Orcival

Orcival.jpg

Notre-Dame-d'Orcival,
Notre-Dame-de-la-Delivrande (Our Lady of Deliverance)
Notre-Dame-des-Fers (Our Lady of the Irons, i.e. the chains she liberated prisoners from)

12th century copy of older original, wood covered in silver, except for face and hands. Church closed for lunch 12:30-2:00 p.m.

Orcival is one of the oldest and most famous Marian shrines in the Auvergne. People have been going there on pilgrimage since before the 10th century. It has a miraculous spring and everything a Black Madonna calls for, except that she was restored to her original pale colors in 1960.

Orcival,basilica.jpg

One legend attributes her to St. Luke. Another tells of the master builder, who was given the task of building a church for the town. In order to determine the proper place for the church, he randomly threw his hammer and where it landed the Madonna was found. The first church was built in the 11th century, but soon became too small to welcome the crowds of pilgrims coming for miraculous cures. So the current basilica was erected in 1146 to 1178. The Black Madonna returned to her place of apparition three times, but eventually she had to content herself with a compromise. The ruins of the original church were called "Tomb of the Virgin". A monument was built there and every year since the 12th century, on August 15th, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into heaven, Our Lady is carried in a great candle light procession by barefoot men to her "tomb” and then brought back to the village.

Until 1885, she was kept in the crypt, the traditional place for Black Madonnas. Now she resides in a place in the church that is illumined by be sun at noon on August 15th - not bad either! 

Sources:
The amazing website Lieux Sacres has great detail and photos about this shrine.
Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Arkana Books, : 1985p.207

In

La-Chapelle-Geneste

la-chapelle-Geneste-3.jpg

16th century copy of older statue. The legend recounts that one day two shepherds saw their sheep prostrating themselves before a grove of trees called genets. As they approached, they became aware of an apparition of the Black Madonna.

The village owes its name to those trees. Its church still has some Romanesque parts.

In

Letnica

Letnica,procession.jpg

The Lady of the Black Mountain

In the village church of Letnica, 14th century

 She owes her title to the tradition that she appeared miraculously in these mountains. Her reputation for granting miracles is so great that people of all religions and even atheists come to her with their needs. Most famous among these pilgrims was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She came to the Black Madonna when she was 17 years old and it is here that she heard God's voice calling her to become a missionary. The feast day of this Lady of the Black Mountain is celebrated with a great procession on the feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, August 15th.

For more information watch this video or read this article.

In

Limoges

Limoges_Compo_Vierge_87.jpg

Our Lady of the fullness of light
(Notre Dame de la pleine Lumière)

Modern Black Madonna inspired by Romanesque ones of the Auvergne such as Our Lady of Le Puy. Created in 2009 by Léa Sham’s (the enamel) and by Alain Duban (the sculpture). Website of cathedral. 

Limoges_Vierge-Emaux.jpg
In

Clermont-Ferrand II

In the crypt of the beautiful Romanesque basilica, 4 Rue Notre Dame du Port, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand, 29 cm, 17th century copy of a much older Byzantine original.

Notre Dame du Port

In the crypt of the beautiful Romanesque basilica, 4 Rue Notre Dame du Port, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand, 29 cm, 17th century copy of a much older Byzantine original.

Many pilgrims came to the church in the Middle Ages to view the statue. Ean Begg mentions an ancient sacred well in the crypt and writes: "The present Virgin, an Oriental Vierge de Tendresse, whose image is knowm from 13 C; was saved by two women at the Revolution, but stolen on 28 Jan. 1864. It cried so much that it was restored by the remorseful thief in 1873." (The Cult of the Black Vrigin, Arkana: 1985, p. 181)

In

Paris II

paris-neuilly.jpg

Our Lady of Good Deliverance
(Notre Dame de la Bonne Delivrance)

In the chapel of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Thomas of Villeneuve (open to the public), 52 Blvd. d'Argenson, Neuilly-sur-Seine, outside of Paris, 14th century, replacing an 11th century version of The Black Virgin of Paris, 150 cm, painted limestone. 
photo: Fortier

She used to stand in the church Saint-Etienne-des-Grès in the Latin Quarter, but that church was destroyed during the Revolution and all its content sold. Madame de Carignan, a pious rich lady bought the statue and venerated her in her private home until she was arrested during the Reign of Terror (a period of 11 months following the Revolution, which cost 20-40,000 people their lives.) In jail she used to pray to Our Lady of Good Deliverance with others who had been arrested for their faith, in particular the Sisters of St. Thomas. When all of them survived and were freed in 1806, Madame gave the Black Virgin to the Sisters. 

Under the patronage of this Virgin the Royal Confraternity of the Charity of Our Lady of Good Deliverance had been founded in 1533 and comprised thousands of aristocratic and common members. It was meant to be "a saintly society" dedicated to the honor of God and "his very dignified Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary … to keep a singular devotion alive in all real Christian men and women." This association was founded by a priest named Jean Olivier, who was "greatly pious, devoted to Our Lady with strong affection, in the service of the Queen of Angels".(*1) The group organized processions and ministered to prisoners, even paying their debts if they were imprisoned for not being able to pay them. 

Our Lady of Good Deliverance was invoked as a helper in all kinds of calamities and suffering, whether of a spiritual or material nature. She was also called upon as the Victorious One in the fight against the Huguenots and other "heretics." 

The great saints of Paris, most notably Vincent de Paul and Francis de Sales prayed before her. Young Francis spent some years in Paris as he was trying to find his way in life. His poor soul went into a downward spiral of despair as he became more and more convinced that he was doomed to eternal hell fire. One day he went before Our Lady of Good Deliverance to pour out his heart. Soon he was moved to pick up a prayer tablet that was hanging from the railing of her chapel. He read the prayer, "…rose from his knees, and at that very moment felt entirely healed. His troubles, so it seemed to him, had fallen about his feet like a leper's scales."(*2) Immediately he made a vow of celibacy before God and his Mother. The prayer he had sent to Heaven was the Memorare: 
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother. To you I come; before you I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! Despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen. 

Not long after this event another priest with great love for Our Mother who ministered to the poor and to prisoners in Paris, spread the fame of this prayer. To this day it is recited all over the world at the conclusion of the Rosary. 
____________________________ 

Footnotes:
*1: www.missel.free.fr/Sanctoral/07/18.php
*2: Account of his very close friend St. Jane de Chantal, quoted in: Marie Chantal Sbordone, VHM Mary's Role in the Faith Crisis of St. Francis de Sales, on www.desales.edu/~salesian/resources/articles/English/sfscrisis.bvm.htm 

In

Pilzno/Pilsen

Pilzno, O.L. Consolation.jpg

Our Lady of Consolation
(Matki Bożej Pocieszenia)

In the Carmelite convent church at ul. Karmelicka 3, 17th century,

According to various traditions, this painting was brought to Pilsen in the ninth century either by wandering musicians or by Sierosław, a disciple of St. Methodius (815–885). Others believe that the story began in the 11th century when this Black Madonna was hung in the castle tower, which was later converted into a chapel. From there the Marian cult spread to the village, which belonged to this settlement. In 1403 the Augustian order took responsibility of the shrine and since 1840 the Carmelites.

Devotion to this icon became particularly intense after a miraculous defense of the city against Tatars in the 18th century. One legend says that at that time some of the inhabitants of Pilsen themselves set a great fire and threw themselves into it so as not to fall into the hands of the enemies. Among the ashes glittered the sacred image, intact and covered with a glorious light . With that, new confidence spread, the enemy was defeated, and the credit given to the Black Madonnan. Her picture was transferred in a solemn procession from the chapel in the castle tower to the parish church.

Several Polish monarchs paid tribute to the Madonna of Pilsen, including Władysław Łokietek, Kazimierz Wielki, Queen Jadwiga, Wladyslaw Jagiello, and Prince Witold. It was Wladyslaw Jagiełło who founded the church and the Augustinian monastery in 1403, and in 1840 the bishop of Tarnów handed it to Carmelites, who are still in charge of the sanctuary. The image of Our Lady of Consolation was placed on pennants and banners, which accompanied Pilsen knights into battle.

At the end of the Middle Ages, during an invasion, Pilsen was burnt twice. The second time the original icon did not survive, but one of the Augustinian brothers had a vision in which Mary asked the happy monk to persuade his confreres to paint the image of her again. Her wish was granted around 1500.

Tragedy struck again on March 18, 1657, during the "Swedish Deluge", a series of wars that lasted from 1655-1660. Hungarian troops led by Rakoczi and assisted by Cossacks attacked. The enemies plundered and set fire to the city. The image was damaged in the lower parts and was placed on the surviving fragment of the wall of the monastery. Once peace returned to Poland, the Black Madonna was restored by the local artist Brzezinski and her cult continued to flourish. 

During the Galician uprising in 1846, the Austrian commander ordered the image burnt. One day, his soldiers brought straw into the church. The next morning the fire was set in the choir. The church was surrounded by a cordon to prevent anyone from extinguishing it. Then the two most beautiful local maidens begged an officer to allow them to collect their treasure hidden in the church. At the last moment they took the picture and hid it in the sacristy. Thanks to the determination of women, the image of the Virgin Mary survived.

Our Lady of Consolation was the backbone during all the hard years of national uprisings and world wars. She gave the power to survive and save dignity, to cheer in tragedy and sorrow. During the Nazi occupation during the bombardment of the town, when most of the houses, the church, and the chapel with the image were destroyed, the Madonna survived in the rubble. After the liberation of Pilsen on February 11, 1945, a solemn worship service was held in front of the painting.

The worship of Our Lady of Consolation continues uninterrupted until the present. This image is coming to many believers who find relief in their sufferings, comfort in misery, and healing in sickness. Many come back here one month later, one year later ... Immense gratitude for graces received from the Lady of Pilsen is expressed in numerous votive offerings submitted by the faithful, written requests and thanks, and a lot of masses that are offered in thanksgiving or supplication to her.

The chronicles of the convent and other books record testimonies of the graces and healings attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Consolation. Here is one example.
Mrs Stanislaus testifies: "in January 1972 my husband had an accident, during which stones fell from the bridge to the water. He suffered a severe head injury, fractured the base of his skull and damaged both hemispheres of the brain. (...) His condition was described as hopeless.
Then I requested a Mass for him before the image of Our Lady of Consolation, because only here I saw help. I prayed before the picture before the surgeryand made a vow to Our Lady of Consolation. For several days his health did not improve, my husband did not regain consciousness. As complications appeared, I also brought in specialists from Cracow. The state of his health was really hopeless. One of the doctors said, "We did what we could, and now as God wills ...". So I asked for another mass before the picture. His condition was critical, the doctor told me that these were the last moments of life. My husband had strong seizures and there was no rescue from the doctors, but he was rescued by the Mother of God. After a few minutes the seizures ceased and my husband began to come to. On the second day he regained full consciousness. The doctors did not believe that he would completely recover, but thanks to the care of Our Blessed Mother my husband happily returned home. During my entire stay at the hospital I prayed to Our Lady of Consolation, also in the church and at home in front of the painting, and at the hospital with my husband. (...)."

The worship of Our Lady of Consolation is very lively. Her feast day is celebrated on the first Sunday after the feast of St. Augustine (August 28th). Crowds of worshipers also gather for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, celebrated on the first Sunday after 16 July and for St. Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary on March 19th. For each of these celebrations the faithful prepare for three evenings. Special masses dedicated to the Black Madonna are also offered every Monday at 7:30 a.m. and every first Saturday of the month.

This is an edited Google translation of the sanctuary's website. The Poles don't actually call this a Black Madonna, but boy is she black and miraculous!

In

Luxembourg

Luxembourg_zwickmanuel.jpg

In a side chapel of the church St Jean du Grund, Rue Sosthène Weis. Grund is a part of town. Around 1360, painted walnut wood, 1,20 cm
photos: Zwick Manuel

In French: Black Virgin (Vierge Noire),
in German and Luxembourgish: Black Emergency-Mother-of-God (Schwarze Notmuttergottes / Schwaerz Noutmuttergootes)
(All three languages are spoken in that country.)

As most Black Madonnas so this one too is deemed to be a miracle working ‘image of grace’. Most people agree that she must have been sculpted around 1360 by a member of the Cologne school of sculpting. However, there are no documents proving this and so some medieval chronicle claims that she was brought to Luxembourg from the Middle East during the crusades, which supposedly is why she was also known as the Egyptian Mother of God. Her titles have changed several times in the course of the centuries. First she was simply called Mother of God and Star of the Heavens. After the 30 Years War she was invoked as the Queen of Peace. After patina and candle soot had further blackened the already dark wood and the plague had struck, she was worshiped as the Black Emergency-Mother-of-God (schwarze Notmuttergottes) charged with protecting her children from the Black Death. Since the faithful appreciate her darkness her skin was painted black in later renovations.(*1)

This Emergency Mother used to be housed in a nearby Franciscan monastery, but with the French revolution the community was outlawed and their buildings eventually destroyed. What is left of them is an open place downtown, nicknamed the “Knuedler”, after the knot on the Franciscans’ belt. For a while the Black Madonna was hidden from the revolutionaries in the convent Marienthal, a rich and influential nunnery during the Middle Ages, where the highest aristocracy had been educated. In 1805 the image of grace could be brought out into the open again and was housed in the parish church Saint-Jean-du-Grund. Since then she has been venerated especially during lent. With pilgrimages on each Friday of lent the faithful commemorate the sorrows of Mary and ask her for solace in their own sorrows.(*2)

Luxembourg,view.jpg

*1: See Anne Schmit’s article in the online magazine “Telecran”: “Warum die Notmuttergottes schwarz ist
*2: Information taken from “L’histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg à la lumière des timbres-poste” and other websites.

Cuenca

Cuenca black madonna.jpg

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

Nazare

20171012_164222.jpg

Marseille

all photos: Ella Rozett

all photos: Ella Rozett

Notre Dame de confession

(Our Lady of Confession of Faith)

 In the crypt of the monastery church and basilica Saint Victor, Place Saint-Victor, 13007 Marseille, 78 cm, 1,02m, base included; 12-13th century copy of a more ancient statue. Painted walnut wood.

To explain this Black Madonna’s title we have to go back many centuries in history: The basilica that houses her was Marseille's first Christian shrine. Local legend of the Provence claims that Mary Magdalene was the same Mary as Mary of Bethanie, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, all close friends of Jesus. There is no Biblical or other evidence that Mary of Bethanie was the same person as Mary Magdalene. I think the claim simply stems from the pious desire to have more stories to flesh out the figure of Mary Magdalene and to be able to claim her as one’s local apostle of Christ.

The grotto of Lazarus and Mary "Magdalene" i.e. Mary of Bethanie.

The grotto of Lazarus and Mary "Magdalene" i.e. Mary of Bethanie.

So Mary of Bethanie (think: Mary Magdalene if you are from the Provence) fled from persecution in the Holy Land to Marseille with her brother Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, and her sister Martha. They landed in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, famous for its statue of black Sara-la-Kali, and went on to evangelize Marseille. When their persecutors caught up with them, they hid for a while outside the walls of the ancient city in the catacombs. Later “Magdalene” took up permanent residence in a cave in nearby Sainte-Baume. Remnants of those burial tunnels can be seen to this day in the crypt of Saint Victor. Among the underground tombs of the dead the friends of Jesus found a grotto, which they enlarged to serve as their “temple”. As more and more converts joined them, they expanded the underground tunnels and chapel.

That, at least, is the claim of a well researched book, published in 1864, of which I bought the last copy in Saint Victor’s gift shop in 2016.[1] The modern guides to the shrine no longer mention Mary Magdalene, but they do call the grotto the Confessional of St. Lazarus. Even the old book already laments that some people completely ignore the existence of the ancient grotto, sanctified by Lazarus and “Magdalene”. It recounts that since the 17th century a certain Dr. Launoy and others fought to erase the ancient traditions concerning the crypts of St. Victor.[2]

For three hundred years, Christians gathered at this grotto. Lazarus was buried in it[3] and later Saint Victor of Marseilles and his three companions. The latter four were soldiers in the Roman army and publicly denounced “idol worship”. They were killed for confessing their Christian faith around 290 A.D.

Once Christianity had become legal, Saint John Cassian (360-435 A.D.) erected a basilica over this holy burial place in 420-430 and called it Saint Victor. Its Madonna was called Our Lady of the Confession of the Martyrs, in honor of St. Victor and his companion martyrs.[4] Attached to the church were two monasteries, one for men and one for women. Of those original buildings only the church remains. It has become the crypt of the present day basilica. The very impressive, current abbey church was built in the 11th to 14th centuries.

Before dawn on her great feast day, the procession arrives back at her church. 

Before dawn on her great feast day, the procession arrives back at her church. 

the view from the upper church into the crypt

the view from the upper church into the crypt

According to an obscure French alchemists’ website, Our Lady the Green One is an old title of Our Lady of the Confession.[5] Normally I wouldn’t pay this much heed, but she certainly has a close relationship to the color green and she has another old title, which has fallen out of use. Ean Begg mentions it as: Our Lady of the Fennel or Our Lady of New Fire.[6] “Our Lady of the Fennel” is actually a misunderstanding of the old Provence dialect words ‘fue nou’ or ‘fuech noou’. They mean ‘new fire’, not ‘fennel’ or ‘fenouil’ in modern French. She was long called Our Lady of the New Fire, because on her feast day, Candlemas, the new fire for the candles was blessed, just like nowadays the new Easter fire for the Easter candle is blessed during the Easter vigil. People would then bring fresh wicks and oil lamps and take some of this “new fire” home. This old rite of blessing a fire connected with Mary (as well as one connected with Jesus) probably survived longer at St. Victor’s church than anywhere else.[7] It still echoes to this day in the green candles, which the faithful buy at the church on Candlemas to offer there and also take home.

What about the title the Green One? The easy explanation for it would be that she wears a green mantle, not so easily made out normally, because the colors are faded. However on her feast day, Candlemas, on February 2nd, her wooden green mantel is overlaid with a green cloth over coat and green candles are burnt and blessed in her honor.

But why green and why February 2nd? According to Roman legend King Numa Pompilius (753–673 B.C.E.) reorganized the Roman calendar by adding two months to the existing ten and making February the last month of the year. Many cultures end each year with some kind of purification ritual that is meant to clear away any negativity of the old year so one can have a fresh start into the new. The Romans were no exception. The word februarius (February) comes from the verb februare which means "to purify". The beginning of this month was dedicated to purifying ceremonies of atonement known as the "februales".

As so often, Mary helped the Church baptize a pre-Christian custom. In the Christian calendar February 2nd marks the “the purification of the Virgin” and “the presentation of Jesus in the temple”. According to Jewish law a woman was unfit to enter the temple for 40 days after giving birth to a son and for 80 days after giving birth to a daughter. (Leviticus 12:1-5) At the end of those periods she had to bring “a burnt offering (holocaust) and a sin offering” to a priest. He would sacrifice it in atonement for her. (For the sin of having given birth?! It’s just mind-boggling what patriarchs come up with!) Only then was she purified and “clean”. According to the gospel of Luke 2:22-40 Mary and Joseph fulfilled this law. Hence the name of the feast “the purification of the Virgin” – a perfect match for the Roman ferbruales!

The day became widely known as Candlemas, because to this day, it’s when priests bless the candles that will be used on the altar throughout the year and also any candles the faithful bring for blessings. In Marseille these candles are green, a color associated with rejuvenation and purification since antiquity. I guess in order for the human mind and soul to be rejuvenated, it must be purified. “The Romans had a great appreciation for the color green; it was the color of Venus, the goddess of gardens, vegetables and vineyards.”[8]

Les Navettes, the special boat-bread of the Black Madonna of Marseille

Les Navettes, the special boat-bread of the Black Madonna of Marseille

As to the Egyptian roots of the title The Green One: The Blessed Mother shares many titles with Isis, but Marseille is the only place I know of, where she may have been known as The Green One, closely reminiscent of Isis’ title ‘the lady of green crops’, ‘the green goddess (Uatchet)’. Interestingly, Isis also is called The Lady of Bread[9] and we see that special, sacred bread is distributed and venerated on Candlemas Day in Marseille. Many say that this bread in the form of a boat (a rather feminine looking one, if you ask me!) is a symbol of the boat of Isis, the papyrus boat in which she searched all over Egypt for the body parts of her slain husband.[10] She also sailed across the heavens on the solar barque of the sun god Ra. And so one of her many roles was to be the goddess of navigation, just as Mary became the Star of the Sea, the protector of sailors.


