Riom black madonna.jpg

In the church by the same name, center of town, Rue du Commerce, 63200 Riom, department Puy-de-Dôme in the Auvergne, 17th century version of original venerated by St Louis in 1262,(*1) painted wood, about 80 cm, open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (5 p.m. in the winter, closed 12 -2) photo: Ella Rozett

Our Lady of Marthuret (Notre-Dame-du-Marthuret)


There are two important statues of the Mother of God venerated in this church and they often get mixed up: the Black Madonna Our Lady of Marthuret and the White Madonna Our Lady of the Bird (Vierge a l’oiseau).

The original Black Madonna is older than Our Lady of the Bird, but since the latter is of a rare beauty and expressiveness the locals seem to appreciate her more these days.(*2) The name of the church and the Black Madonna go back to the very beginning of the 14th century, when this building was erected on the property of Marc de Langheac, Lord of Thuret.(*3) That church replaced the original chapel, which burnt down in 1247 and housed the original Black Madonna, which, according to Ean Begg was venerated by St. Louis, King of France, in 1262. Many times after that first fire, the church was severely damaged by natural and manmade catastrophes, but it was always rebuilt and always included a Black Madonna with the title Our Lady of Marthuret.

Riom, vierge a l'oiseau.jpg

According to a plaque on the wall, Our Lady of the Bird (1 m 58 cm high) may not have been moved to this church until after the Revolution, but it was sculpted around the turn of the 14th to the 15th century. The butchers’ guild saved it from destruction by the revolutionaries by hiding it in a basement.

Riom Our Lady of the bird.jpg

“Our Lady of the Bird” is a type of Madonna that became popular in the late Middle Ages. It was inspired by the 2nd century apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas the Israelite, which includes a story about the child Jesus forming birds out of clay and breathing life into them. The famous Black Madonna of Einsiedeln, Switzerland is such a Madonna.

In the 19th century, this statue was grey washed and installed on the outside at the entrance of the church. In 1932 the original was brought inside to protect her from the elements, while a copy took her outside place. In 1991 the grey wash was removed to reveal her original colors.

*1: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Penguin Books, London: 1985, p. 215
*2: The French Wikipedia site on the city of Riom talks only about this statue, without mentioning the Black Madonna: