Windhausen is a little village across the highway from Herschwiesen, a slightly bigger village with a famous baroque church. Both are part of the city Boppard in the Rhein-Hunsrück region. The chapel is open all day and lays about 15 minutes from the home of another Black Madonna in Beilstein on the Mosel, which is even more worth a visit. Photos: Ella Rozett

The Black Mother of God

Tradition says that around the year 1775 a local tenant farmer by name of Peter Becker sought relief from a debilitating illness at the feet of the Black Madonna in the Carthusian monastery near Koblenz. When the Queen of Heaven heard his prayers and did indeed heal him, he erected, in thanksgiving, a small chapel in his home village Windhausen and placed in it a Black Madonna similar to the one he had sought out. Several miracles and wonders took place immediately. E.g. a wilted lily in the hand of the Madonna brought forth fresh buds and during a prayer meeting that Peter Becker held with others the statue lit up with a heavenly light. A boy was healed of paralysis, a blind person was given sight, and a girl could leave her crutch at the feet of the Madonna. With that of course so many pilgrims started coming that a bigger chapel was needed, which Mr. Becker promptly provided.


This honeymoon between the divine Mother and her children didn’t remain undisturbed for long. The king had ordered enlightenment and religious equality between Catholics and Protestants. This meant the presence and power of Catholicism had to be reduced and “old time religion” with its “superstitions” was frowned upon. As in other places (see Chartres) Catholic clerics used this as an excuse to curtail grass roots practices they hadn’t dared to forbid before. Now the local bishop prohibited the collection of offerings and the presentation of ex voti in the Windhausen chapel and ordered the Image of Grace to be moved to the parish church in Herschwiesen. But since the chapel and the statue were the private property of Peter Becker, he simply took the Black Madonna into his home.

Shortly thereafter the French occupied the Rheinland and they too wanted to get rid of the holy place in Windhausen. The police chief of Boppard was ordered to take a troop of soldiers and destroy the chapel of the Black Madonna. Having been warned of this danger, the local peasants filled the bigger chapel with hay and straw, pretending to be good, enlightened citizens who had turned a useless chapel into a rational barn. They asked for the “barn” to be saved and consented to the old, outgrown chapel to be razed. 

Meanwhile Peter had taken off with the Black Madonna, in search for a good hiding place. He thought of burying her in the forest, but when he began to dig, he uncovered a crucifix in the ground and a spring of fresh water gushed forth from the hole. Later it turned out to be healing water. Next he hid the Madonna in a hollow oak tree, but the oak was struck by lightning and the statue blackened completely. Finally Our Lady was brought to a neighboring village, where the police found her, moved her to Koblenz, whence she disappeared.

Under Emperor Napoleon I the enmity between state and church loosened and the “barn” in Windhausen could once more become the chapel it was meant to be. A Mary statue was installed there and painted black in remembrance of the original. With that pilgrimages started up again, even stronger than before.

Peter Becker died in 1806 at age 70, reputed to be a very holy man. His chapel wasn’t officially consecrated by clergy until 1831.


At the end of World War II the chapel was badly damaged, but the Madonna was saved by some neighbors who ended up housing her for three years. The necessary repairs seemed almost impossible to accomplish in the postwar years, but Mother Gipp, the hostess of the Black Madonna, kept urging: “Finish the chapel and my son will come home from the French prison camp where he is held! When the chapel is complete the Mother of God will send him home.”(*1) And so it was. The night before the rededication ceremonies Mother Gipp’s son called to say he was in Boppard, almost home. He attended the opening mass the next day. 
The postwar repairs were only rudimentary. It took till 1985 for the shrine to be restored to its former glory. Since then pilgrims come once more.

The booklet from which I have taken most of this information quotes a local poet who writes: “…all thoughts and words died in me when I stood before that dark miracle in glowing, sparkling light, of which grandfather and the old mothers in the village had told stories…”(*2) Yes, that indeed is the mystical power of the Black Madonna: to halt our thoughts and concepts long enough so we can experience the divine spark in everything.

*1: The Catholic parish of Herschwiesen, “Pilgerbüchlein zur Schwarzen Muttergottes von Windhausen”, Boppard: 2005, p.12
*2: ibid, p.11




10 km East of Münster, Northrhein-Westphalia, (To find the chapel, head towards the bell tower of St. Clemens church next to the chapel of the Black Madonna.) around 1370, 150 cm, poplar wood, polychrome under layers of soot.

the Sorrowful Mother
(Die schmerzhafte Mutter)

As I explain in the introduction, all Black Madonnas have a connection to the earth and the ancient earth-goddesses. Going back to prehistoric times, black was the symbol for the earth and the Great Mother, the source of heaven and earth. The darker earth is, the more fertile, hence black was the color of fertility and creative power. The Sorrowful Mother of Telgte's connection to the earth is particularly strong and obvious:

She has a sacred tree that is still alive. Other Black Madonnas bridged the gap between sacred trees and Christian altars, between heaven and earth.AltöttingAntipoloBar-sur-Seine, FoggiaHalleNeuerburgNeukirchen-beim-Heiligen-BlutMonte Civita, and Swieta Lipka are some examples, though half their trees are dead now. The trunk of Telgte's Marienlinde (Mary-Linden-Tree) is about 750 years old with younger branches springing from it. You will find it at the entrance to the town, coming from Münster, with a copy of the Sorrowful Mother beneath it. 

According to the legend she appeared in that tree and lived under it for many years. (The full tale is given below.) Her present 'chapel of grace' was erected for her in 1654. The chapel is octagonal as is the one of the Black Madonna of Altötting, who also has her roots in a sacred linden tree. 

Several stories tie the Sorrowful One to her Marienlinde even though she now resides in her chapel in the center of town: One claims that she was carved from its wood even though she is actually made of poplar wood. Perhaps a previous incarnation of her was made from the sacred linden wood? Another story tells of pilgrims taking home leaves from her sacred tree as a souvenir and each leaf later revealing an image of the Madonna formed by the veins of the tree. Yet another tale talks about the younger linden trees in front of her chapel. One time those trees supposedly all folded their branches as if they were hands folded in prayer in thanksgiving for a miracle the Sorrowful Mother had just performed.

Being intimately connected with nature, this Sorrowful Mother was also used to bless the fields. She would be carried in annual 'field processions' (Flurprozessionen) through the land in order to invoke good weather and healthy crops. That's what the handles on her base were for.


One may wonder: as the Church appropriated Pagan objects of worship like trees, groves, springs, and rocks, did it value their sacredness or was it merely a ploy so that they could be controlled and gradually erased from people's consciousness? I think both. "The Church" is not a monolith. There were clergymen who had no respect for anything Pagan, natural, or feminine. But there were also mystics who saw the divine in everything around them, and there were (and are) many who were both, privately mystical, but publicly power brokers and politicians. 
Saint Ambrose (4th century), one of the most influential Church Fathers, likened Mary to the earth when he said, 'as Adam came from the virgin earth, so Christ came out of the Virgin Mary'.(1) In the monastic rule of St. Benedict (480 - 547 A.D.), a direct link is made between our relationship to the earth and to God. It says: "Humans must cultivate the earth if they want to cultivate God."(2) Much later St. Francis (1181/1182 - 1226 A.D.) would sing of his love for the earth, which was inseparable from his love for God

Also, the Church was in no hurry to do away with sacred springs, trees, and rocks. It didn't worry about them being "un-Christian" until the 16th century Reformation and the following "Enlightenment" or "Age of Reason". In that era much of Catholic tradition, with its ancient, pre-Christian roots, became ridiculed as superstition and tossed out. Veneration of the earth and special places on it, was one of those proverbial babies that were thrown out with the bathwater.

But long before that time, in order to be able to keep venerating the same ancient trees, springs, and rocks that were consecrated to Pagan deities, Christians had to consecrate them to Christian saints. Many were baptized, so to say, in the name of Mary.(3)

The  Marienlinde  in Sulzberg, Austria,photo:  Gruenkonzept

The Marienlinde in Sulzberg, Austria,photo: Gruenkonzept

Another Marienlinde in Linden, Bavaria, photo:  Hortitours

Another Marienlinde in Linden, Bavaria, photo: Hortitours

Why her instead of Jesus? Because the feminine was always seen as more connected to nature and the earth: mother earth and father sky. And so Mary came to represent the earth and all of the "new creation," all that was redeemed since she had said yes to receiving God into her womb. As Stephen Benko says: "In this hieros gamos [holy wedding] Mary received the role of the bride, as the "virgin earth" who was impregnated by the word of God, as the symbol of the Church, the bride of Christ, and as Queen of Heaven."(4)

The Virgin of Telgte is one of the oldest Madonnas of the type called 'pieta' (i.e. Mary holds the dead body of her crucified son on her lap.) Is it a coincident that one of the Black Madonnas with the clearest connection to Mother Earth is a Sorrowful Mother? Certainly the earth must be sorrowful at our treatment of her.