Footnotes

[1] Notice sur les Cryptes de L’Abbaye Saint-Victor-lez-Marseille: Precise Historique Description de ces Souterrains, Typographie Veuve Marius Olive, Marseille: 1864, pp. 8 - 10
[2] Ibid. p. IV-V
[3] Lazarus’ remains were moved to Autun around the 9th century.
[4] See the article “Candlemas at Saint Victor” on: http://www.marseille-tourisme.com/en/discover-marseille/tradition/christmas-time/
[5] http://www.archerjulienchampagne.com/article-2181595.html
[6] (Begg, p. 197) http://www.archerjulienchampagne.com/article-2181595.html
[7] Notices sur les Cryptes, op. cit. p. 40-41.
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green#In_the_ancient_world
[9] http://www.touregypt.net/isis.htm
[10] http://www.egyptianmyths.net/mythisis.htm

In

Dublin, Ireland

dublin.jpg

In the church of the Carmelite order of nuns in Whitefriar Street, probably early 16th century, natural oak wood.

The Black Madonna, Our Lady of Dublin

This statue has had a rough life, but now the Black Madonna enjoys good health, so to speak, and an enthusiastic following. So, all's well that ends well. 
She may have been carved by a student of the famous Albrecht Dürer for the Cistercian St. Mary's Church. Popular belief has it that during the Reformation she was partially burned, rescued, buried, and used as a hog-trough. It was common practice to hollow the backs of wooden statues, both to reduce weight and to prevent the wood warping and splitting. Thus laid face down, the figure could form a shallow trough for pigs. However there is evidence that she was actually saved form this fate suffered by so many other statues, and kept in hiding until it was safe to install her in a church again.

Whatever ordeal she went through must have left some ugly scars, for she was completely white washed after the Reformation. From 1700 to 1816 she was venerated in the Jesuit chapel in St. Mary's Lane. At that point the old chapel was converted into a school. Though a new church was erected nobody seemed to want the whitewashed Mary. It appears that she was discarded. But Heaven wasn't done with her yet, and so she found her way into a second hand shop, where a Carmelite priest by the name of Father John Spratt found and bought her in 1824. He had the statue repaired and donated it to the renewed Carmelite Church built in 1827 on the site of its original 13th century foundation. Here she still resides today.

In 1914 the whitewash was removed and with it also the original polychrome colour of her robes. The extended arm of the Child is a modern restoration. 
In 1915, the shrine of Our Lady of Dublin was formally erected in the Carmelite church.

Ean Begg states that the fine gold crown of the statue was probably used in the coronation ceremony of Lambert Simnel (fl. 1477 - 1525), a ten year old impostor to the throne of England who threatened the newly established reign of King Henry VII (reigned 1485-1509). At the time, the crown was borrowed from another Mary statue for the purpose of the coronation.

The Pomegranate in Jesus' Hand

Baby Jesus is holding a pomegranate in his right hand,(*1) an ancient symbol of several goddesses, which was picked up by Judaism and Christianity.
Wikipedia has a long, interesting article about it under the heading "pomegranate". Here is a shortened excerpt:

Judaism 
Exodus 28:33-34 directed that images of pomegranates be woven onto the hem of a special robe worn by the High Priest. 1 Kings 7:13-22 describes pomegranates depicted on the capitals of the two pillars which stood in front of the temple in Jerusalem. It is said that King Solomon designed his coronet based on the pomegranate's "crown" (calyx). Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol for righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 commandments of the Torah. Some Jewish scholars believe that it was the pomegranate that was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

Ancient Greece
The pomegranate evoked the Aegean Triple Goddess who evolved into the Olympian Hera, who is sometimes represented offering the pomegranate. Some Greek dialects call the pomegranate rhoa; possibly pointing to the earth goddess Rhea.

In a 6th century BC, sculpture of the Goddess Argive Hera she held a scepter in one hand and a pomegranate, like a 'royal orb', in the other. "About the pomegranate I must say nothing," whispered the traveler Pausanias in the 2nd century, "for its story is something of a mystery". Hera wears, not a wreath nor a tiara nor a diadem, but clearly the calyx of the pomegranate that has become her serrated crown. Detail from Madonna of the Pomegranate by Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1487 (Uffizi Gallery, Florence). Within the sanctuary of Hera at Foce del Sele, Magna Graecia, is a chapel devoted to the Madonna del Granato, "Our Lady of the Pomegranate", "who by virtue of her epithet and the attribute of a pomegranate must be the Christian successor of the ancient Greek goddess Hera", observes the excavator of the Heraion of Samos, Helmut Kyrieleis.

In modern times the pomegranate still holds strong symbolic meanings for the Greeks. On important days in the Greek Orthodox calendar, such as the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and on Christmas Day, it is traditional to have them at the dinner table.

In ancient times they were offered to Demeter and to the other gods for fertile land, for the spirits of the dead and in honor of compassionate Dionysus. When one buys a new home, it is conventional for a house guest to bring as a first gift a pomegranate, which is placed under or near the home altar as a symbol of abundance, fertility, and good luck.

Christianity 
Pomegranates are often woven into the fabric of vestments and liturgical hangings or wrought in metalwork. They figure in many religious paintings by the likes of Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, often in the hands of the Virgin Mary or the infant Jesus. The fruit, broken or bursting open, is a symbol of the fullness of Jesus' passion (in both meanings of the word) and resurrection. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, pomegranate seeds may be used in a dish prepared for memorial services, as a symbol of the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom.

______________________________________________________________________
*1: All information above, including the image, is taken from the beautiful Carmelite website: http://www.carmelites.ie/ireland/Whitefriar%20St/ladydublin.htm and Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Arkana, 1985, p. 240.

In

Lloseta, Mallorca

Lloseta black Madonna.jpg

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.

Lloseta procession.jpg


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

Kursk

Kursk,Russia.jpg

During the summer, from Friday of the ninth week after Russian Orthodox Easter until September 13th, a true copy of the original(which is in New York) dwells at the original place of her appearance, at the Korennaya (i.e. Kursk Root) Hermitage in Svoboda Village (about 30 km from Kursk, 300 miles South of Moscow). The rest of the year she spends in the Kursk Cathedral of the Sign. 

The Kursk Root (Korennaya) Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign

 

The hermitage on the day that the icon comes home for the summer.

The hermitage on the day that the icon comes home for the summer.

 

During the Russian Revolution this icon left its home and began a long journey with its Russian Orthodox children into their Diaspora. In 1951, after many years of travel and temporary stops, it came to live in New York. Hence its full story is told under “New York City

The Lady never stays in New York for long, but constantly travels the world to visit her children, including the ones in Kursk. Meanwhile a beautiful and precise copy of her is venerated in her original home, which seems to be a kind of Russian Orthodox Lourdes with its healing spring where the Mother of God appeared in the form of an icon, plus 7 other miracle working springs on the lower side of the hermitage that was her home for centuries.

