Naga City

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Our Lady of Peñafrancia

Balatas Rd, Naga, 4400 Camarines Sur

For the story of the original in Spain, click here.
For a photo of the original Philippine statue before the theft and restoration, click here  
For the full story of her life in the Philippines, click here and scroll down to "In Naga, the Philippines"

Arpino

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Madonna of Loreto (copy)

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At the Benedictine convent Sant’ Andrea most of the year and in the church San Michele Arcangelo on the town plaza from the 3rd Sunday of November till the second Sunday of January.

I don't often include copies of famous Black Madonnas in my index, but this one has such a distinct character and Emilio Giovannone's photos are so good that I couldn't resist.

A copy of the Madonna of Loreto has been venerated in Arpino since the 17th century. Procession to the church of the archangel St. Michael every 3rd Sunday of November. She stays there for her feast day on December 10th and returns to the nunnery on the second Sunday of January. The nuns guard her jealously, because she was given to the convent as the dowry for one of the nuns by her father, at his daughter’s request. The Black Madonna was sculpted in Loreto. The base on which she is carried in procession was ordered by the abbess from sculptor Michele Stolz.

During her festival, the mayor deposits the keys to the city at the foot of the Madonna, as a way of honoring her as the patron saint of the city. Usually a large group of air men pay their respects as well, because, since the Holy House of Loreto is said to have flown on angels’ wings from the Holy Land to Italy, the Black Madonna of Loreto is the patron saint of the Air Force and pilots in general.

http://www.diocesisora.it/pdigitale/madonna-di-loreto-arpino/

In

Argentina, Los Toldos

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In the Benedictine monastery Santa Maria de los Toldos, Ruta 65, Los Toldos, province Buenos Aires.

Virgin Mary of Einsiedeln
(Virgen Maria de Einsiedeln)

           
            In 1948, twelve Benedictine monks came from Einsiedeln, Switzerland to the Pampa of Buenos Aires, the rural area of the district, to found a new monastic community. They brought with them an exact copy of the famous Black Madonna of Einsiedeln. It was carved by Brother Simon Welti and painted by Father Bernardo for the people of Argentina. Interesting “coincident” that just at that time surviving Jews, Nazis, and other Germans were coming to Argentina from a totally destroyed Germany. Among them the Black Madonna, whose many faces includes that of reconciler between races*, came to take up her new “throne of mercy”.

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            The Virgin of Einsiedeln was well received. Each year more pilgrims come to pay her homage and to spend a few days in retreat. The liturgy of the monastery copies the one of its Motherhouse in Switzerland with its famous 11th century rendition of the Salve Regina, which is sung at the end of evening prayers.

* For more on this subject see the introduction: "The Mysterious Black Faces of the Madonna" and click on the sub heading "Racial explanations".

Moiano

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Madonna Della Libera (Our Lady of Freedom)

In her church Santa Maria della Libera, life size, 16th century incarnation of an older statue.

For two or three hundred years starting during the 9th or 10th centuries, many pilgrims visited the shrine of the Virgin Mary in Moiano, and there were miracles and cures. Then the sanctuary fell into ruin, perhaps due to the plague, but the memory of a miracle working Black Madonna remained until the church and statue could be rebuilt in the 16th century.

The church speculates that her title goes back to the 16th century. Around 1571 the Turks had invaded Italy and would not let the populace practice Catholicism. In Moiano victory over the Turks was attributed to the many individuals who had prayed to Our Lady of Moiano. Probably for this reason she was henceforth called Santa Maria Della Libera (Our Lady of Liberty.)

St. Padre Pio had a great devotion to this Lady.

In

Siparia

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The Divine Shepherdess

The statue is venerated as a Black Madonna by Catholics and as Mother Lakshmi or the Goddess Kali by Hindus.

Sources: citizensforconservationtt.org

Piat

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Our Lady of Piat,
Mother of Cagayan (province)
Mother of Us All,
Venerable Matriarch,
Black Virgin Mary

 

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In her basilica, St. Dominic Parish, Cagayan Apayao Road, Piat.
For the full story of this Black Madonna go to the Wikipedia article on Our Lady of Piat

Tsuruoka City

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In Tsuruoka Tenshudô Catholic Church, 7-19 Babacho, built in 1896, open  9:00 am - 5:00 pm.
The Black Madonna was a gift from 19th century French missionaries.

Sources: https://en.japantravel.com/kyoto/miyazu-catholic-church/3879
              youtube

In

Manila

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Our Lady of Guidance (Nuestra Señora de Guia)

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Antonio Flores Street, in the Ermita district of Manila. For the full history and more photos of this officially Black Madonna go to the beautiful Pintakasi website of James Ben Malabanan.

Budapest

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In St.Matthias Catholic Church, Szentháromság tér 2., in Buda Castle. You can't miss it. Photo from TripAdvisor
Opening hours: Mon  - Fri: 09:00-17:00, Sat: 09:00 – 13:00, Sun: 13:00 – 17:00

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The first church built on this site was the Church of Our Lady (Nagyboldogasszony templom), founded in 1038 by St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. He "declared the Virgin Queen and Patroness of Hungary, the first monarch so to dedicate his country."(*1) That church was destroyed by the Mongols in 1241. St. Matthias' church was founded by King Béla IV after the Mongol invaders left Hungary in 1242.

