In the church Sant Dominic, (Puigcerdá is pronounced Pucherda) province Girona, in the Pyrenees, only open during masses, daily at 9:30 a.m., Sat 8 p.m., Sun 10 a.m., noon, and 8 p.m. Original from 13th century disapppeared during Spanish Civil War in 1936, 85 cm. Photo, left: Dennis Aubrey right: Mark Veermans
Mother of God of the Sacristy
( Mare de Déu de la Sacristia)
Patroness of Puigcerda
Mother of God of the Milk
(Mare de Déu de la Llet)
Our Lady of the Cerdagne
(Notre-Dame de la Cerdagne)
As a nursing Madonna her title used to be Virgin of the Milk, but since 1585 she is known as Mother of God of the Sacristy. Father Jean Sarrète explains why and recounts her whole history in his article “Notre-Dame de la Cerdagne” (*1):
The Patroness of Puigcerdá began her life in Hix, a hamlet 7-8 km away, across the border in France. That’s where she was given the title Our Lady of Cerdagne (the name of the county). But the counts of Hix were in conflict with King Alphonso II of Aragon. Most of them were killed in 1177 and the one surviving relative was forced to move his residence to Puigcerdá, where he founded this new city as the new capital of the Cerdagne. Gradually more and more people were persuaded to move there so that the town became far bigger than Hix. Eventually the people of Puigcerdá, many of them former residence of Hix, wanted their patroness to follow them to their new home. Since the people of Hix weren’t going to let her go voluntarily, the bishop obtain a decree and soldiers from the king to force her move against the violent objections of the people of Hix. This happened around 1184.
Fearing that the people of Hix may come and steal her back, an altar was built for the Black Madonna in the sacristy of her new church where she could be locked in. And there she remained until 1585; hence her name ‘Mother of God of the Sacristy'.
She served her children in Puigcerdá well and is credited with protecting them from all kinds of disasters:
In 1652 the plague was advancing towards Puigcerdá. The people implored their patron saint to spare them and the disease stopped in nearby Bolvir.
That same year she kept French enemy troops from entering the city. That’s when the people vowed to celebrate a feast day with a procession in honor of their protectress every year in perpetuity, on September 8th, the birthday of the Virgin Mary.
In 1687 an infestation of crickets destroyed the harvest in the area. Again the people prayed with their bishop before the ‘holy image’ and the scourge was taken away.
Similarly she helped with a drought in 1764, with frosts in Mai of 1765, and incessant heavy snow storms in 1778-9.
In 1785 a fire destroyed the church of the Black Madonna. Everything went up in smoke, only she stood unharmed in the ruins.
During the Revolution she was miraculously saved by a young maiden called Julia, who grabbed her from the pyre where she was to be burned along with many other statues.
What finally got her was the Spanish Civil War, but she was replaced with this modern work of art, enthroned as the new incarnation of the Patroness of Puigcerdá.
The photographer Dennis Aubrey reports that she came to Puigcerdá from Hix only recently on September 8th.(*2) But Father Jean Sarrète doesn’t mention anything about her moving back to Hix after her forced conveyance to Puigcerdá. Since September 8th is her feast day celebrated with a procession, I think she may have been solemnly carried to Hix and back on that day in acknowledgment of her first home.
Hix has another 12th century Seat of Wisdom Madonna in a beautiful Romanesque church, who holds the throne from which the Mother of God of the Sacristy was taken. She is 68 cm high and used to be called morena, dark, but she had been whitened.
*1: Father Jean Sarrète, “Notre-Dame de la Cerdagne” in the on-line “Bulletin de la Société agricole, scientifique, & littéraire des Pyrenées-Orientales” Vol 43-44, pp. 299-318. This is a very detailed and well researched piece and where it is in disagreement with Ean Begg’s The Cult of the Black Virgin, Arkana: 1985, pp. 191 and 259 I trust the former source more.
*2: Visit Dennis Aubrey’s phantastic internet photo presentation at http://photo.net/photos/Aginbyte