Since 1618 to this day, every year (political circumstances permitting) on Friday of the ninth week after Russian Orthodox Easter, the icon of the Sign (or a copy of it when it is in the Diaspora) is solemnly borne in procession from the Kursk Cathedral of the Sign to the place of its original manifestation at the Korennaya (i.e. Kursk Root) Hermitage in Soboda Village where it remains until September 13th. Then it again is solemnly returned to the Kursk Znamensky Monastery for the winter. In the year 2005, 30,000 Russians attended this ceremonies.

The original icon comes to Kursk for a visit from New York.  More than 30,000 faithful greet it.

The original icon comes to Kursk for a visit from New York. 
More than 30,000 faithful greet it.

The icon (copy) adorned with flowers, is carried in procession.

The icon (copy) adorned with flowers, is carried in procession.

In

Kazan

Kazan.jpg

Kazan, the capital of the autonomous Russian republic of Tatarstan, lies about 500 miles East of Moscow. In the Cathedral of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, or Cross-Exaltation Cathedral, Bolshaya Krasnaya street 5, Tel.: 292-29-44, part of the former Monastery of the Theotokos, on the site where the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan was found, 18th century copy of the ancient original, painted on lime wood, 31.5 x 26.1 cm.

Mother of God of Kazan

 

As I have explained elsewhere, the title Black Madonna is not normally given to any Orthodox icons. As Ean Begg says, if it ever is “it is late and probably due to the influence of Catholicism.”(*1) Well, maybe due to Catholicism this, the most famous of Russian icons, is often referred to as the Black Mother of God of Kazan by non-Orthodox people.(*2) The only evidence I have come across that at least some Orthodox Russians may also call her the Black Mother of God of Kazan stems from a travel account by Wilhelm Joest, a German anthropologist with a museum to his name. In 1880 he crossed Siberia in a horse drawn wagon and quotes his Russian driver as swearing “by the holy black virgin of Kazan”.(*3) So here she is with Baby Jesus standing on her knees, blessing the world with his right hand.

Her story goes back at least to the 12th century, though some like to think that she was a Byzantine icon, painted in Constantinople.(*4) We don’t know where she came from. All we know is this:

In 1209, the Bulgarian area on the Volga that comprises Kazan was occupied by Tartars, a tribe of Mongolians, and the icon disappeared. It took more than three centuries until Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1552, could re-conquer the vast territory that had been held by the Tartars. 
Once Kazan was back under Christian control, it was time for the Black Madonna to reappear. As so often, there are conflicting versions of the legend that tells of her discovery. The account below is taken from www.ReginaMundi.info, a Catholic website in honor of Mary, the Queen of the World (‘regina mundi’ in Latin). It quotes Ermogen, the first Orthodox bishop (Metropolitan) of Kazan. He was still a simple priest at the time of the events though he later became the Patriarch of all Russia. He recorded not only the discovery of the holy icon, but also the miracles accomplished through it.
The modern day orthodox diocese of Kazan tells the story a bit differently from him. It gives a similar but different name and age for the young girl who is the main character. More importantly, it portrays the bishop and priests as fully supporting her from the start and physically helping in the effort of finding the icon.(*5) Ermogen would disagree, it seems. Here is a summary of his account:

In 1579, a fire almost completely destroyed the city of Kazan, including a soldier’s home, forcing him to resettle elsewhere. As he and his family were traveling to their new home, Our Lady appeared to the daughter, nine year old Matriona (or 12 year old Marfa according to the other version). The Mother of God asked Matriona to announce to everyone that the holy icon of the Mother of God of Kazan was buried under the ruins of the family house. No one believed the story of the girl; everyone thought she was just in shock because of the violent fire. So the Virgin appeared a second time in a dream to Matriona, but this time the girl didn’t say a word about it to anyone. A third vision followed, in which Matriona saw the little icon emanating a bright light and heard these words: "If you won’t announce what I tell you, I will appear in another place and a great calamity will befall you." Now she spoke up, but again her message was rejected by both the Governor of that city and by Archbishop Jeremiah. Matriona then begged her mother to accompany her to the place where their house once stood. The woman, unable to stand the incessant crying of her daughter, decided to go with her. On July 8th 1579, mother and daughter dug with great vigor at the place the child had seen in the dream until they uncovered the holy image, wrapped in nothing but an old cloth, but perfectly preserved. Now the clergy was convinced of the supernatural properties of the icon and it was carried in solemn procession to the nearby church of San Nicola. 
Soon two blind men, Joseph and Nikita, recovered their sight when they prayed before the Madonna. Since then the icon had the reputation of making the blind see and grateful people who had been healed, began to offer emeralds. 
Later it was decided to place the icon in the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Kazan until a convent could be built in the place of its discovery. Matriona became a nun and eventually the mother superior of that convent.

The cult of the Mother of God of Kazan was not limited to her home town. In fact, since the rediscovery of the original, copies were painted and worshiped in different regions of the country. Some of them also gained reputation for being miraculous, especially when the imperial family reported that a copy of the Mother of God of Kazan had worked miracles for them and Tsar Ivan the Terrible. 
Tsar Fyodor I Ivanovich (1557-1598) and Tsaritsa Catherine the Great (1729-1796) both had sumptuous churches erected in honor of the Virgin of Kazan that housed wonder working copies of her. In 1721, Tsar Peter the Great also commissioned a copy to be placed in the cathedral of the new capital of St. Petersburg.

From 1605–1618, the Russo-Polish War raged. It was a series of inner Russian conflicts, into which outer forces were drawn to the point where Poles occupied Moskow from 1610-1612. When the Polish Catholic King Sigismund III, an enemy of Russian Orthodox Christianity, declared himself Tsar of Russia the people mobilized against him under the banner of the Mother of God of Kazan. In 1612 St. Sergei (died in 1392) appeared to Bishop Arseni, to tell him that the Lady of Kazan would intervene in battle.(*6) So she was sent to Moscow to lead the resistance against the Poles. The liberation of the city, on October 22nd , was attributed to her intercession and so she became venerated as the "Liberator of Russia". Later she defended that title with victories over the Swedes in 1709 and Napoleon in 1812.

