Walcourt

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Walcourt lies in the county of Namur, 15 km South of Charleroi; the Black Madonna resides in the Basilica of St. Materne, also known as Basilica Notre-Dame de Walcourt, Grand Place, sculpted between 957 and 1020 in lime wood and covered with silver. More silver layers added in 13th and 17th centuries. 62 cm.

Our Lady of Walcourt
(Notre-Dames de Walcourt)

The roots of this Black Madonna go back to the 4th century, when the bishop of Cologne and Tongeren (both cities with Black Madonnas to this day) replaced a statue of a Pagan goddess in Walcourt with one of the Virgin Mary. We don’t know what happened to this first statue. The present Madonna stems from the time when the first real church was built in Walcourt (992 – 1026) and dedicated to Mary. This makes her one of the oldest statues in Western Christianity, as the Belgians like to say (North-Western maybe).(*1) She has been deemed black and miraculous ever since supernatural forces saved her from a fire in the year 1220. 

Legend recounts that when the fire had almost completely destroyed the church already, the Madonna flew out of the flames and landed in a tree in a place called Le Jardinet, not too far from the church. When all the attempts to get her down from the tree failed, the people and clergy asked their feudal lord Thiéry II of Walcourt for help. He prayed under the tree, asking the Black Madonna to come down and let herself be brought to a shrine where the people could honor her again. When he promised to rebuild her church and to found a monastery at the place of the tree she landed in, she accepted, descended into his arms,(*2) and allowed herself to be placed in a church.

How exactly did she fly from the flames? The oldest version of the legend doesn’t seem to answer that question. Later two accounts arose: the one more prominently depicted in the church, shows her being carried by angels. The other, quoted by Ean Begg, states that she was lifted out of the fire by doves.(*3) Belgium is the country where the breeding of racing pigeons started in the later 1800’s, making some people very passionate about those birds. So it makes sense that they wanted to see their pigeons as having a special connection to Heaven. She still wears a mantel sometimes that is decorated with doves.

Our Lady of Walcourt was canonically crowned in 1875 and her annual procession still continues to this day, on the first Sunday following Pentecost. It began around 1329 with hopes of protecting against the plague.

 Wearing her dove dress

Wearing her dove dress

 The Black Madonna without her robes, showing the rod to which the crown is attached so it doesn't fall during processions.

The Black Madonna without her robes, showing the rod to which the crown is attached so it doesn't fall during processions.

Is the Madonna really black?

Mr. Dereine, who writes for the parish of Walcourt, states that: “She is not a Black Virgin because the wood [under the later silver masks] was not dyed [in one color] but polychrome. Her appearance of a Black Madonna stems from the fact that the statue is covered with silver masks, which, by oxidation, have taken on a black color. … The left side of her face was blackened, incontestably by an intense fire in the 13th century, out of which she was very quickly brought to safety, probably by divine intervention, as the legend recounts.”(*4) 
He bases the first part of this statement on a quote from the findings of the Royal Institute of Artistic Patrimony, which renovated the statue in 1988, because she was infested with wood worms. While they were right to mention in their report that the original statue was polychrome (painted with several colors), not black, I doubt that they were addressing the theological concept of Black Madonnas. 

It is not a prerequisite of a Black Madonna to have to have been black from her inception. As I explain in the introduction under the subheading The Church's explanations for Black Madonnas, the faithful beautifully interpret a Madonna’s darkening over time as a sign of her taking on and purifying their sins. Countless Black Madonnas darkened over time for various reasons without anybody doubting that they are in fact Black Madonnas.

The Church often equates Black Madonnas with the bride in the Song of Songs 1:5-6, who says of herself: “I am dark but beautiful, o daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Salma. Do not stare at me because I am black, because the sun has burned me." So the Biblical prototype of Black Madonnas also wasn’t black from the start, but got burnt by the sun.

So just because a couple of people want to disqualify a Madonna as Black by giving “the facts” about what blackened her, doesn’t mean they are right. I think the fact that Our Lady of Walcourt is listed in Ean Begg’s index and that someone feels the need to state that she isn’t a Black Virgin, even though she appears to be one, proves that she is indeed regarded as such in popular view. 

I don’t think it is a coincidence that on the same day in 2012, on which I visited the Black Madonna of Walcourt I also visited the Black Madonna of Maillen and had a very similar experience: The sign on the road pointed to the “Black Virgin” in the woods, all the people of the village have known her as such for generations, but the “better educated” gentleman in the manor house next door claims she is not a Black Virgin, that she merely looks black because the metal she is made of oxidized. Well, the whole phenomenon of Black Madonnas didn’t spring from educated minds, but from the needs of the common people.

