Black Madonna of DUSSELDORF

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

Dusseldorf black madonna with bees and wheat

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: