In the summer (from Trinity Sunday in early June to the Sunday closest to Sept. 8th) Our Lady resides in the hermitage above Font-Romeu, the rest of the year in Odeillo, about 3 km down the hill, department Pyrénées-Orientales, 66 cm, painted wood, recently whitened.
photo: Mark Veermans
Notre-Dame de Font-Romeu
Modern Font-Romeu is a rather unattractive ski resort, but with an ancient history. For more than a thousand years its fountain at the hermitage (l’Ermitage) above the town was a stop for pilgrims (‘romeux’ in the old Catalan of the region) on the way to Santiago de Compostella. Hence Font Romeu is the ‘fountain of the pilgrims’ and it was always a place of veneration of the Virgin Mary. The first church at the sacred fountain was built in 1035. In the past it was like the Lourdes of the Eastern Pyrenees. Pilgrims seeking healing from serious conditions would plunge nine times either into the fountain or into the pool in the adjoining building. But now there seems to be little if any faith in the water, which tastes like chlorinated city water. Only the ex-voti in the Ermitage and the days of processions still witness to the shrine's former glory.
Her legend describes a cowherd from Odeillo who used to watch his herd up the mountain. One day, one of his bulls started going off by itself and hanging around a fountain. There it would dig into the ground with its hoofs and bellow in a most unusual way. Worried that the bull may get lost, the cow herd tried everything to call the animal back to the herd – but to no avail. Finally he got very angry and headed towards the bull ready to beat it into submission, but suddenly a curiosity took hold of him. Rather than taking out hi anger on the poor animal he went to observe the bull’s behavior more closely. That’s when he discovered the statue of the Black Madonna in the well, which the bull had been trying to show him all along. With wings of joy the man ran to the village to announce the miracle. Soon the whole parish gave thanks to Heaven by building a chapel on the spot where the Madonna appeared.
She is considered the patron of cattle. As such she spends the summers with the cattle up on the mountain. Then, in fall, she comes back down to the village with the cows. Each time it’s a festive procession. The same ritual is performed in Vassivière. For more on the connection between Black Madonnas and cows see Olot.