After the 30 Years War, in 1654, when she received her 'chapel of grace,' Catholic authorities encouraged and organized pilgrimages along designated paths with stations to commemorate and contemplate the sorrows and joys of the Mother of God. They continue to this day. Particularly popular is the one held on the second Sunday after the feast of Saints Peter and Paul when thousands of devotees walk the 47 km from Osnabrück, as they have been doing since 1852. A less somber pilgrimage takes place every year on Mayday when pilgrims arrive by historic horse-drawn carriages. The most beautiful carriage wins a prize.

As with many statues of Mary, she was crowned many times by her devotees, but the official, canonical coronation by a papal delegate took place centuries later, in this case in 1904. The crown is still used on special occasions.

The Legend of the Sorrowful One

I summarize the story as told by Julius Angerhausen in 1936:(5)
Once upon a time, on a winter evening, a young peasant boy from Telgte was returning in his ox cart from Münster where he had dropped off his tithe in corn. As he approached Telgte, the oxen, already smelling the warm stable, began to run faster. But when they were about to pass the big linden tree at the entrance of the town, they suddenly stopped and would not be persuaded to continue home. Yelling at the beasts, the boy got off the cart and looked around. Behold, the linden tree had been cut open as if hit by lightning and in the opening stood the wonderful statue of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus on her lap! Mother and Son shone in a bright white light that reflected off the icicles on the tree and the snow all around.

As the peasant knelt in the snow and prayed, he saw thick clusters of blood hanging on the hands and feet of the Savior and the wound on his side wide open. The boy also heard a faint song coming across the fields as a flock of blackbirds approached and settled in the linden tree. When their sweet concert ended he heard a voice from on high that was far more delightful than any birdsong. It said: "Bring my image to the people." The boy prayed on, but finally he arose in order to fulfill the command he had received. With trembling hands he took off his hat in respect, picked up the image in one arm and pulled on the oxen's reins with the other. He was going to bring the statue to the priest in Telgte, but the animals still would not move. Perplexed he let go of the reins. [Good idea!] Immediately the oxen began to walk, guided by an invisible hand. They turned around and took a way that led away from Telgte.

Hat off and shining image in his arms, the peasant followed behind. On and on they went, but neither animals nor man got tired as the snow below the wheals creaked: "Christ… Christ…." Thus they walked and prayed all night. When dawn broke they arrived at the isolated nunnery Rosenthal near Osnabrück and that's where the oxen stopped. Shyly the boy told the nuns all that had happened. They were overjoyed with the great honor the Mother of God was bestowing upon them and with a solemn procession they carried the statue into their church.

There stood the Sorrowful Mother in all her touching pain. As the nuns began to sing the psalms of the morning prayers the image began to shine brightly again. It was as if Mother and Son were formed out of pure light. Awestruck the nuns fell silent and contemplated the amazing figure. Its light was so bright that they had to close their eyes again and again. After a long and ardent time of prayer the sisters rose to leave the church, but when they took their eyes of the Sorrowful Mother they couldn't see a thing. In fear they realized that they had been struck blind by that divine glow. After some confusion the abbess said sternly: "I too cannot see anything since I have beheld Her and Her Son. Be still, go back to your cells and come back here for the evening prayers. We will wait and see what plans God has for us." While the nuns felt their way back to their cells the abbess knelt before the image of grace. There she stayed and prayed all day. She called upon Heaven: "Suffering Savior, Holy Mother, we thank you that you came to our convent in all your heavenly beauty. We thank you that we were allowed to see your beauty and the radiance of your transfiguration. We saw you, Sorrowful Mother, and the transfigured wounds of your son that burned like rubies. But this heavenly radiance is too magnificent for us, we cannot bear it. It burnt our poor eyes. Gracious God, we ask you, return our eyesight to us. Holy Sorrowful Mother, we ask you, take off your dress of radiance, if you want to stay with us, wrap yourself into a poor robe, otherwise our hearts will shy away from you."

When the abbess heard the sisters coming back for the evening prayers, she went to her seat and began to sing the sacred chants by heart. When the solemn moment came at which all rose and sang the magnificat (Mary's song from the Bible), the blindness fell from everyone's eyes. When they looked at the image of grace they noticed that it had changed. It no longer radiated white and pure in heavenly light, instead Mother and Son had turned completely black - black and poor, because humans couldn't bear their heavenly effulgence.

Soon many people began to stream to the nunnery with their sorrows and their wounds in order to be consoled by the wounded Christ and his sorrowful Mother.

Now, at some distance from the convent there lay a village full of evil peasants who wanted nothing to do with religion and no one wanted anything to do with them. One morning a few of these people were coming home from a nightly poaching excursion when they noticed that an image of the Mother of God had appeared in the middle of their village. "What is this image doing here?! We've long since gotten rid of all such silly stuff!" Soon the whole village was gathered around, but nobody knew how the image had appeared. One boy yelled: "I know that statue. It stood in the convent in Rosenthal. The nuns must have secretly brought it here during the night, trying to convert us. But we will teach them a lesson! I'll take that thing back to them and make them happy!" he said with a sarcastic grin. Then he quickly hitched two horses to a cart, loaded it with garbage, and grabbed a filthy, old rag. Among great laughter from his villagers he threw the rag over Mary as a mock robe, but lo, when he placed her on the garbage, fear struck the peasants, because the moment the Mother of God had touched the garbage, it had turned into a pile of all kinds of the most wonderful white and blood red flowers. The rag too had been transformed; suddenly it was a precious cloth that adorned the Sorrowful One beautifully. The people all ran away as if chased by the devil. From a distance they finally dared to turn around and take another look. They saw how the horses were trotting towards the convent led by an invisible hand.

When the Sorrowful Mother arrived back at the convent, the nuns were overjoyed, for they had looked and inquired for her everywhere. But they could not explain to themselves the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of their treasured possession. In any case, the abbess ordered that from now on there should always be a nun praying before Our Lady around the clock.

After a few weeks it was the turn of an old sister to take a night shift before the sacred figure. Towards morning she couldn't keep her eyes open anymore and fell asleep. When she awoke the Sorrowful Mother was gone! Horrified the old lady got up. Then she noticed that the church door stood wide open. When she stepped outside she saw the tracks of a fine little woman's shoes in the sand path leading away from the church. Sensing a mystery, she followed the lead. It took her along a dirt path lined by bushes that carried strange, red berries. When she stopped to look at these berries that had ripened so early in the year she realized they were thick drops of blood. Then she understood! Now she would kneel reverently every time she came to another drop of blood and kiss the bloody leaves. After a while the tracks stopped. Looking around, the nun saw the sacred image with the Son's wounds still fresh and red with blood. Then she realized that she was right in the middle of that notorious village. Yet she didn't worry about a thing, but knelt before the Black Madonna. Suddenly she noticed that a child stood next to her crying. It told her that the statue had already shown up one time, a few weeks ago, and how the men had mistreated it. Now the old nun understood why the Heavenly Mother had wandered away from the convent twice. She wanted to remain here, in the middle of this infamous village.

As fast as she could, the old sister went back to the nunnery and told the abbess everything that had happened. The abbess too realized the will of the Sorrowful One. Of course none of the religious wanted to say good-bye to their Mother and so they decided to move the whole nunnery to the place Mary had chosen. 

Amazingly enough, the notorious peasants allowed the nuns to do whatever they pleased and soon the new nunnery stood in the middle of the ill-reputed community. It came to be called Marienberg (Mary's mountain). That was the end of the power of evil over the hearts of its formerly so willing followers. The strong woman had come and crushed the head of the serpent. [Compare to Genesis 3:15] No sooner was the convent completed then the children began to show up at church. The peasants let them. Later the women came with their children, and after a year the men showed up. With great love the holy Mother drew all to herself and led them back to her Son.