It is interesting to note that in 1985 Ean Begg says about Our Lady of Walcourt: “Popular legend says the statue blackened in a fire”(*5) and 3 years later it turns out the legend is true, even in the historical sense. One should never dismiss legends too quickly. They usually contain at least a grain of truth.

The "Mercies" 

The Black Madonna is certainly the greatest treasure of Walcourt, but other details are of interest in her church. One are the choir stalls sculpted around 1520. Under the seats, which fold up, are what’s called mercies (miséricordes), i.e. little half stools a tired monk or priest can rest a half a cheek on during endless prayers he is supposed to perform standing. These particular ones are extraordinarily daring. Some depict scenes from the Bible, others virtues and deadly sins. Some are serious, others make fun of monkish ideals, like the effort to obey the Bible when it says: “Pray without ceasing.”

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Walcourt,chair1.jpg

The Miracles
Besides the ex-voti in the church, many miracle stories have been collected in books and archives. There were probably older collections as well, but they were lost. The ex-voti tell us that the Black Madonna of Walcourt has freed prisoners and healed the lame. The archives tell four particularly moving stories.(*6)

1. There was a poor miner in Walcourt who was trapped in a collapsed iron mine for a whole year. Thinking he was about to die, he prayed the Hail Mary, ending with: “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen” “That was his salvation” says the church’s booklet.(*7) Meanwhile his wife mourned him as dead and had his funeral mass celebrated. Then she attended mass every Monday, because in that region, Monday masses were celebrated especially for the deceased. During those masses she would offer a little loaf of bread as part of the offertory, to help the soul of her husband, whom she expected to be suffering in purgatory. A year after the accident, the owner of the mine decided to excavate and repair the mine. After much digging, the workers heard a voice demanding: “Don’t hit so hard, you’re going to injure me!” Not knowing what kind of spirit they had come upon, they ran to get the boss and a priest before they dared to excavate further. To everyone’s delight they discovered not a ghost but the living miner, who explained that he had survived because every Monday the Holy Virgin brought him a little loaf of bread, like the one his wife was offering for him in church. 

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 Ex-voti in the chapel of the Black Madonna tell stories of salvation: prisoners freed and the lame healed through Mary's intercession.

Ex-voti in the chapel of the Black Madonna tell stories of salvation: prisoners freed and the lame healed through Mary's intercession.

2. There was an impious miller who disregarded the commandments of the Church and worked on a feast day of the Blessed Mother. When he hit his mill stone, a chip of it flew into his eye and no doctor could remove it. On the contrary, it kept getting bigger, until the man realized that he had offended the Virgin Mary and undertook a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Walcourt. As he was praying for forgiveness at her feet, the stone fell out of his eye. To this day it is kept as an ex-voto in the treasury of the church.

3. There are many accounts of the Madonna bringing still born infants back to life just long enough so they could be baptized. Families would suffer greatly, thinking their dead babies couldn’t go to Heaven because they weren’t baptized. This account is particularly moving.

A group of women had spent three days before Our Lady of Walcourt, praying over a dead baby. Finally, in the middle of the night, it gradually came back to life. Its color changed from the dark bluish hue of death first to a pale white, then to a rosy red. Its mouth opened, tongue moved, and blood filled its veins. At the same time the statue was also undergoing color changes. First she turned a sick looking brown, then she cleared up and became beautiful again. Not knowing if there was time to call a priest, and since any Christian is allowed to baptize in case of emergency, the women quickly used the prescribed formula: “Child, if you are alive, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” As soon as the baby was thus ready to enter Heaven it lost its red color again and passed. This time the women didn’t cry, because they knew that their divine Mother had made that baby her own.

4. There was a criminal, condemned to death for several crimes. He was attached to a horse that was to bring him to the gallows. But he had some devotion to Mary and had never failed to attend the annual procession in honor of Our Lady of Walcourt. So he began to pray and promised Mary that he would serve her better than ever before, if only she saved him. With that, the horse took the path to Walcourt and went right into the church, just at the moment when the procession was about to start. His chains fell off and he was able to participate in the festivities as an act of thanksgiving for the life he owed his Heavenly Mother.