In 1904, this most famous of Russian icons was stolen, presumably for the precious stones and metals of its covering (the riza). The original Mother of God of Kazan was never seen again. Rumor has it that she was burnt by the thieves and that this desecration was what opened the door to all the evil that followed the Russian Revolution.(*7)

In 1918, with the Revolution in full swing, the last, desperate political act of Tsar Nicholas II, was to consecrate his empire to the Mother of God of Kazan. Alas, it was too little too late; a few days later he and his entire family were arrested and killed.
Soon all three of the remaining most famous copies of the icon disappeared. It seems that they were burnt by the Communists. Only the one commissioned in 1721 by Tsar Peter the Great may have survived. For decades many thought that the one you see above was that copy of the Tsar’s family. Some Russian experts doubt this. Instead, they say it is an 18th century copy that used to hang in the monastery of Serafimo-Diveeskij not far from Nizhny Novgorod. However that may be, now this is the only old, really precious Russian icon of, and therefore the Black Mother of God of Kazan. 
How did she survive the communist era when all religious objects were banned? She was sold to the West by Russian smugglers. 
Meanwhile, in their effort to thoroughly erase religion from the mind of the people, the Communists endeavored not only to destroy all copies of the Mother of God of Kazan, but also the churches that had housed them. In Kazan a tobacco factory was built in the place where her church had stood, in Moscow a public toilet, and in St. Petersburg a museum of atheism! But, as the Marxist Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) wrote in his great work The Mother, the Madonna is "the invincible enemy [of atheism]." Of the huge complex that used to be the monastery of the Mother of God of Kazan only one little side church survived and that’s where the holy icon dwells today.

In 1950, the icon was bought by the Englishman F. A. Mitchell-Hedges from the merchant Kazano Shevliagin. On the death of Mitchell, his daughter Anna inherited it. The Orthodox bishop of San Francisco, John Shakovsky, who had become aware of the existence of the icon, persuaded the woman to give permission to display the masterpiece in the Russian pavilion at the International Exhibition of 1964. Given the great renown thereby achieved by the icon in the West, Anna Mitchell-Hedges proposed to sell it to the Orthodox bishop for half a million dollars. Shakovsky launched a series of initiatives to raise the necessary funds, but despite his constant efforts was never able to do so.

In 1970, the icon was bought instead by the Blue Army, a Catholic organization founded in 1947 to spread devotion to the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Portugal. Part of the messages the Mother of God gave in Fatima had to do with her wish to “convert Russia” (from communist atheism). After long negotiations, the purchase price was settled at $140,380.(*8) The sacred icon was moved to a Byzantine chapel in Fatima where Orthodox and Catholic Christians alike prayed before it for the conversion of Russia. It was always understood that Our Lady of Kazan would be returned to her native land upon its conversion.

In 1993, after the collapse of the communist regime, when it was clear that Christianity was resurging in Russia, the icon was given to Pope John Paul II so that he could determine the right time and the best way to return it to its native land. While leading negotiations with the Russian government and the Orthodox Church, he kept it in his private apartment in the Vatican. John Paul had great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. Hence his decision to give the icon back to Russia meant that he believed the “conversion” called for at Fatima had already happened. He did not believe, as some members of the Blue Army did, that Russia needed to “convert” in the sense of becoming Roman Catholic. Indeed, John Paul made it clear that he believed the salvation of Russia will happen through Orthodoxy, and that he hoped for a future when Latin and Byzantine churches might come together as one family of faith, each preserving its legitimate autonomy. To further this end, he wanted to personally bring the Black Mother of God of Kazan back to her homeland, but the Orthodox Church blocked his visit. Apparently they didn’t want to help their rival gain more publicity and good will.

And so, on August 28, 2004, the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God in the Orthodox calendar, John Paul II bid the sacred icon adieux with a solemn act of devotion and off it went with a Vatican delegation. With great ceremony they made their entry into the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin in Moscow and handed the precious treasure over to the Patriarch of Moscow. The festivities were attended by a great number of religious and faithful, including President Putin. It was a momentous confirmation of the new renaissance of faith in Russia and an event that united the country at least for that moment.

On July 21, 2005, the feast day of the holy icon, it was transferred to the Annunciation Cathedral of the Kazan Kremlin, with a great crowd of pilgrims welcoming her to her hometown. It was the mayor of Kazan, Kamil Ischakov, who had convinced Moscow to send her home as soon as an appropriate church was available to house her. He also saw to it that the city and state would help pay for the necessary renovations to churches damaged during the Soviet era. Ischakov is a Muslim, as is half the population of Tatarstan, but his veneration of the Mother of Jesus shouldn’t come as a surprise. For one, Islam has the highest respect for her. (For more on that read “Mother Mary and Islam”.) Secondly, today’s Tatarstan is a precious model of peaceful coexistence of the faiths that are in conflict almost everywhere else in the world: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. It is also a model of good relations among Orthodox and Catholics, both of whom have great devotion to the Black Madonna of Kazan. In an interesting article, a Muslim cleric explains that this tolerant attitude of the Tartars is due to the fact that many centuries ago, they converted to Islam by their own free will and under the highly intellectual guidance of the caliphate of Baghdad, not by force as so many other Muslims and Christians did.(*9)

In 2008, the icon was again transferred, this time hopefully for the last time. She went home to the newly restored Cross-Exaltation Cathedral, which is part of the former Monastery of the Theotokos, built on the place where she was found in 1579.


Footnotes:
*1: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Penguin Books, London: 1985, p. 251
*2: E.g. in the American Interest magazine’s article on “Our Lady of Kazan and American Pluralism
*3: Wilhelm Joest (my great grand uncle), Aus Japan nach Deutschland durch Siberien, etc., British Library, 1883, p.294
*4: Much of this account is taken from the article L'Icona della Madonna di Kazan on an Italian website in honor of Mary, Queen of the World (regina mundi).
*5: See article on the website of the Kazan Diocese, Convent of Kazan Icon of the Mother of God 
*6: Philip Coppens, A supernatural icon for Mother Russia
*7: See Wikipedia article on Our Lady of Kazan 
*8: To be precise: $15,380 down payment, plus 5 annual payments of $25,000. At least this is the account that reliable sources like Notre Dame University of Dayton gives in the article: The Return of Our Lady of Kazan to Russia.Others, like Sandro Magister, cited below, say the Blue Army paid 2 million dollars for her.
*9: Sandro Magister, The Madonna of Kazan Has Worked a Miracle in Her Homeland: Peace among the Religions, sub heading “The Muslim Mufti” Great article on interfaith cooperation and friendship in Kazan. 

In

Swieta Lipka/Heiligelinde

Swieta Lipka.jpg

In her sanctuary in the little village Swieta Lipka in Northern Poland, in what used to be East Prussia, a part of Germany until 1945, about 6 km S/E of Reszel and 70 km N/E of Olsztyn.

Our Lady of the Holy Linden Tree

 

Swieta Lipka,Linde.jpg

Though she does not bear the title ‘Black Madonna’ I included Our Lady of the Holy Linden Tree in this index because she shares so many characteristics of Black Madonnas: she is dark, has a strong connection to the earth, to pre-Christian spirituality, and she has been miraculous from her inception.