Decades later bad times afflicted the Church. Laity, priests, and religious alike lost the earnestness of their faith. No one cared for the commandments of God or Church. Unholy men sought holy offices, and worldly-minded, pleasure seeking women entered the convents in search, not of God, but of an easy life. The faithful old nuns at Marienberg had all passed away and the new "sisters" didn't care for the Black Madonna. More sorrowful than ever she stood alone in her deserted church.

There was only one who still clung to her with faithful love: the old man who had found her in the linden tree when he was a boy. Unable to leave her side, he had entered the service of the nuns and worked for them his whole life. Every day he would visit his divine Mother several times and pray.

One day the "nuns" held a big party. In those days only aristocratic women could be ordained as nuns and so the invited guests were noblemen from near and far. A great feast was served and many monastic rules broken. At the time when the religious formerly sang the evening prayers, the old faithful servant found himself alone in the church praying his rosary. Instead of Mary being greeted with a procession and the chant 'Hail holy Queen' all one heard was the noise of the debauchery in the festive hall nearby. The old man with his unsteady old voice tried to recite his prayers more loudly so that poor Mary didn't have to listen to that unholy noise, but his voice had lost its strength and all one could hear was a loud party song. The old man fell silent and fearfully looked at the holy Mother. Lo, she was crying! Two streams of bitter tears ran down her face, falling onto the black, wounded body of her divine Son. Now the old man too began to sob. He looked at her helplessly and with a trembling voice he brought forth: "How they sadden you, oh if only I could console you! If I still had strength in my arms, if I wasn't such an old geezer, I would carry you away from here. I'd take you somewhere where no sinful and uncaring people can hurt your feelings!" He fell silent. She continued to cry. Suddenly something came over him. He arose and called out to her: "You won't stay here! They won't continue to insult you! I am taking you away!" And as if he was a young man again, he took her into his arms and carried her out of the church.

She was light like a feather. But where to? She had already chosen a place and she led him there by making herself light when he walked in the right direction, but heavy when he took the wrong path. All night they walked like that. She never stopped crying, but his heart was happy that he had the privilege once more to carry her through the night. When the morning star began to shimmer the morning wind blew in the leaves of the Mary-linden-tree of Telgte where the old man had arrived with his Madonna. Here finally her tears subsided and her mouth opened, letting out a silvery, radiant laugh, a laugh more brightly shining than the morning star ever will. That's how the old man knew that this was the place where she wanted to be venerated and that it was from this tree that she wanted to pass the grace and consolation of her Son on to the human race.

She spent centuries under her sacred tree until in 1654 the prince and bishop Christoph Bernhard von Galen built her a chapel in town. 

*1: "ex terra virgine Adam, Christus ex virgine."
*2: Brigitte Romankiewicz, Die schwarze Madonna: Hintergründe einer Symbolgestalt, Patmos Verlag, Duesseldorf: 2004, p.31-2: 
*3: Reinhard Aill Farkas has a beautiful website of sacred landscapes, springs, rocks, and trees, some consecrated to Mary and other Christian saints. 
*4: Stephen Benko, The Virgin Goddess: Studies in the Pagan and Christian Roots of Mariology, Leide: 1993, p. 264
*5: Julius Angerhausen, Die schwarze Muttergottes: Legenden um die schmerzhafte Mutter von Telgte, Heimatverlag der J. Schnellschen Buchhandlung, Warendorf i.W.: 1936 



In her church Mariä Himmelfahrt, Kirchplatz 1, 55595 Spabrücken, county Soon, close to Mainz, tel: 06706-960107. About 3 ft tall, remains of a 14th Century, painted linden wood statue inside a 1909 recreation.
photo right: Ella Rozett

Schwarze Madonna vom Soon
(Black Madonna of Soon)

Soon is the name of the forest and the area around Spabrücken, where Our Lady’s church was erected as part of a monastery in 1359. The Black Madonna seems to have come to Spabrücken from a hermitage near Riesweiler im Hunsrück. In the course of the centuries she was damaged so often that in 1909, the sculptor Kaspar Weiß was asked to create a new Mother of God of the Soon into whose interior the old statue could be inserted.

the church of the Black Madonna of the Soon, built in 1359,  remodeled during the Baroque

the church of the Black Madonna of the Soon, built in 1359, 
remodeled during the Baroque

The earliest document attesting pilgrimages to the Mary statue of Spabrücken stems from the middle of the 14th century. During the Reformation, the pilgrimages ceased for a while, because the local aristocrats and with them their subjects, became Lutherans. This lasted for 80 years. In 1648, they all converted back to Catholicism and in 1666, the people of Oberheimbach (20km away) rekindled the old pilgrimage and devotion. Their own special Mother of Consolation had been stolen during the 30 Year War. Now the Plague was ravaging the community and they needed a divine Mother to run to for protection. Their priest gave his blessing under the condition that the pilgrimage be repeated. And so the faithful have been undertaking an annual pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Soon on the first weekend in September for about 450 years.

The village welcomes the pilgrims by decorating the streets and houses with flags and candles and joining in the candle light procession the evening before a bishop celebrates special masses. During October, the so called ‘month of the rosary’ her devotees focus on this “meditative prayer to the Mother of God” (as the website says).

the Black Madonna in full regalia during a pilgrimage mass celebrated by Bishop Ackerman and other priests

the Black Madonna in full regalia during a pilgrimage mass
celebrated by Bishop Ackerman and other priests

The Black Madonn is called a ‘Gnadenbild’, i.e. an image of grace, which means there is something miraculous about her, but nowadays it’s difficult to find anybody who remembers how she got this reputation. The last time she was really famous was in the 18th century. In those days up to six thousand pilgrims would come to her every day during her festival in September. We still have a book of miracles (“Mirakelbuch”), recorded in this era. It lists supernatural healings, prayers answered, etc.

Though devotion to the Black Madonna is no longer what it once was, the parish in this little village in the middle of nowhere, is still amazingly vibrant. This may be due to the continued presence of a religious community. The monastery adjoining the church of the Black Madonna was Franciscan for centuries. Now it is inhabited by an order of Augustinian nuns, who call themselves “the Sisters of the communal Life” (Schwestern vom Gemeinsamen Leben). They offer retreat facilities for individuals and groups, participation in their services, spiritual direction, Taizé services, etc. You can visit their website at

Info taken from: articles on the website of the diocese of Trier and the parish in Spabrücken. Thanks to Andreas Keber, the music director and organist of the parish, for providing additional information.




In her pilgrimage church of St. Josef, Kirchstrasse 28, 66292 Riegelsberg, 8 km from Saarbrücken, on the border to France, phone: 06706-960107, copy of the most famous German Black Madonna, the one of Altötting, painted wood.

Black Madonna in Riegelsberg


It is rare that a copy of a famous Black Madonna makes it into my index. This one did for two reasons. One, she is from my homeland. Two, her story illustrates in great detail how a famous Black Madonna “begets her daughters”, if you will. It is much more involved than simply carving a copy. There is a whole process by which as much as possible of the “mother’s” sacred energy is transferred to the “daughter”. For more on this read the entry on the Black Madonna on the Fraueninsel.(*1)

Right after World War II an influential priest from Altötting, Monsignore Adalbert Vogl gave this Madonna to the parish in Riegelsberg. She was consecrated on the feast day of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, on 8/15/1945, by Bishop Simon Konrad of Passau and was touched three times to her mother image. Then the sacredness of this daughter image and its connection with Altötting was further enhanced by inserting into it a photo and a relic of Brother Konrad a saint from Altötting, who had a special devotion to its Black Madonna. (More on him under Altötting.)

Finally the copy was entrusted to Ms. Elisabeth Friedrich, who was from Güchenbach near Riegelsberg, but had been evacuated to Altötting during the war. (Sounds like the whole thing was her idea.) Under great post war kind of difficulties she brought the Madonna to Riegelsberg in hopes of turning her hometown into a center of Marian devotion reminiscent of Altötting. On 9/2/1945, a monk and priest from Altötting solemnly installed this Black Madonna in her new home, with a great crowd in attendance. 

The next year she received a precious mantle, crown, and scepter from the treasury of her mother image, which she wears on special occasions. With that she was solemnly crowned by the Archbishop of Trier on the feast day of the Assumption of Mary in 1946. And so the little parish church of St. Joseph became a place of pilgrimage. Every year from 8/15, the Assumption of Mary to 8/22, the commemoration of Mary’s name, a festival and pilgrimage is celebrated in her honor. Thank you Ms. Elisabeth Friedrich! Thank you Mother Mary! (*2)

* 1: Normal Catholics don’t refer to them as mother and daughter; that’s my invention.
* 2: All info and image from the parish website.




In the church of this little village in the Bavarian Forest, 30 km East of Cham, near the Czech border, c. 1400, 78 cm, painted Dr. Johannes Steiner: Our Lady the way she is usually robed and without her regalia.

Our Dear Lady

The story of Neukirchen-at-the-Holy-Blood begins with a sacred host (the consecrated bread become body of Christ) found around the year 1400 on a tree stump in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic).(*1) A chapel was erected to house the host and it was given this Madonna for company. A Bohemian artist seems to have sculpted her for the occasion. I don't think he conceived her to be a Black Madonna, but since she is very miraculous and darkened over time, she has earned the title and now the people certainly perceive her as black.

Shortly after the chapel for the miraculous host was built, Jan Hus, a Czech national hero, appeared on the stage of history. He wanted to reform the Catholic Church and had the support of many Bohemian nobles. But in 1415 the Church, at the Council of Constance, Germany, condemned him as a heretic and had him burned at the stake. Then the Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation and the Pope launched a crusade against the Bohemian reform movement, the 'Hussites' as in Jan Hus. Pope and Emperor sent mostly German troops, which angered the Czech Bohemians even more. United against these foreign invaders, the people rose up in arms against anything Catholic. After 20 years of fighting a compromise was finally accepted that allowed Catholic as well as Hussite churches to worship in Bohemia as they pleased.

But during the Hussite Wars, our Madonna was in grave danger as Protestants roamed the land destroying Catholic images. To save her, a peasant woman, Susanna Halada, brought her in 1419 across the border into Catholic Bavaria and hid her in a hollow tree. She did well, because the former home of Our Lady was soon burned.


But even in Bavaria Our Lady wasn't safe for long. Around 1450 a Hussite by the name of Krechma forayed into Bavarian territory looking for Catholic enemies. What he found was Our Lady hidden in her tree. He threw her into a nearby well, but after he had gone home, the Madonna, apparently miraculously, left the well and returned to her tree. When the man came back and found her there, he was enraged and threw her back into the well. But again she returned to her rightful place. After she had escaped from the well three times, Krechma knew he needed to find a different way to destroy her. He pulled his sword and hit her on the head, trying to hack her in pieces. But lo, fresh blood spurted from the wound! In panic at finding the statue to be strangely alive, the Hussite wanted to flee, but his horse couldn't move. He ripped the horse shoes off it, hoping this would break the spell, but to no avail. Now he was shocked into the realization that the Mother of God reverenced by the Catholics was real and most holy, deserved and demanded his devotion. He repented and embraced the faith of his childhood once more. Now he often came to the Black Madonna's shrine as a pilgrim, not as an enemy.

The shrine quickly became so famous a holy site that the little chapel was turned into a big church containing the well from which Our Lady freed herself three times. A monastery was attached to it to take care of the shrine and its pilgrims. In 1626 Neukirchen burnt down completely, but was rebuilt. This may have further darkened the Madonna.

Since the Black Madonna is kept out of reach, high above the main altar, this copy of her with her assailant was placed where she can be touched and receive offerings. It shows not only the continuing devotion of her children, but also proves that they consciously perceive her as dark skinned, even though in the here cited publication she is not once called a Black Madonna, but always referred to as 'das Gnadenbild', the graced image.

*1: Story and photos are taken from a booklet sold at the sanctuary: Franz Dambeck, Josef Krottenthaler, und Ulrich Murr, Neukirchen beim Heiligen Blut: Pfarr-, Wallfahrts- und Klosterkirche, Verlag Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg: 2004




The picturesque little town lies in the region called Eifel, 29 km West of Bitburg. In the woods less than one km West of the town. Follow the Burgstrasse uphill past the Castle that houses the Youth-hostel. 46 cm, copy of 17th century? painted wood.

Schwarzbildchen (little black image)


Some time around the 17th century there was a nobleman by name of Kuno von Falkenstein, who was in love with the beautiful maiden of the castle Neuerburg. Alas, he wasn’t the only one! His rival, with some friends, resolved to kill him. They attacked him in the woods near the castle. He wouldn’t have stood a chance if it weren’t for the Virgin Mary helping him. She appeared to him in a vision and showed him a hollow oak tree where he could hide. 
After his miraculous rescue, thankful young Kuno placed this Black Madonna, probably meant to be a copy of the Black Madonna of Altötting, in the oak. Soon the people of the region started coming here on pilgrimage and apparently some of their prayers were answered. The chapel across from the shrine in the tree exhibits quite a few ex-voti – thanksgiving plaques offered to the Black Madonna.

What remains of the 700 year old oak tree is carefully preserved and still houses the Black Madonna.

What remains of the 700 year old oak tree is carefully preserved and still houses the Black Madonna.

In 2010 the local priest reported that the original was stolen. In 1984 an artist made two copies resembling the old statue, one for the tree shrine and one for the church in town. The latter seems to be kept in the parish office building.

Information and photos are based on Ean Begg(*1) and Mark Veermans, a Dutch man who walked from Holland to Montserrat, Spain on a Black Madonna pilgrimage and took the most beautiful pictures. If you don’t know Dutch I recommend googling Mark Loopt (that is 'Mark walks' in Dutch) and clicking on “translate page”.


*1: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Arkana: 1985, p. 238



Magdeburg Black Madonna.jpg

In the cathedral of Magdeburg, the capital of the state Sachsen-Anhalt, about 2 meters, around 1280, painted wood. photo: Ella Rozett

The miracle working Black Madonna
(Die wundertätige schwarze Madonna)

The cathedral of Magdeburg is a very important building in Church history. It was founded originally as a Benedictine abbey in 937 by Otto the Great (912 – 973), who was crowned the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 962. He and his first wife are buried in the cathedral. Under his reign, Magdeburg blossomed into “a third Rome”. After a devastating fire in 1207, the cathedral was completely rebuilt and remodeled. This is when it became the oldest gothic building on German soil.

While much can be read about the cathedral, none of the guide books say more than one sentence about the miracle working Black Madonna: “She was greatly revered in the Middle Ages.” (*1) Why doesn’t anybody care to remember her history and miracles? Because the church became Protestant in 1567 and Lutheran theology is neither interested in Black Madonnas nor in any other miracle working statues. It calls such things idolatry and superstition. Much later, in the 20th century, 50 years of totalitarian, anti-religious regimes (first the Nazis then the Communists) would have wiped out any remaining memories of the history of this Dark Mother. - Not that she is that dark anymore. She must have been cleaned up at some point, but her hands still show that she was darker at one point and the main thing is: she still retains her title and reputation! No other statue in the whole, big church has candles burning before it, only the miracle working Black Madonna. It’s amazing that people held on to this much!

St. Maurice photo: Ella Rozett

St. Maurice
photo: Ella Rozett

a very diferent St. Maurice statue in Ottawa, Canada

a very diferent St. Maurice statue
in Ottawa, Canada

One thing that may interest a devotee of the Black Madonna in this cathedral is the statue of its African patron Saint Maurice, located very close to the emperor’s sarcophagus. Mauritius was the 3rd century Egyptian leader of the legendary Theban legion of the Roman army. All 6600 men under his command were Christians and first class fighters. Yet they were all martyred when they refused to do violence to fellow Christians or offer Pagan sacrifices. To Otto I he was a “knight of Christ and an invincible commander in chief”(*2)just like the emperor wanted to be.

With Maurice being Egyptian, he could have been portrayed as much more light skinned, like this statue in Ottawa, Canada. But the German statue from around 1250, a time of blossoming of Black Madonnas, exaggerates Maurice’s black African features. As I’ve said in the introduction, Black Madonnas were often regarded as defenders of Christians in battle, especially (since the crusades began in 1096) battles against Muslim forces. To the Central European mind all Muslims were very black and exotic and one wanted someone who looked like them and knew them to help fight against them. St. Maurice and Black Madonnas seemed to qualify.

I doubt that Otto the Great, who lived before the Crusades against Muslims cared much about St. Maurice’s African heritage. He just needed a soldier-saint to make him feel like one could kill thousands in battle and still go to Heaven. Otto led his own kind of crusade against the Pagans to the East, especially the Slavic peoples. He converted them by the sword, just like the Muslims were doing it in other parts of the world. 

Otto the Great and Editha, photo:  Wolfgang Guelcker .Visit his amazing website for extensive photo galleries:   

Otto the Great and Editha, photo: Wolfgang Guelcker.Visit his amazing website
for extensive photo galleries:  

St. Catherine of Alexandria photo:  Wolfgang Guelcker .

St. Catherine of Alexandria
photo: Wolfgang Guelcker.

A little more peaceful Black Madonna theme that echoes in this church is the empowerment of the feminine. Besides St. Maurice, the cathedral is also dedicated to a female saint, Catherine of Alexandria. Both stand at equal distance from the emperor’s grave and are looking each other in the face with great openness and friendliness. Medieval legends describe Catherine as a 4th century princess with superb knowledge of all the sciences, arts, and philosophy. When she became a Christian and took on the emperor, it literally cost her her head, but she converted hundreds in the process.(*3) Throughout the Middle Ages, she held the place of a fully emancipated woman in the midst of a very patriarchal Church. (Joan of Arc was led by visions of Catherine of Alexandria.)

The cathedral also houses a round memorial chapel to the emperor and his first wife, the pious Edith, who died too young. According to the guide book, this woman made a great impression on the imperial court and the people, an impression that lasted for centuries.(*4) I guess they say that, because this memorial chapel was built around 1250, centuries after her death and honors her instead of the emperor’s second wife. My guess is that the Church preferred her as a role model, because she was pious and kept out of politics, whereas Otto’s second wife Adelheid was very involved in the political affairs of her husband.(*5) Still, I like how the artist incorporated the spirit of both wives into this memorial. The couple is portrayed inside this round, feminine shape and as happy equals, with bodies and crowns of equal size, him leaning slightly towards her in a very relaxed and comfortable manner.

Here’s yet another powerful feminine image to be found in the cathedral: a type called "Anna selbdritt" (Anne threesome) in German and "Anne trinitaire" (Trinitarian Anne) in French. It depicts baby Jesus with his mother Mary and his grandmother Anne. When people ask me: “Where is the grandmother in Christianuty?” I tell them about this feminine version of the trinity, a gassroot invention of the faithful, that appeared in the 13th century and held out for several hundred years.

A stern German grandmother.

A stern German grandmother.

two much sweeter Swedish versions of the same type, both in the Stockholm Nationalmuseum

two much sweeter Swedish versions of the same type, both in the Stockholm Nationalmuseum

photos: Ella Rozett 

photos: Ella Rozett 

*1: Michael Sußmann, Der Dom zu Magdeburg, Kunstverlag Peda, Passau: 2002, p.71
*2: Ibid., p. 12
*4: Ibid., p. 13
*5: Ibid. p.12




50 minutes S of Bonn in the forest near Langenfeld, Eifel, about 50 cm, Ella Rozett

Black Mother of God

Although this is a very young Black Madonna she stands on old holy ground, along the Jodokusweg (Jodok path), a 12 km long pilgrimage way that circles Langenfeld, the Black Madonna, an ancient holy well and a 15th century chapel in the woods. In Christian times the well was dedicated to St. Jodok but it is likely much older. Jodok was a 7th century prince of Brittany, France, who renounced his kingdom to become a pilgrim, hermit, and founder of a small monastic community. He is considered a patron saint of pilgrims, travelers, the sick and blind. His well is reputed to cure diseases of the eyes.


One may wonder if this modern Madonna really qualifies as a Black Madonna. I would say she shares many of the common charachteristics: besides being dark, she is also close to Mother Earth, near a sacred well, organized pilgrimages to her shrine still draw thousands of faithful every fall, and she emerged independent of Church authorities. When the Madonna was first discovered it was rumored that she appeared in this niche miraculously in the Marian year of 1954. Later it was established that she was offered to the world by the local artist Jakob Klein (1914-1971). He must not have asked permission, but simply built this little shrine to his Heavenly Mother and placed her there unobserved.


This Mother of God also proves that the desire for a dark Mother has not died out but is well and alive not only among New Age feminists but also among conservative Catholics, and her connection to nature endures.

Langenfeld is an interesting village. It houses a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center. A friend of mine told me that the resident Lama Sönam (a Tibetan priest) likes to visit the shrine of the Black Madonna and the sacred Jodokus well because he experiences both as holy places. The nearby chapel of St. Jost, named after Jodok and considered part of Langenfeld, in turn seems to appreciate the Buddhist spirit. A 1994 relief at the entrance portrays St. Jodok as a pilgrim on the way to Santiago de Compostella, but the inscription comes straight out of the Buddhist world: "The path is the goal" (Der Weg ist das Ziel).



Directions: If you want to walk for about 3 hours through the woods and four villages, take the Jodok path. It starts at St. Quirinus church in Langenfeld and follows the letters "J". If you want to drive closer, take the L10 from Langenfeld towards Mayen, turn right following the signs to St. Jost. Park above the chapel. Leave the chapel on your left, below. At the first T intersection of the path turn right. It's about 10 minutes to the well and another 10 along a beautiful creek to the Black Madonna.

For more info in German see:




About one hour NE of Munich in the church Mary's Visitation (Mariä Heimsuchung), 17th century copy of Madonna of Altötting.

Our Dear Lady of Heiligenbrunn
(Unsere liebe Frau von Heiligenbrunn)

'Heiligenbrunn' means 'sacred well' and so the center of this sanctuary is a sacred well that predates its connection with the Black Madonna. I don't usually include copies of other Black Madonnas in this index, unless they have their own special legend or other features. I think a sacred healing well qualifies.

The well in Heiligenbrunn probably goes back to pre-Christian times. It was just another one of so many sacred places out in Mother Nature that were Christianized by dedicating them to a Christian saint rather than a Pagan god/dess. Until 1662 this one was just a little spring out in the fields, with an image of Mother Mary next to it. But that year it became famous in all of Bavaria. Why? Because on September 1st a peasant by the name of Melchior, from a nearby village fell off a ladder. He must have sustained some brain injury, for he was left speechless. For eleven weeks everything humanly possible was tried, but nothing could make him talk again. So he went to the sacred well, prayed and drank of the water. At that, Our Lady appeared to him (some say in a dream), looking like the famous Black Madonna of Altötting, and healed him. Word of the miracle spread quickly and many people started coming to the sacred well that had been blessed by the Black Madonna. To this day they come, asking for healing and consolation. Many miracles are granted. The ex-voti in the church tell not only of illnesses that were healed, but even of epidemics that ceased and fires that were stopped.


From the alms the pilgrims left as a thanksgiving, a well was built over the spring and a chapel next to it. Soon the building was too small. The present, bigger church was erected in 1714. It contains a baroque copy of the Black Madonna of Altötting shown hovering over a sacred well. The actual well is in its own little 'chapel of grace'. On the back wall of the chapel one can draw the healing water.

Twice a year pilgrims walk from all around and meet at the ancient holy well to which the Black Madonna drew them back. Each Pentecost there is also a traditional blessing of the horses.


Next to the church there is a Spiritual Center for Families. From 1851 to 1986 the building housed a boarding school for at risk boys. It too was constructed with offerings left by pilgrims. Now the place helps at risk families (i.e. the average family) to regain the power of speech and communication and to enter into relationship with oneself, one's partner, and God. The website says that the average married couple talks to each other only about 9 minutes a day. When that level of communication improves it is no less miraculous than when the dumb peasant Melchior regained his ability to speak back in 1662.(1)

As the priest in Vassivière, France said, when I asked him if miracles still happen at his shrine: "Of course, miracles happen all the time. And the greatest miracle is when the heart opens."

*1: This article is based on information from Ursula Kröll, "Das Geheimnis der Schwarzen Madonnen: Entdeckungsreisen zu Orten der Kraft", Kreuz Verlag, Stuttgart: 1998, p. 189 and the Family Center's website, whence I also copied the photos:




In Lake Chiem,about 1 1/4 hours from Munich, Bavaria, a baroque "copy" of Our Lady of Altötting. photo: Ella Rozett

Fraueninsel im Chiemsee
(Women's Island)


This statue illustrates two points. One, it shows that Northern Europeans saw something African and exotic in their Black Madonnas, for this Lady's crown is not a European crown. Rather it looks like a German's fantasy of an African crown. The artist seems to celebrate cultural diversity. He affirms Mary as the one mother of so many different tribes of children. She will wear many different hats for us, but her heart is always the same, a fountain of immaculate, divine love for all.

