In the village church, 10 km North of Bourg-Madame on the Spanish border, department Pyrénées-Orientales, 11th century, 46 cm, wood.
photos, right: by Mark Veermans, left: by Ella Rozett, the copy used in her church to dress up and pray to up close while the original is behind bars in a side chapel.
Notre-Dame de Belloch
This Black Madonna is difficult to visit because her church is locked unless mass is being celebrated. The town hall (la mairie) has the key but usually only opens the church for groups. If you can convince them otherwise, someone will watch you in the church till you’re done. Yet, even if you can’t get into the church of the Black Madonna, her village is worth a visit because of its healing waters. First there is a « fairy well » right below the church, which runs delicious drinking water. Then there is the community laundry pool, fed by a hot spring that still is used by the village women. Finally you’ll find the Roman Baths, i.e. sulfurous hot springs, that may be in use since prehistoric times. They are open 8:45 a.m. to 8 p.m. and cost 6.- euros to get in. Here you can stew in the juices of Mother Earth - who is not separate from our divine Mother.
Also there are plenty of other Black Madonna churches within minutes: Err, Font-Romeu/Odeillo, (both open all day, every day) Hix (closed, but there's a number one can call and ask for it to be opened), and Puigcerda across the border in Spain (only open during two daily masses), as well as other hot springs in Llo and Saint Thomas.
The legend of the Black Madonna of Belloch recounts that a shepherd found her. He or she tried to take her to the people in the village, but Notre-Dame kept disappearing out of their church and returning to her mountain top. After this had happened a few times they prayed and pledged, "We're going to build a sanctuary at the spot where we found you!" During that summer night, snow fell in a small area on the mountain. The villagers believed that it was a sign from the Virgin, showing them where to build her chapel. So they built it in that location and called it Belloch, which means ‘beautiful place’ in the Catalan accent of that region. The ancient chapel still stands all by itself about 2 km up the hill from Dorres on that magical place overlooking the country. Eventually however, the people imposed their will on the Black Madonna and transferred her into the village church. I guess she got tired of fighting them and submitted.
Our Lady of Belloch shows one of the characteristics of the earliest Black Madonnas very well: the huge hands. Scholars say they symbolize the power of the divine.
Every September 8th, traditionally the birthday of Mary, Our Lady of Belloch is honored with procession.