In her 19th century Basilica, overlooking the Meditaranean, Rue de Zighara, Bologhine,bronze. Open daily 11-12 a.m. and 3-5:30 p.m.
Our Lady of Africa, or Madame l’Afrique,
Our Lady of Algiers
Madame l’Afrique is a copy of a French statue crafted in silver by the artist Edmé Bouchardon (1698-1762), which was destroyed during the Revolution. This bronze copy was ordered in 1838 by the Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur de Quélen. Apparently he had asked Our Lady for the conversion of Prince Talleyrand of France, a very controversial diplomat and foreign minister under Napoleon who had strong ties to the church. In order to fulfill his part of the deal, the archbishop had this statue made. Whether the Queen of Heaven granted his request is hard to tell, but many did laud Prince Talleyrand as an excellent diplomat who was often intent on avoiding blood shed. He was by no means a saint though.
Soon after the statue had been cast, it was presented to the first bishop of Algeria, Monseigneur Dupuch. The French army had landed in Algeria eight years earlier and was in the process of gradually occupying the whole country. The bishop charged the Black Madonna with the role of bringing peace between Muslims and Christians – the kind of peace that would make the French Christians happy, of course. Hence the mix of her European features and style with her dark complexion and Muslim robe richly embroidered in the “Tlemcen” style, an Algerian province that exports textiles. Supposedly the vestment was crafted by a devout Muslim artist with a deep love for the mother of the great prophet Jesus. (Her crown was a gift of Pope Pius IX.)
Her basilica was inaugurated in 1872 and continues the theme of ethnic and religious reconciliation with a big inscription on the wall behind her, which reads in French: “Our Lady of Africa, pray for us and for the Muslims.”
In many places where Muslims and Christians live together they share a devotion to Mary. (See “Mary and Islam”.) And so, on any given day one may see Muslims kneeling in the basilica, bringing their petitions to Our Lady, whom they call Lala Meriem.
For more on Black Madonnas and race relations read the introduction’s sub chapter “Racial Explanations” and proceed to the Black Madonna of Soweto.
The outstretched arms, smiling face, and inclined head of Our Lady of Africa mark her as the type of Madonna called “Our Lady of All Graces”. This type goes back to a series of apparitions of Mary to Sister Catherine Labouré in Paris in 1830. At that time the Queen of Heaven appeared in this pose, wearing rings on her fingers that were covered in jewels, most of them emitting a magnificent light. She said: “This is a symbol of the graces which I shed on those who ask me. Those jewels which are in shadow represent the graces which people forget to ask me for.”* She also demanded that a medal (the so-called Miraculous Medal) be crafted and widely distributed, depicting herself in this pose on one side. On the other side she wanted the cross of Jesus permanently anchored in her initial M and their two hearts underneath it, perfectly equal in size.
I think this is a very significant symbol of the inseparability of Jesus and Mary and the equality of the masculine and feminine principals.
* Roy Abraham Varghese, God Sent: A History of the Accredited Apparitions of Mary, The Crossroad Publishing Co. New York: 2000, p.95