Behind the main altar in the Cathedral.
Our Lady of Le Puy III
In 1844, this 17th century approximate copy of Our Lady of Le Puy was taken from another church to assume the empty throne and title of her burnt sister. She was crowned by the bishop of Le Puy in the name of Pope Pius IX in 1856.
Note her mantle. I have heard non-Christians complain about, "those patriarchs, who cover the Mother in those horrid wrappings!" Actually, the dressing of statues is one privilege that is usually left to pious women called 'sacristans'. In "The Healing Touch of Mary" by Cheri Lomonte,(*1) three such sacristans tell moving stories about Our Lady communicating messages by "choosing" certain dresses on certain days. They all cherish an intimacy with the Mother of God that comes from cleaning and dressing her, and creating her wardrobe. (Sponging her down with wine was a medieval custom, which according to Ean Begg survives as an annual ritual in Le Puy-en-Velay.(*2 )
Many of Mary's mantels turn her into a triangle, the oldest symbol from Neolithic times for the Sacred Feminine in human as well as in divine form. I don't think this is a coincident, but a message from Our Mother and from a deep, unconscious memory carried in our DNA. What does it mean? Ask Her!
This particular mantle was offered to Our Lady by a group of women on assumption day (8/15) 1945. During the war 40 of their children had been sent to forced labor camps in Germany. Each week these mothers would gather before the Mother of God to implore her protection for their children. They would place photos of the youths under the mantle of the Black Madonna. When all 40 returned safe and sound, this mantle was made in thanksgiving.(*3)
Le Puy is an incredible place to visit, beautiful in its nature and in its medieval town, which is of great historical interest. If you don't mind a crowd of 15-20,000 pilgrims, the best time to see Our Lady in all her glory is on August 15th, the feast of the assumption. The night before there is a 9 p.m. torch light procession, then masses all morning, but the most festive one at 10 a.m. At 3 p.m. a great procession takes Our Lady through the decorated city.
To this day the sanctuary is a major starting point for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. Interestingly the website of the cathedral appreciates the surge of interest in Black Madonnas and suggests a 2-3 week pilgrimage route along the Black Madonna sites of the Auvergne as a warm up exercise for going all the way to Santiago de Compostella.(*4)
During the Crusades many a legion would commence its warpath in Le Puy in the effort to make this a “holy war”, but Our Lady preferred the way of peace. In 1180, she appeared to a carpenter of Le Puy by the name of Durand, instructing him to spread the message of peace. She gave him a document, or seal, bearing an image of the Madonna and child with the inscription: "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace." With the Mother's help, Durand formed a peace association that was instrumental in appeasing the culture of violence inflicted upon the whole population by aristocratic gangs.(*5) The association's defense was religious and social renewal under the guidance of Our Mother. Its members wore white capes which earned them the name Capuciati.
*1: Cheri Lamonte, The Healing touch of Mary: Real Life Stories from those touched by Mary, Divine Impressions, Austin, Tx: 2005
*2: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, p. 213
*3:"Les manteaux de Notre-Dame du Puy au long de l'année", a booklet published by and sold in the sanctuary.
*4: The article is called “A Route of Black Madonnas?” It lists these sanctuaries as possible stops on the way: Moulins, Coulandon, Souvigny, Autry-Issards, Meillers, Rocles, Chappes, Lalizolle, Lisseuil ou Ebreuil, St Pardoux, Mozac, Riom , Marsat, Clermont-Ferrand, Notre-Dame du Port, Beaumont, Orcival, Saulzet-le-Froid, St Nectaire, Saint Saturnin, Authezat, Chidrac, Ardes, Saint Gervazy, Lempdes, Brioude, Langeac, Saint Julien et Sainte Marie des Chazes, Saugues, Monistrol d'Allier, Le Puy-en-Velay.
*5: Marcus Bull, The Miracles of Our Lady of Rocamadour, Boydell Press, Woodbridge, UK: 1999, pp. 86-7