This statue was created at a time when Europeans were discussing the legitimacy of the African slave trade and it seems to cast its vote against it.

Europe had always used slaves, long before it had ever heard of Africa. Like Africans, Europeans enslaved their own peoples before they came into contact with other races. Once Europe had pretty uniformly been converted to Christianity the question whether it was ethical to hold slaves arose. Under Charlemagne, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 800 to 814 it was decided to abide by Leviticus 25:44-45, which states that it is permitted to own slaves, but not to enslave your own people. Hence it became illegal for Christians to hold other Christians as slaves, but non-Christians were fair game. The Mediterranean kingdoms had access to Muslim and later African slaves, though they were not nearly as numerous as in the colonies. The first country to abolish slavery completely, even in its colonies, was the German state of Prussia in 1713; Great Britain followed in 1807, and the rest of Europe in 1815.

The other point this statue sheds light on is the tradition of creating "copies" of existing Black Madonnas, rather than freely creating dark mothers whenever one felt like it. Our Lady of the Chiemsee shows that in doing so many artists were not very concerned about crafting exact replicas. Why then did they call their free variations on a theme "copies?" It seems that there was a sense that one couldn't just produce a Black Madonna. She had to appear somehow as a gift from Heaven; she had to be turned black by the hand of God. The only way for a community to come by a Black Madonna when Heaven had not bestowed such a gift, was to make a so called "copy" of a famous Dark Mothers. Being a "copy" justified the statue's existence and allowed it to share in the spiritual power of its mother statue.

Sometimes a copy was sent to spend some time with the original, in order to be imbued with its spiritual power. For example the Black Madonna of Rumburk, Czech Republic, a copy of Our Lady of Loreto, spent one week in the Holy House of Loreto (see Italy) imbibing the grace and identity of her mother statue.





Benrath is a Southern district of the city of Düsseldorf; the Black Madonna is in the church St. Cäcilia, Hauptstr. 12 at the Benrather Marktplatz (market place), phone: 0211-719393, open daily, 1677 A.D., 140 cm.

Image of Grace of the Black Mother of God of Benrath
(Gnadenbild der Schwarzen Muttergottes von Benrath)

The story of the Black Mother of God of Benrath begins with Count Philip Wilhelm (1653 - 1690) and his second wife Elisabeth Amalia Magdalene. He had seen the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln in Switzerland and both had a great devotion to Mother Mary. In 1677 they heard that local people had witnessed an apparition of the Queen of Heaven and inexplicable singing in the forest belonging to the Count’s castle (in the place now called Schwarzer Weg, i.e. Black Path). When they went to see for themselves what was going on, lo and behold the Countess repeatedly heard a heavenly voice telling her: “Mary in her shining light wants to be venerated here.” So the couple decided to commission a copy of the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln and her black chapel to be erected on the spot of the apparition. Immediately pilgrims and offerings to the Madonna poured in from all sides. 

For two centuries yearly processions from the Lambertus Church in Düsseldorf to the chapel of the miracle working Black Madonna in Benrath were held on July 2nd. That date used to be the feast day of the Visitation of Mary (later moved to May 31) and is now the feast day of Our Lady of Light. Nowadays beautiful candle light processions are held on the 2nd Sunday in October when Our Lady is carried around the park of the old Count’s castle.

During the French occupation by Napoleon’s „revolutionary“ troups of the Rheinland (after 1794) many churches were secularized or destroyed. The so called „Black Chapel“ in Benrath did not escape this fate. First it became a pub for soldiers then it was torn down. The sacred image of grace was burried by the monks who were in charge of the site and thus saved. After the occupation, in 1806 the Black Madonna was brought out of hiding and placed in the nearest parish church. In 1959, during construction work, the foundation of the old Black Chapel was found at the Black Path (Schwarzer Weg). One can still visit it today, although the neighborhood has a bad reputation. The cornerstone with inscriptions was moved to the chapel of the Black Madonna in St. Cäcilia.(*1)

Black Madonna and the Bee


It is interesting to note the art that decorates the protective glass surrounding the Madonna (installed after a fire bombing in 1974). There are stalks of wheat all over, a basket of bread rolls that look like eggs on the bottom left, a bee hive on the bottom right with a few small bees, a big bee on the top left and a dove on the top right. 
For a detailed description of the connection between Black Madonnas and wheat go to the Custonaci entry in this index and read about „Mary, the Earth, and Demeter“. Suffice it to say here that Pastor Vollmer, the parish priest in 2011, acknowledged that wheat and bread is not only a symbol of Christ in the Eucharist, but in conjunction with Mary, also a symbol of fertility, a prayer for good harvests and a healthy earth as well as plenty of healthy children.

The bee is a much rarer image in Western art, employed most notably by the Merovingian dynasty and Napoleon, i.e. self-absorbed sovereigns who desired to rule the whole world. Apparently they wanted to be like a queen bee, served by a whole people who seem to have no other purpose than to feed the monarch. Ean Begg and others see a special connection between Black Madonnas and the Merovingians who presumably decended from an offspring of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. New Age thinkers propose that Black Madonnas are a secret sign of Mary Magdalen as the wife of Jesus and the mother of his child/ren. For more see the entries on Thuret and Paris.
Perhaps the artist of Düsseldorf was of this pursuasion and wanted to connect the Black Madonna with the Merovingian blood line; or perhaps he was familiar with the bee as an ancient symbol of death, resurrection, and immortality. According to the Wikipedia article on Bees in Mythology “the bee, found in Ancient Near East and Aegean cultures, was believed to be the sacred insect that bridged the natural world to the underworld. Appearing in tomb decorations, Mycenaean tholos tombs were even shaped as beehives.” In those cultures the bee represented a goddess. Black Madonnas too are a bridge to the underworld. (More in my introduction.)

The association of bees with resurrection and immortality came from the fact that the insect hibernates in the winter and returns to our world in the spring, and the fact that honey was used for healing many ailments.

In the general Christian context bees stand for diligence, productivity, hard work, harmony, and order. When they are associated with the Virgin Mary however they stand for purity because they are a-sexual, and for sweetness because of their honey.(*2) (The famous ‘Hail holy queen’ prayer to Mary calls her: “our life, our sweetness, and our hope”.) 

Like wheat, honey too is a symbol of abundance and fertility. And again like wheat, the bee can stand for Mary as well as Christ, whose gentleness and charity are sweet like honey, but whose cross and justice sting like a bee.(*3) 

The present church was built in the early 20th century because its previous incarnations had all become too small for the growing population. Although it doesn’t look so special from the outside, the chapel of the Black Madonna near the entrance has a very sacred aura stemming not just from the Image of Grace surrounded by votive candles, but also from the relics in the back: tiny pieces of St. Cecilia, of St. Elizabeth’s dress, and of the Holy Cross of Christ. While they don’t seem to mean much to people anymore the Black Madonna certainly enjoys what Ean Begg would call “a living cult”.

Tip for visitors: The nearby renaissance castle Schloss Benrath with its park leading to the river Rhein is worth seeing. The goddess Diana, crowned with the crescent moon (a symbol Mary inhereted), adorns the South side.

*1 : Information taken from the German Wikipedia article on Düsseldorf-Benrath, from St. Cäcilia’s website, and from Ursula Kröll’s book Das Geheimnis der Scwarzen Madonna: Entdeckungsreisen zu Orten der Kraft, Kreuz Verlag, Stuttgart: 1998, p. 153.
*2: See: 




Cologne schwarze Madonna.jpg

Schwalbengasse 1, on the corner of Neven-DuMont-Strasse and Kupfergasse, downtown Cologne, before 1675, life size, natural wood. photo: Ella Rozett

The Black Mother of God
(die schwarze Muttergottes)
St. Mary in the Kupfergasse
Mother of Mercy

Not long before the year 1675 the mayor of Cologne made a vow to go on pilgrimage to the Holy House and the Black Madonna of Loreto (see Italy). When he realized that he wasn't going to be able to fulfill his promise, he made a deal with the Mother of God: Instead of going to Loreto, he was to build a copy of the Loreto chapel in Cologne. To this end he went to negotiate with the abbess of the Carmelite convent in the city, to see if she would sell him a certain little part of the convent's property. The abbess wasn't surprised but happy. For more than ten years there had been signs that Heaven wanted just such a chapel in just that place. Many times after evening prayers the nuns had heard mysterious, lovely voices sing the Loreto litany in the place the mayor wanted for his chapel. Before her death, the previous abbess had prophesied that a grace filled chapel of the Mother of God would be built there.(*1)

The people of Cologne say that their chapel was built after plans sent from Loreto, but the two look totally different to me. Perhaps the ground-plan is identical.

The statue, which is made of dark linden wood, was probably imported by the Carmelites from their motherhouse in Holland. The chapel was finished and consecrated in 1675. During eight days of celebration, masses of faithful surrounded the chapel. Soon the news spread that, as would be expected of a true Black Madonna, the Black Mother of God in the Kupfergasse answered prayers. Ever since, she has been known as an 'image of grace,' (Gnadenbild). Catholic as well as Protestant pilgrims have come to her from as far away as Holland. - When people are in need, they don't care what denomination their saving angel is.

It is a Catholic custom to place an Eternal Lamp near the tabernacle which holds consecrated hosts, i.e. the true presence of Christ. Similarly Eternal Lamps are installed before many 'images of grace' of the Mother of God. They honor her true presence in these images. The Black Mother of God of Cologne received a precious Eternal Lamp early on, but it was lost when French revolutionary troops occupied Cologne.

In 1925, Pope Pius XI gave her a Papal 'tiara', i.e. a three tiered crown of Popes.(*2) I guess it’s lonely at the top and he wanted to share his reign with the Mother of God. (Good idea!) It took about another four decades before Popes completely stopped wearing crowns.

The present (in 2007) parish priest, Father Klaus-Peter Vosen, published a lovely little brochure in which he explains the legends surrounding his Black Mother of God. Two stories, probably both made up, seek to explain why she is black. One says that there was a fire in the chapel. It darkened Our Lady, but could not destroy her. To the priest this means she wears her darkness as a sign of her victory, like Christ bears the signs of his wounds on his resurrected body.

The other story says that when the plague, the Black Death, had broken out in Cologne the people took refuge in Saint Mary of the Kupfergasse, entrusting their fate to her intersession. The next day the disease disappeared but Our Lady had turned black. Again like Christ, she had taken upon herself her children's sin and punishment.

Like many, Vosen links the Black Mother of God to the bride of the Song of Songs, who to Jews and Christians, is the bride of God. As she darkened because of her work in her brothers' vineyard, so Mother Mary allows herself to be 'burnt' as it were, by serving in the vineyard of her son - the community of the redeemed.(*3) Ever since she asked Jesus to provide more wine at the wedding feast in Kana "Mary continues to do the same faithful service: She intercedes for all those who - for whatever reason - ran out of the wine of joy of life. (…) Still today, Mary "burns" herself, full of fervent love, in the service of God, which is inseparable from service to people."(*4)

*1: See the parish website:
*2: Klaus-Peter Vosen, Das Antlitz der Mutter: Gnadenbilder Mariens im Erzbistum Köln, J.P. Bachem Verlag, Köln: 2007, p. 30
*3: Klaus-Peter Vosen, Warum ist die Mutter Gottes Schwarz?, Mutabene Verlag, 2006, p. 4-5 + 11
*4: Ibid, p. 13



bielefeld black madonna.jpg

St. Jodokus-Kirche in the old center of town, Klosterplatz 1, about 1220, wood, faces covered with silver plating. The faces are evenly blackened by the oxidized silver, not like in this photo distorted by flash and Ella Rozett

Black Madonna of Bielefeld


This "Gnadenbild" (image of grace) originally stood in the Neustädter Marienkirche (Mary Church), which was run by a 'chapter of 12 canons', i.e. a community of priests who governed the secular and religious affairs of the diocese. After the Reformation seven of them became Lutheran and five remained Catholic. In a rare experiment of religious tolerance following the "Thirty Years War", they decided in 1672 to continue to lead the diocese together and to worship in the same house of God. Apparently this worked more or less for a while, but in 1715 a "Mary chapel" was added to the church in order to serve as a separate space for the Catholic canons and house the Black Madonna . And so the image of grace stood for a hundred years in the Catholic section of the Lutheran-Catholic Mary Church.

In 1818 the chapter of canons and their interfaith arrangement was dissolved. The Mary Church became one hundred percent Lutheran and the Catholics moved their Black Madonna to the church of the Franciscans, the Jodokus Church, just a few blocks away.

But the spirit of Mary still blows unusually strong in the Lutheran church bearing her name. She is very present in the big Mary-altar' and her 'Mary chapel' is designated as a space of silent prayer. An otherwise very academically sounding booklet about the history of the church, which is sold in the entrance, ends with a Hail Mary!(1) On the altar stands a curcifix. None of this is normal for a Lutheran church, but usually deemed Catholic.


So while the Bielefelder Lutherans are somewhat "Catholic", the Catholics seem to have strived to be more Protestant. They have struggled a bit with their devotion to the Mother of God, which many, even Catholics, perceive as old fashioned superstition. In 1912, apparently in an attempt to end the adoration of the Black Madonna, she was moved to the diocesan museum. Yet in 1954, one man by the name of Heinrich Sunder managed to bring her back into her previous home in the Jodokus Church. By now (2009) she is once more the place most faithful come to when they need consolation. No image in Bielefeld is honored with more flowers and candles and witnesses more tears being shed before it. 

*1: Joachim Wibbing, Neustädter Marienkirche Bielefeld, DKV-Kunstführer Nr. 282/3, 3rd edition, Deutscher Kunstverlag, München, pp. 2-4, 13-15 + 18.



Beilstein black madonna.jpg

In the convent church of the Carmelites, Klosterstr. 55, 56814 Beilstein, near Cochem on the Mosel, 12th/13th century Spanish copy of Black Madonna of Loreto, about 50 cm, painted wood. Photos: Ella Rozett

The Black Madonna (Die Schwarze Madonna), 
Queen of Peace


In 1554 the rulers of Beilstein became Protestants and imposed their faith on their subjects. No wonder perhaps that the locals didn’t mind being occupied by Catholic Spaniards in 1620, during the bloody 30 Years War of Religion. Without a fight they opened their gates to the Spanish troops, who had appeared with their black Madonna. The peaceful takeover of the town during a time of rampant violence was a miracle that everybody attributed to the Virgin called Queen of Peace. Not only was nobody killed or raped, but nothing was stolen and no house set on fire. Immediately pilgrims began streaming to the foreign Madonna. The 14 years of Spanish occupation were marked by such friendly relations that the occupiers left their precious Queen of Peace in Germany when they were pushed back out. 


She dwelt in the parish church until Carmelite monks moved into Beilstein and erected a monastery church big enough to welcome the devotees of the Black Madonna. It was inaugurated at the end of the 17th century. The Carmelites have a great devotion to their patron, Mother Mary, Our Lady of the Scapular and fostered any kind of love for the Queen of Heaven. So on the feast day of Our Lady of the Scapular so many pilgrims would come to the celebration put on by the monks that tents had to be erected all around Beilstein to house the guests.

During the forced secularizations of the 19th century, the monastery was dissolved and its art and sacred treasures sold. The Black Madonna was later found in someone’s private possession and given to the local bishop. After his death it was put in the diocesan museum.

The Carmelites only returned to Beilstein in 1948 and soon lobbied to have their Queen of Peace come home. Two years later their requests were granted. She journeyed by ship in a great celebration. Wherever she passed on the river, the bells in the churches on shore would toll and people would gather to sing Marian hymns. In Beilstein she was greeted by a huge, enthusiastic crowd that formed a festive procession to escort her back to her church.

