating the sure desecration of the sacred image of the Virgin of Mercy, he bore her off to the city of Jerez, where he arrived after a few days. There he presented himself at the Mercy monastery and explained the reason for his journey with so precious a cargo. He asked the Prior to grant asylum to the sacred image, until he could hopefully return for her one day and bring her back to her place of origin.

The monks agreed and placed the Black Madonna temporarily on a pedestal in the sacristy of their church, expecting the eventual return of the soldier. But during the first night, the friars were awakened by neighbors who had seen a great light shining from the window of the sacristy. The monks ran, thinking that perhaps a candle had set their church on fire, but when they entered the sacristy they discovered in awe that the glow, which flooded it, came from the Madonna.

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This phenomenon was repeated for several nights in a row. So the monks held a meeting and decided that it was a clear sign of the desire of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be venerated in their church. Their reasoning seemed to be confirmed by the fact that they never again heard of the soldier who had brought her to them. So she was placed center stage behind the main altar and given the title Our Lady of Mercy, indicating that from now on she was the head of the order. 

According to I.E.S. Francisco Romero Vargas, both opinions are backed up by old manuscripts in the Mercy order archives of the city. Yet it seems to me that the second story actually belongs all together to the Virgin of the Palm Tree with whom it starts, never explaining why it switches to the Virgin of Mercy mid way. The patroness of Algeciras indeed was taken from the city during the Muslim occupation of 1369 and didn’t return until the 18th century.(*3) Looks to me like she spent 400 years with the Mercy monks.

What all agree upon is that the cult of the Black Madonna of Jerez received a great boost in 1599 to 1600. There was a harrowing drought and the monks recommended that the statue be taken on a procession as a way of imploring the Queen of Heaven for help. It must have helped, because shortly thereafter the city council voted to declare her patroness of Jerez and for years to come Lady Mercy was honored on April 30th, the day the rains came. From then on her shrine was filled with votive offerings and jewelry. Later her feast day was moved to August 15th, the day of Mary’s assumption into Heaven. Now she is honored with a procession and festivities on September 24th. 

Until the 19th century Mother Mercy was always in the care of her monks, but during that century she had to leave the monastery on three occasions of political anti-Catholic unrest in the wake of the French Revolution. Twice her monastery was converted into a hospital.
Finally at least the church, though not yet the monastery, could be reopened. It was often run by priests, who had been monks of Mercy but forced to disband their order. It wasn’t until 1940 that their community was reestablished as the custodians of the shrine.

This Black Madonna wasn’t canonically crowned until May 31st 1960, but the people recognized her as their queen long beore that.
Little is left of the original statue. Because the custom of dressing images of Mary up like royalty made people cut up old statues so that they could be treated like a puppet. The audacity to cut them into pieces for this purpose began in the 17th century.


Footnotes:

*1: “La Merced” in on-line journal “Jerez Hoy 2020"
*2: Presented in I.E.S. Francisco Romero Vargas’ article “Nuestra Señora de la Merced. Patrona de Jerez” 
*3: See the “Fiestas de Algeciras” article on Wikipedia.

In

Guadalupe de Cáceres

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In her sanctuary, the monastery of Guadalupe, near Cáceres, Extremadura on the Portuguese border.

The Virgin of Guadalupe
Patronness of Extremadura
Queen of Hispanics
Our Lady of Silence

Legend has it that this image belonged to Luke and was buried with him when he died. In the fourth century Luke's remains, with his statue, were brought to Constantinople. Later Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540 - 604) brought the statue to his private chapel in Rome. Soon this Virgin performed her first great miracle. It was during an outbreak of the plague that the people carried her in a great procession through the streets of Rome and with intense religious fervor asked her to stop this punishment. That day the epidemic ceased while an angel was seen on the castle cleaning a blood stained sword.

After Gregory's death, the image was given to St. Leander, archbishop of Seville. It was venerated in his cathedral until the Moorish invasion in 711. In 714 some clergymen who were fleeing from the Muslims took the Virgin with them and buried her in an iron casket near the river Guadalupe (Hidden River).

After six hundred years, Our Lady of Silence was ready to emerge from yet another grave. By now the area was Christianized again. One day a poor cowherd from Cáceres by the name of Gil found one of his cows dead. He decided to skin it for the leather. But when he had made the first incision in the form of a cross, the cow suddenly revived and at that very moment the Queen of Heaven appeared and addressed Gil thus: 

"Don't be afraid. I am the Mother of God, savior of the human lineage. Take your cow and bring it to the rest of your herd. Then go home and tell the clerics what you saw and that I sent you to them. They are to come to this place where you are now and to dig where your dead cow was. Under those rocks they will find an image of me. And when they take it out, tell them not to move it from the place where it is now, but to build a little house right here and put the image in it."(*1)

With those words the Virgin disappeared. When Gil came home he found out that one of his sons had just died. He invoked the Mother of God he had spoken with earlier and the child revived. This sign convinced the clerics of the veracity of Gil's story. Immediately they complied with the Virgin's instructions and dug up the perfectly preserved sacred image together with documents attesting her origins.

A little hermitage was built and entrusted to the Franciscans who wrote this story down. Over the centuries they also collected nine codices, kept in the monastery archives, that list the miracles attributed to this Virgin of Guadalupe.

One of the early Franciscan monks at the monastery of Guadalupe became Zumarago, the bishop of Mexico City to whom the Mother of God sent Juan Diego with news of yet another Marian apparition. Supposedly the Lady in Mexico told Juan Diego her name was Coatlaxopeuh (pronounced Quatlasupe), which some translate to mean She who Crushes the Serpent.(*2) Sounded like Guadalupe to the man from Guadalupe.

The monastery of Guadalupe must be the richest sanctuary in the Hispanic world, because for centuries, just like a worldly queen, the Virgin of Guadalupe had the right to demand alms and part of the inheritance of well-situated people.(*3) All that wealth was not only used to adorn her church-palace and throne room but also to accommodate her pilgrims and take care of their needs. At one point four major and seven minor hospitals, a school of medicine and music, pharmacies, libraries, pilgrims' hostels, and scriptoriums formed part of her sanctuary. It is a magnificent center for Hispanic culture and religion.


Footnotes:

*1: www.centenarioguadalupe.org, Historia de la Imagen.
*2: Actually we don't know exactly with what name Our Lady introduced herself to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl language. Several versions and interpretations are discussed in www.livingmiracles.net/Guadalupe.html, scroll down to "Origin of the Word Guadalupe". 
*3: www.centenarioguadalupe.org, La Devoción a Santa María de Guadalupe.

In

Fuenterrabia

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In her sanctuary on Monte Jaizkibel 5 km out of town. Plenty of signs lead the way and if the church is locked the caretakers who live next door will open it. In the Guipuzcoa province of the Basque country, right on the border with France, on the beach, 20 km from San Sebastian. 15th century, painted wood.

Virgin of Guadalupe of Fuenterrabía,
Patroness of Hondarribia

The legend recounts that one evening in the 15th century, two shepherds were gathering their sheep on the slopes of Mount Jaizkibel. Just when they were done (it was already getting quite dark) they saw a strange light shining nearby. When they went to investigate, they found that in the center of the light there stood a Virgin Mary statue holding Baby Jesus, who was radiating heavenly light.

Soon a temple was built for her in the place where she was found. She is carried in procession down to the town only when its inhabitants are in danger of war or natural disasters.

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Several answers are proposed to the question why this Virgin is called Guadalupe. Some say it’s because the first Virgin of Guadalupe, the one of Extremadura, was the most famous and beloved Mary statue of Spain. She was credited with thousands of miracles and so naturally everybody wanted their own Guadalupe and any statue of Mother Mary was referred to by that title. 

Others say the Black Madonna of Fuenterrabía might have been the figure head on a bow sprit or mast of a ship called Guadalupe. What speaks for this is the large hollow space in her back where she might have been attached to a ship, the fact that the lower part of her body was a later addition, and the fact that many ships at the time were called Guadalupe.

The historians of the local monastery of Villuercas always refer to this Madonna as an offshoot of Guadalupe of Extremadura. Therefore a few people think that she may have been brought to the Basque country from Guadalupe’s shrine in Extremadura.
I would suggest that her devotees called her Guadalupe of Hondarribia because she was black and beautiful and found in the earth like her more famous sister in Extremadura.

The earliest written record we have of her stems from 7/26/1526. Her most famous miracles were an amazing victory she granted Spanish soldiers over invading French troops in 1638 and a terrible drought she brought to an end in 1760. But the faithful have thanked her for many other miracles. Her altar is surrounded by ex-voti left by local fishermen in recognition of divine intervention saving their boats and lives. There are model fishing boats and other marine items.

Since the victory over the French in 1638 her feast day has been celebrated on September 8th, the birthday of Mother Mary. (Before that it used to be held on March 25th, probably the day of her discovery.) The main attraction of the day consists of about four thousand people marching up to her sanctuary. They are organized into ca. 20 groups of uniformed period “soldiers”, each of which fires a gun salute next to the sanctuary in honor of the Black Madonna.

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Her sanctuary is on the coastal route of the pilgrims’ path to Santiago de Compostella. There are 6 more Black Madonnas in the Guipúzcoa province.*


* Sources: Miquel Ballbè i Boada, Las Vírgenes Negras y Morenas en España Vol. 1, Gafiques ISTER, Moia/Terrassa: 1991, p. 427-9 and “Historia de Guipúzcoa

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Chipiona

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In her sanctuary facing the sea, an old fortress turned into a monastery, on the Paseo de Costa de la Luz on the corner of Avenida de Sevilla, region Cádiz in the state Andalucia, just S of the Doñana National Park, open 8-1, 4:30-8, probably 12/13th century, wood, 62 cm.Photo: Nikki Ballesteros

Our Lady of Regla
(Nuestra Señora de la Regla)

The bare historical facts available to us are that the monastery of Our Lady of Regla (the name of the bay where Chipiona lies) was founded in 1399. For this purpose the old fort was donated by the Duke of Arcos, Don Pedro Ponce de León, to the Agustinian monks who remained there until 1835. Since then the monastery has been occupied by Franciscans who are still the custodians of the sanctuary.

But where did Our Lady of Regla, after whom the monastery was named, come from? Why was she already considered miraculous in 1330? How did she come into the possession of the Augustinians? A beautiful legend happily answers these questions. It began to circulate among the monastery's chroniclers in the 17th century, though it may have been an older oral tradition. Here is what it says:

One fine day an angel appeared to St. Augustin (354-430 A.D.) and commanded him to sculpt this image.(*1)Augustine was an Algerian Berber from the city Hippo Regius. (While this made him African it did not make him black but "olive" skinned.) When the Germanic Vandals laid siege to his city he prayed his heart out, but neither he nor his Black Madonna could save his people. Three months into the siege St. Augustine died, aged 75, and 11 months later the city fell. Augustine's famous disciple Saint Cyprian and other African hermits managed to escape death and took their teacher's Madonna to Chipiona, Spain. On the journey by sea they experienced a ferocious storm. This time the Dark Mother did protect her children and so she became, not the patron of Hippo, but of Spanish sailors. It served her well. Spanish sailors spread her fame to far off places. To this day she is venerated in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Belgium, and in Regla, Cuba, a place outside of La Havana.

She enjoyed a peaceful veneration in her Augustinian hermitage in Chipiona for three centuries; then it was time to flee again. This time the invaders were Muslim Saracens and she went underground, literally.

 The mutilated statue without regalia. The Madonna used to offer her son a pear. Only the white feet and red skirt are left of him.

The mutilated statue without regalia. The Madonna used to offer her son a pear. Only the white feet and red skirt are left of him.

The monks hid her in an underground cistern next to a fig tree where she remained five hundred years. When it was time to come out, Our Lady appeared to a priest and showed him a vision of the place where she was buried. She asked him to come, unearth her, and return her to her old sanctuary. The obedient priest immediately went on his quest for the buried treasure. One day he was resting under a fig tree when he suddenly heard an angelic voice coming from deep in the earth, saying: "This is my place!" When the priest began to dig he opened the cistern or underground cave and found not only the statue of the Black Madonna but also a burning oil lamp and a chalice. To this day a little chapel near the great sanctuary marks the place where Our Lady of Regla was found. It is called Humilladero (the one who humbles), and the cistern and fig tree are also still there.(*2)

After this amazing discovery her old hermitage quickly became too small to hold all the pilgrims who flocked to see her. The place was enlarged and then replaced by bigger structures until it received today's form.

The monks collected documented reports of miracles. Between 1340 and 1636 they gave their official recognition to 104 miracles. The Black Madonna, they say, freed prisoners, saved sailors from shipwrecks and children from drowning in wells, healed the sick, etc.(*3)

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The feast day of Our Lady of Regla is September 8th, traditionally said to be the birthday of the Virgin-Mother of Christ. Festivities begin with a vigil the night before. On the big day itself up to eighty thousand people participate in a nine kilometers long procession. The Madonna appears in her most regal wardrobe, but there are also puppets, dancers, singers, lots of wine, and fireworks at night.

That the Augustinians have a special devotion to the Black Madonna is evidenced not only here in Spain but also in San Severo, Italy and other places. For example the famous Black Madonna in Brno, Czech Republic, also hangs in an Augustinian monastery. Was it only because their founder, St. Augustine, was North African and had presumably venerated a Black Madonna, or is there more to it? I wouldn't put it past the monks of this order to appreciate the deeper meaning of the Dark Mother with the white child. Yet so far I have no proof that they would agree with my interpretation on the Foggia page. 


Footnotes:

1: Wikipedia article on Virgen de la Regla
2: www.corazones.org/maria/regla_virgen.htm
3: Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van Regula, de Zwarte Madonna, Memlingmuseum-Sint-Janshospital, Brugge 2004, p. 9

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