Legend tells of a 13th century convict who was saved by Mother Mary in the following manner: The night before his scheduled execution she appeared in his cell in the jail of Rastenburg. Handing him a piece of wood and a knife, she told him to carve what he liked. Now the accounts differ. Most say he carved a beautiful Madonna and child, others claim it was only Baby Jesus.(*1) In either case, the image was so moving that the jailors and the judge believed the convict’s apparition story and set him free. On his way home to Rössel the freed man did as Mary had told him: he hung his carving in the first linden tree he passed. Many miracles began to happen at this tree and so the ‘holy linden tree’ became a place of pilgrimage, whereby Baby Jesus, Mary, and the tree all became one in the hearts of the faithful.

Many Black Madonnas appeared in trees or are somehow associated with sacred trees (see e.g.: TelgteHalleAltöttingNeuerburgNeukirchen-beim-Heiligen-BlutBar-sur-Seine , FoggiaMonte CivitaAntipolo ). However here in East Prussia the connection is particularly strong. Many villages that grew around sacred trees dedicated to Mary are called something like “Mary’s linden tree”,(*2) but here Mary is not in the name, only the sacred tree: Holy Linden Tree/ Swieta Lipka. Also many of the above mentioned shrines preserve as best they can any remnant of the ancient trees, but nowhere else have I seen an almost life size statue of the tree being erected after its death in the place where it stood. 
I wonder if this centrality of the tree is due to the very late and then forced conversion of the local population from Paganism to Christianity. The Baltic Prussian tribes were conquered in a crusade by the Teutonic Order in 1241 A.D.(*3) According to Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska the convict of the Swieta Lipka legend was actually a Prussian tribal leader and the judge a Teutonic knight.(*4) Aha, the plot thickens…. 

Swieta Lipka,church.jpg

It is also said that the Holy Linden Tree in which he hung his statue wasn't just any old linden tree but one that had been revered as sacred already during pre-Christian times. It was seen as the dwelling place of Puskaite, Goddess of fertility and grains, in whose honor festivals were held in spring and fall. Her name sounds a lot like that of her people who called themselves Prusai or prusiskan (adjective). So Puskaite and her tree may well have been of central importance to the identity of the local tribe. The Prusai also believed that humans could reincarnate in trees, whereby the souls of women would inhabit linden trees and those of men oaks.(*5)

Another piece of the story is that the Teutonic Order took control of the Holy Linden Tree, built a little Christian shrine around it in 1320 and placed its own priests in charge of it.
Combining all those pieces of the puzzle, I see the following picture emerge: The pre-Christian Prussians had a holy tree dedicated to a goddess. They were conquered by Christians in 1241 and forced to convert. They resisted the conversion and occupation and one of their leaders was sentenced to die. That’s where Mary showed up as the peace maker and mediator. The compromise she offered was this: 
1. Let the subjugated live.
2. Embrace whatever is holy to them as long as it is not contrary to Christian teachings. (Creation being sacred is definitely not contrary to the Bible.) 
3. Make whatever was the domain of a goddess and the sacred feminine the domain of the Mother of God.

To sweeten the deal for all Our Lady threw in a few miracles. Apparently both sides could live with this and the fame of the tree spread beyond its original tribal teritory. In due time a first primitive chapel was built around it. The first extant historical records that mention a pilgrimage chapel in a linden tree (in Latin: capella in linda) stem from 1482.(*6) 

Alas, all was destroyed during the Protestant Reformation around 1525 when Prussia became the protestant state par excellence. Only in 1605 did it become legal again to be Catholic in East Prussia and soon the Jesuits began to rebuild the sanctuary in its present Baroque style. In 1993 Pope John Paul II gave it the privileged status of ‘basilica’.

During tourist season, hourly concerts are given from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the famous organ that doubles as a sort of cuckoo’s clock: movable baroque statuettes let angels blow their trumpets, the archangel Gabriel bow deeply before Mary, cherubim dance, etc.


Footnotes:

*1: e.g. the German wikipedia article on Swieta Lipka and another German article on "the pilgrimage church of Heiligenlinde" say he only carved the Baby Jesus. 
*2: e.g. Marialinden near Cologne, Germany
*3: See: German Wikipedia article on Prussians: The Teutonic order was a crusading military order that forced Christianity on Baltic areas not yet Christianized in the 13th century.
* 4: See her article on "The Linden Tree: Lore and Significance"
*5: See the German wikipedia article on Baltic Mythology
*6: According to a German Poland travel guide published by Dumont Buchverlag, p. 395

In

Czestochowa

Czestochowa black madonnas.jpg

In the basilica of the Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa, 6th - 14th century (?) 122.2x82.2x3.5 cm

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa
Queen of Poland


Tradition says the Black Madonna of Czestochowa was painted by Luke right onto the kitchen table of the Holy family, which Jesus had made, with Mary sitting as the model. The image was hidden during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and rediscovered in 326 C.E. by St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantin. She had a church built for it in Constantinople. There it was venerated until the iconoclastic controversy broke out in the 8th century (see introduction to index). One story claims that the wife of the emperor who ordered the painting burnt, hid it away. It was eventually taken to the forest of Belsk in Poland. When Our Lady wasn't safe there anymore an angel told the Prince of Belsk in a dream to take her to Czestochowa, where the monks of St. Paul of the Desert would guard it. And so it has been. (Other accounts trace the image's journey through other royal hands.)

On Easter Day in 1430, a band of robbers connected with the Protestant Hussite movement came to steal the rumored treasure of the monastery. Finding only holy objects, they got angry and decided to take those. When they put Our Lady on their horse- drawn cart, the horses refused to move. Somehow the thieves realized that it was Our Mother's doing and so their anger turned on her. They slashed her face with a saber and threw her on the ground, breaking the icon in half. - That's how the monks found her the next morning, in the mud on the outskirts of town. A miraculous spring appeared in that place.

The monastery's artists tried to restore her to her previous unblemished state but could not. She was brought to the King's court, but even his craftsmen did not succeed in covering her scars. On she went to Western European specialists, who made her look beautiful, except that the paint still kept running off her scars. Finally the men realized that it was the will of the Mother of God to keep those scars as a symbol of her constant compassion for her people, her solidarity with them in all the sufferings they had already endured and the ones that were still to come.

Consequently the Black Madonna of Czestochowa became the symbol of Polish identity and independence. Every time the nation withstood or survived yet another attack or occupation it was attributed to the help and intercession of this Black Madonna, who had been declared Queen of Poland in 1656 by King John Casimir.

In 1655, the whole Swedish army maintained a six week siege of Czestochowa. Miraculously, a small band of Polish soldiers and the monks of Jasna Gora were able to send that army home.

On September 14, 1920, the Russian army was encamped on the banks of the River Vistula, about to attack Warsaw. The faithful Poles prayed to Our Lady for protection and the Russians withdrew. It is believed that Our Lady of Czestochowa appeared in the sky over the city as a clear sign of who reigned there.

In 1945, when the Germans were on their retreat out of Poland, they tried in vain to blow up Our Lady and her monastery.

Next came the Soviet rule, which the Solidarity movement shook off peacefully under the guidance and protection of Our Lady and her servant Lech Walesa.