For the next twenty+ years the community that sponsored devotion to Mary in all her forms fared so well that the monastery had to be expanded, but by 1989 there were so few monks left that they were subsumed into a larger monastery in the area. Now only one brother is left to administer the parish and a group of lay women form the heart and mind of the site. This led to a fabulous bakery/café right next to the church and Schubert’s Ave Maria playing over loud speakers in the bathrooms. Nice feminine touch!*

* For more info you can call the Catholic parish of Beilstein at (0 26 73) 16 53.
Information for this article was taken from a booklet for sale in the church: Pater Justin Stampfer O. Carm. ”Beilstein an der Mosel und seine Geschichte”, Fachverlag für Kirchenfotographie & Luftbildaufnahmen, Saarbrücken: 2005 and from



Altoetting black madonna.jpg

On the Kapellplatz (plaza of the chapel) in the heart of town, about 1 hour from Munich, Bavaria, around 1330, 64 cm painted linden wood. photo: Ella Rozett

Our Dear Lady of Altötting
(Unsere liebe Frau von Altötting)


A Mary-Linden-Tree in Sulzberg, Austria with a Madonna and child in the hollow of the tree. Photo:  Reinhard Aill Farkas

A Mary-Linden-Tree in Sulzberg, Austria with a Madonna and child in the hollow of the tree. Photo: Reinhard Aill Farkas

Tradition recounts that the site of Our Dear Lady's 'chapel of grace' was already holy ground before the area was Christianized. As so often, the link between that era and Christian times seems to have been a tree, and the Black Madonna bridges the gap between sacred tree and Christian altar. Many Black Madonnas are venerated in places that were sanctified by a sacred tree or appeared in a tree.(1) To this day several centuries old "Marienlinden" (Mary-linden-trees) are venerated in Germany and Austria.(2) 

Our Dear Lady of Altötting was carved of linden wood and a guide to the town speaks of a venerable, ancient linden tree that might have played a role in the town from its very beginnings. Some pre-Christian tribes in Germany venerated the linden tree besides the oak as sacred.(3) While the oak was dedicated to Thor or Donar, the male god of thunder, Freya, the goddess of love, was worshipped in linden trees. Legal matters, public concerns and disputes were decided under linden trees in hopes that the goddess would provide an aura of charity, truth, and reconciliation. That’s why these trees were called ‘trees of justice’. The places where they stood were called Thingplatz, i.e. an outdoor place for important public gatherings of the tribe centered around a linden tree.

Altötting's linden tree stood next to the chapel and was already hailed as ancient in 1542. In 1674 it was cut down "among great grumbling of the people".(4) It was to make room for a big, baroque basilica that was to encapsulate the 'chapel of grace', but the project was ill-fated. Lacking the support of the people since the sacrifice of their beloved tree, it ran out of money and was abandoned after the foundation was built.

An old print showing the chapel on the Kapellplatz with the linden tree next to it,  its wide branches supported by a structure.

An old print showing the chapel on the Kapellplatz with the linden tree next to it, 
its wide branches supported by a structure.

Centuries later a new tree was planted in the same place and trees mark the outline of the failed basilica. Not only that, in 1980 no other than Pope John Paul II planted a linden tree (the "Pope-Linde") in front of the monastery of Altötting's saint Brother Konrad. This is the same pope who apologized for the crusades, the inquisition, and any other misconduct he saw in the history of his Church.(5) Was this planting to make amends to Mother Earth for the many sacred trees that fell victim to Christian axes?

Altötting's chapel of the Black Madonna is the oldest Christian site in Bavaria. It dates back to 680 when St. Rupert baptized the first Christian duke of Bavaria at this holy place. In commemoration of this pivotal event (and probably in order to convert the Pagan into a Christian sanctuary) the duke had an octagonal baptismal chapel erected and placed a Madonna in it.(6) The original chapel was destroyed, but rebuilt. The present one is estimated to date back about to the year 1000. It is now the church tower and heart of the sanctuary. A nave for services and a gallery were added in the late 15th century. The gallery, a porch that wraps around the whole building, houses hundreds of ex-voti, which cover the walls and ceiling. There is not an inch left for more of these illustrated miracle stories. It's an impressive testimony to Our Dear Lady's power and compassion, as well as the faith and gratitude of her devotees.

In 907, Altötting was ransacked by the Hungarians and laid waste for 300 years. According to a well known court historian by name of Johannes Turmair, aka Aventin (1477-1534), only the chapel of "the virgin God-bearer" survived the attack. We don't know how or when the original Madonna was lost, only that the present one was installed in 1330, replacing an earlier one.(7)

The Black Madonna of Altötting did not reach widespread fame until 1489. What happened that year? The book 'Mary is Our Refuge', written in 1497, reports that a three year old boy fell into a stream and floated in it for half an hour until he was pulled out "completely dead." The distraught mother, with great trust in the Virgin, carried the dead child to the holy chapel and laid it on the altar. With her companions she fell on her knees and begged for the revival of her child. Immediately her son came back to life.
Soon another miracle happened: A farmer, returning home from the fields with a horse drawn wagon full of grain, had set his six year old son on the horse. The boy fell off and under the wagon. He was crushed so badly that there was no hope for his life. But the family made an oath and called upon the Mother of God. On the next day the boy's health was restored one hundred percent. (8) 
News of the intercessory power of Our Dear Lady of Altötting spread like wild fire and soon hundreds of thousands of pilgrims started coming each year from all over Europe. To this day Altötting receives about one million pilgrims annually.

Our Dear Lady of Altoetting without the outer robes. photo: Foto-Strauss

Our Dear Lady of Altoetting without the outer robes.
photo: Foto-Strauss

We don't know when the title Black Madonna was accorded Our Dear Lady, but according to Brigitte Romankiewicz, she was already invoked as a Black Mary during the 30 Years War in the first half of the 17th century. This was also when King Maximilian of Bavaria consecrated himself and his country to the Virgin of Altötting by writing her a letter, using his own blood as the ink. (This "blood-consecration-letter" is still kept in the base of the tabernacle under the Black Madonna.) Since then the hearts of the kings of Bavaria, including Emperor Karl VII, have been set to rest in this 'chapel of grace', keeping a sort of royal honor guard.

While the Madonna and her whole little chapel were likely blackened by centuries of candle soot, people apparently valued the mystery of her darkness so much that in 1630 they painted the inside walls and ceiling of her chapel black.(9) Now all who step inside this small, round, windowless, sacred space, as it were enter the dark, nurturing womb of their Heavenly Mother.

If you visit Altötting you may want to pay respect to the local saint. Brother Konrad of Parzham was a 19th century monk, who led a very humble life of deep faith as the gatekeeper of his monastery. In that function he gave what ever help he could to whomever knocked on the doors of the monastery whether they were looking for bred, shelter, advice, or blessings. He was famous for his devotion to his heavenly Mother. He obtained the privilege of serving at mass in her 'chapel of grace' every morning, of spending another hour in prayer before her later in the day, and of often offering her flowers.
You'll find his monastery, Kapuzinerkloster St. Konrad, if you head towards the big St. Anna basilica. His cell and tomb can be visited. In front of it you will also find the "Pope-Linde", which Pope John Paul II planted.

Those who look for connections between Black Madonnas and Mary Magdalene might be interested to know that one of the churches on the place surrounding the 'chapel of grace' is dedicated to St. Magdalene. It was first consecrated in 1591, then rebuilt in 1700 and is part of a Jesuit monastery. The guide says, a tour of this beautiful monastery is not to be missed. 

*1: See: Halle, Belgium, Neukirchen-beim-Heiligen-Blut, Germany, Monte Civita, Italy, Antipolo, Philippines, etc. 
* 2: E.g. in Telgte, Münsterland, and Sulzberg, Austria.
*3: See: the article on "Altötting", under the heading "Kelten, Römer, Bajuwaren" and Stefan König, Altötting: Wallfahrts- und Stadtgeschichte, Verlag St. Antonius Buchhandlung, Altötting: 2008, p. 29. 
*4: Ibid, p.25
*5: See: Luigi Accattoli's, When a Pope Asks Forgiveness: The Mea Culpa's of John Paul II, Pauline Books & Media, Boston: 1998. 
*6: While no written record of this event exists, the first extant mention of Altötting as the seat of the duke stems from 748 A.D. (not much later) so there is no reason to doubt the oral tradition. See: Altötting: Wallfahrts- und Stadtgeschichte, op. cit. p. 12 and 29. The octagon is associated with Christian baptismal fonts and chapels, the number 8 symbolizing rebirth.
*7: Ibid. pp. 15 and 32.
*8: These medieval accounts are quoted in Brigitte Romankiewicz, Die schwarze Madonna: Hintergründe einer Symbolgestalt, p. 44
*9: Altötting: Wallfahrts- und Stadtgeschichte, op. cit. p. 31.