The Black Madonna is a copy of the Loreto Madonna. In 1541 the Turks occupied Buda and turned the Church of Our Lady into a mosque.The faithful credit the Black Madonna with the miraculous recapture of Budapest by the united Christian army in 1686. According to legend, when the Turks put Buda castle under siege, people walled in the statue inside its niche so the invaders wouldn’t find it. During the recapture in 1686 an explosion demolished the walls around the statue revealing the Virgin’s shining face. The Turks took this as a bad omen and gave up this part of the castle without a fight.(*2)

Not much remained of the original building due to numerous expansions, wars and reconstructions.

*1: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Arkana Books, 1985, p. 240
*2: https://www.budapestbylocals.com/matthias-church.html

In

Orcival

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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. 

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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*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

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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

Nazaré

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In her sanctuary, Santuario de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, in the upper part of town called Sitio Nazaré, 25 cm, painted wood, according to tradition 1st century, possibly one of the oldest "Black Madonnas". photos: Ella Rozett

Our Lady of Nazareth (Nossa Senhora da Nazaré)

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Ever since Ean Begg listed this Lady as a Black Madonna in his ground breaking index, she is known as such internationally and she does have a fine patina. However, the local Portuguese don't call her a Black Madonna and the copy in her grotto as well as the copies sold in the museum shop of her sanctuary are all white. Her Portuguese children are far more interested in her breasts than her skin color!

According to an oral tradition inscribed on a memorial stone in 1623 and placed in her "Chapel of Commemoration", the holy image was sculpted by St. Joseph the carpenter step-father of Jesus, in Nazareth, when Jesus was still a baby. A few decades latter St. Luke the evangelist is said to have painted it. That would certainly make it the most ancient image venerated by Christians.

The nursing type of Madonna with the child sitting on her left knee is indeed the oldest type, closely related to Isis and Horus statues. Also, her head dress, a hair net covered by a veil, is typical of Eastern Mediterranean images.

The Legend of Nazaré recounts that on the early morning of September 14, 1182, the knight Dom Fuas Roupinho, the governor of the fortress Porto de Mos, was out hunting with his companions, near the coast. He was chasing a stag in a heavy fog. The deer ran towards the top of a cliff and Dom Fuas in the midst of the fog was cut off from his companions. When he realized he was on the edge of the cliff and in mortal danger, he recognized the place: it was  right next to a small grotto where a statue of Our Lady nursing baby Jesus was venerated. So he cried out: "Mother of God, help me!" With that, the horse miraculously stopped right at the edge of a rocky point suspended over the void, saving horse and rider from falling more than 100 meters.  That place became known as the Bico do Milagre (Point of the Miracle).

With tears of gratitude running down his face, Dom Fuas dismounted and went straight down to the grotto to give thanks for his miraculous rescue. Then he ordered his companions to fetch masons in order to build a small chapel over the grotto so that the miraculous image could be easily venerated by all and as a memorial to the miracle that saved him. In the process of building this chapel, the masons demolished the existing altar in the grotto. It was normal to sanctify an altar with relics and holy objects and this one was no exception. So when it was disassembled, the relics of two saints and an old parchment recounting the history of the little wooden statue were found.

In an ancient script the parchment declared that the statue had been venerated since the beginning of Christianity in Nazareth. That's why she became known as Our Lady of Nazareth henceforth. In the fifth century she was rescued from the iconoclasts, who were out to destroy all "idols", by the Greek monk Cyriakos. He brought it to the monastery of Cauliniana, near the Spanish town Mérida. The Madonna remained there until 711, the year of the battle of Guadalete, when Christian forces were defeated by Moorish invaders. When the news of the defeat arrived at Mérida, the friars of Cauliniana prepared to leave their monastery. Meanwhile, the defeated king, Roderic, was able to flee the battlefield alone, disguised as a beggar. Without revealing his identity, he asked for shelter at the monastery. Only when he went to confession to one of the monks, Brother Romano, did he have to reveal his identity. The friar, foreseeing the approaching invasion of his monastery, suggested that they fled together, taking with them the monastery's most prized possessions: the relics of Sts. Blaise and Bartholomew and the miracle working image of Mary and baby Jesus.

On November 22nd 711, they ended up on the Atlantic coast of Portugal and settled near a monastery, in an empty hermitage on a rocky hill called Monte de Sao Bartolomeu. After a few days they decided to separate and live by themselves as hermits. The friar took the image and settled in a little grotto, on the edge of a cliff above the sea, next to the hill where the king went on living.

A year went by and Roderic decided to leave the region. Friar Romano stayed in his hermitage above the sea until he died. The holy statue stayed on the altar where he left it until 1182, when Dom Fuas moved it to the so called Chapel of Commemoration, built over the grotto as a memorial to the event that saved his life.

In 1377, because of the increased number of pilgrims, King Fernando had a church built across the plaza from the chapel, and transferred the statue there. This Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré) was remodeled several times since.  Inside, a sign reading "to the throne" guides you through the sacristy, a tiled hallway (see photo above), and up some stairs. You really feel like you are going before the throne of the Mother of God! 

Besides its "Black Madonna", Nazaré is famous for its giant waves. The biggest wave ever surfed (estimated at almost 100 ft.) crashed against the base of the light house right behind the sanctuary. The light house sits on top of an old fort, on top of a 100 ft. cliff. There's a nice little museum in the fort. Photo by Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty Images taken from a Telegraph post.

Source: a brochure from the museum shop.

 

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

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