In

Czarna

Czarna,black madonna.jpg

In her sanctuary in the village Czarna, 26-220 Staporków, near Konskie, (careful: there are 12 towns and villages, plus a river by the name of Czarna, which means black) about 2 hours and 130 km North-East of Czestochowa, late 16th/early 17th century, oil on canvas.

Our Lady the Teacher
(Matka Boza Wychowawczyni)

 

This is what happens when you google translate and search Polish websites for Black Madonnas: you find a miraculous dark Mother of God, who fits almost all the criteria for being a Black Madonna, except she doesn’t actually bear that title, she’s just from a village called Black, on a river called Black (Czarna in Polish)! Oh well, looks like she’d be worth a visit for a devotee of the Dark Mother, so I will include her in my index.

Czarna,apparition black madonna.jpg

Here’s what I gather from the images and the google translation: at the turn of the 16th to the 17th century, Mary appeared in a grove of juniper trees on the banks of the river to a group of workers making charcoal. Whether that means Mary in form of this icon or Mary in form of a celestial apparition is not clear, but it is common in Black Madonna legends to treat the miraculous apparition of an image of Mary as an apparition of her very self. 
It didn’t take long for the villagers to build a little wooden chapel right on the spot of the apparition and to install in it this beautiful painting by an unknown artist.

The work is a copy of the famous icon in Rome called Salus Populi Romani, i.e. the Salvation of the Roman People. She too is lacking the title Black Madonna although Ean Begg and the Catholic University of Dayton both list her in their index of Black Madonnas. Beginning in the 16th century, the Jesuits used this image as part of their counter-reformation and spread copies and devotion to her all around the world.(*1) Although this Roman lady differs from the normal type of Mary icon that is known as Hodegetria (Greek: Guide of the Way), she was classified as such. Hence her Polish title: Our Lady the Teacher. 

SalusPopuliromani.jpg

Her gesture of the upside down blessing that looks almost like a secret, barely noticeable gang sign, is unique to Salus Populi Romani. Also kind of secretly, the original holds a barely noticeable handkerchief. It’s an embroidered ceremonial cloth called a mappa or mappula and it signifies imperial power.(*2) In the Polish icon the mappa is covered by the riza, the precious metal cover that protects important Eastern European icons. Interesting how Mary somewhat hides her power to bless and to rule in plain sight! I think this is very significant...

But back to Poland. News of the supernatural apparition of the image and ensuing graces and miracles kept spreading and the parish grew. The first chapel became too small to accommodate the crowds of pilgrims. So in 1763 a wealthy lady, Isabella Malachowska, commissioned the construction of the first brick church. But still the crowds and parish kept growing and so at the beginning of the twentieth century the present, even larger church was erected. Work began in 1909. Because of World War I it took until 1930 to finish.

In 1999, after 19 years of jumping through the necessary Catholic hoops and preparations, Our Lady the Teacher was canonically crowned. The crown had already been blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1991 on one of his pilgrimages to his homeland.

Czarna,altar.jpg

The icon was renovated and cleaned in 1990/91 and again in 1997. She must have been really black before that.

Daily masses are held at 5:00 p.m., Sunday masses at 8:30 and 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Since the 1970’s the sanctuary and parish is under the care of an order called the Pallottines. That likely means that the church is open all day. 
The Teacher’s feast days are celebrated on Pentecost and on the day that commemorates her arrival in the parish and her coronation: the first Sunday of September.


In

Vilna

Vilna black madonnas.jpg

In the Ostra Brama,(Polish:. Sharp Gate) or Auros Vartai (Lithuanian: Gate of Dawn) of the old city walls of Vilnius or Vilna, capital of Lithuania. 1620-30, 163x200 cm.

The Mother of God of Ostra Brama
Mother of Mercy

photo by: wnieznane.pl (cropped)

photo by: wnieznane.pl (cropped)


The city walls of Vilna were built around 1514 and include the two story tower of the Gate of Dawn, whose upper floor holds the chapel of this miraculous image. It was customary to mount an image of Jesus, his Mother, a saint or angel on these city gates for additional protection 'from on high.' The Virgin of Ostra Brama was installed there by the Carmelite order, replacing an earlier image that had been damaged by the elements. Several Carmelite priests cared affectionately for the image and helped spread its fame. In 1627 they built a more protective chapel for it.

Good timing, because in 1655 a Russian army set fire to Vilna and the city burnt for 17 days. Yet the image of the Mother of God survived without any damage. Since then it is considered a miraculous symbol of Lithuanian and Polish independence, revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike. Between 1671 and 1761 seventeen more miracles attributed to the Lady in this image were chronicled. One story tells of a boy who fell from the second floor of a building and died. When his mother prayed before Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn he revived.

In 1711 or 1715 the chapel did burn down to the ground, but not before a young monk could save the icon from the flames. For the next twenty years Our Lady resided in a church until her Sharp Gate was rebuilt with non-flammable materials. Then she was brought home to the Ostra Brama with great ceremony.

Lithuania became an independent kingdom in 1253 C.E., but in the 14th century it grew ever closer together with Poland until the two countries formed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. The two populations intermingled and so the Lithuanian Poles, who actually formed the majority of the population of Vilna, also claimed her as a symbol of Polish independence from Russians and Germans.

Whenever Vilna was in trouble, the Madonna was right in the middle of it, quite literally. In a 1794 Polish-Lithuanian uprising against the Russian occupiers the image was damaged but could be repaired. Five years later, armed conflict with Russia again flared up and threatened the chapel; this time it remained unharmed.

During the time of the partitions of Poland, in the late 18th century, the Russians, Germans, and Austrians split the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth up and divided it among themselves. For more than a hundred years, Lithuania ceased to exist as a separate entity and Vilnius became part of the Russian Empire. Lithuanians resisted with civil disobedience and with demonstrations inside the Sharp Gate and in the surrounding streets, the very heart and soul of the country. They crowned their Mother of God in 1927, the year after Soviets and Lithuanians signed a treaty of non-aggression.

During World War II people considered hiding the image in a safer place, but the Archbishop of Vilna decided that the dark Mother should stay with her children. She helped them pray and struggle first for deliverance from the Germans, then from the Soviets. Lithuania was the first Soviet Republic to gain its independence in a peaceful struggle that cost only few lives.

Prague III

Imgp1467.jpg

In the Stare Mesto part of town, on the corner of Celetna and Ovocny Roads. 17th century, 50 cm, wood. Photo: Ella Rozett

The Black Madonna on the
House of the Black Madonna


She is a copy of the Black Madonna of Loreto. All a local tour guide had to say about her was: "She is like an address sign." Indeed, very many of the old houses in Prague bear some kind of image by which they are identified. As the Swiss gave their houses names, so the Czechs gave them images. At least this Madonna was important enough to be saved when the old house she used to adorn was destroyed and a Cubist house put in its place. Now she graces the Museum of Cubist Art.