Footnotes:

*1: In a booklet published by the parish of Walcourt in 2000: George Dereine, Le Culte de Notre-Dame de Walcourt, p. 35.
*2: See French Wikipedia article on “Abbaye du Jardinet
*3: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Penguin Books, London: 1985 p. 162
*4: George Dereine, Op cit. p. 35
*5: Ean Begg , op. cit. p.162
*6: Le Culte de Notre-Dame de Walcourt, op. cit. pp. 47 - 49
*7: Ibid. p. 48.
photos of mercies and ex-voti by Ella Rozett

In

Verviers

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In the church Notre Dame des Recollets, in the center of the small town of Verviers, near Liege, 1674, 200 cm, light sandstone painted black.

Black Virgin of the Recollects
Mother of Mercy

This Mother of Mercy is called Virgin of the Recollects because her church used to be a monastery chapel of the Recollects, an extinct reformed branch of the Franciscan order. She became famous in the year 1692. On the morning of September 18th a terrible earthquake hit the region of Verviers, with two bad aftershocks following in the afternoon. In fear, the faithful gathered outside the church before the Virgin, who was installed in a niche above the entrance, asking Heaven to end this punishment. Later some believers entered the church for evening prayers. When they came back out they noticed that the positions of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus had changed completely. The statue had not broken, but Jesus had turned towards his Mother's heart and her hand now held his.

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The faithful took this to mean that their prayers had been answered and the Mother of God had calmed the Lord's wrath. One hundred and four witnesses of all ages and walks of life were questioned and testified before a notary. Nonetheless, after a few years a spirit of doubt spread again and so, four years after the events, the same witnesses were asked to reconfirm their testimonies. This they dutifully did, again before a notary.

After the miracle of 1692 the Madonna was moved to the interior of the church. Since sandstone darkens easily, she must have accrued some patina before that. She was darkened more by the smoke of candles and when the church was burnt during an armed conflict in 1810. Hence she earned her title Black Madonna through miracles and fire. In 1855 Father Meunier ordered the statue cleaned and uniformly painted black.

It is a Belgium custom to honor special Madonnas every seven years with a big festival, called Septennales (from Latin septem = seven). In Verviers such a festival is celebrated throughout the month of September with religious, cultural, and social events. The last one was held in 2007.

In

Maillen

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In the forest on the road between Maillen and Lustin. A few minutes from Courrière, about 15 km from Namur, on the Rue de Rendarche. There is a sign on either side of the street; one says “vierge noire” and on the other “Chateau d’Arche”. 1879, life size, bronze. Photos: Ella Rozett

the Black Virgin

(La Vierge Noire) 

 

This shrine was erected in 1879 by the aristocrat who lived in the estate across the street from it: the Baron de Woelmont, whose coat of arms we find under the Madonna. When his wife lay deathly ill, he prayed to Mary and promised to build her a chapel if she but saved the baroness. She did, and he had her shrine constructed close to his home, but far away enough so that the villagers could gather there without bothering him or vice versa. It sits in the woods on a knoll above an ancient Roman road, on which one can still hike to the next village. The inscription under the coat of arms says: "Le ciel est ouvert pour recevoir les âmes qui ont mis leur esperence en Marie.” (i.e. Heaven is open to receive the souls, who put their hope in Mary.)

I don’t think it is a coincidence that on the same day in 2012, on which I visited the Black Madonna of nearby Walcourt, I also visited the Black Madonna of Maillen and had a very similar experience. In both cases educated men claimed to know that these Virgins aren’t actually “black Madonnas” while the people claim that they are. Here the sign on the road clearly points to the “Black Virgin” in the woods, all the people of the village have known her as such for generations, but the “better educated” gentleman in the manor house next door claims she is not a Black Virgin, that she merely looks black because the metal she is made of oxidized. Well, the whole phenomenon of Black Madonnas didn’t spring from educated minds, but from the needs of the common people of a powerful dark Mother. The people never asked: “Was she black from the beginning?” On the contrary, they often talk about how she turned black in a fire or by other means, theologically speaking, by taking on the sins of her children. Their question is: “Does she have power to help us?”

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Notre-Dame de Foy

To the right of the manor house is a little way side shrine to “Our miraculous Lady of Foy” as the inscription says. It refers to an interesting Madonna only 20 km away in her village Foy-Notre-Dame. Some also think of this Madonna as black. She was discovered on 7/6/1609 inside an ancient oak tree that had been cut down. She was cast in a mold, probably around the year 1400 in Uetrecht, Netherlands, then placed in a hollow in the oak tree, which eventually grew around her, hiding her completely from view.

Once the rediscovered statuette was washed and repaired, she was placed in another oak next to her former home tree. There she led a quiet existence for nine years, until the first miracle was attributed to her in 1616. Two years later the first little chapel was built for her, which later gradually became one of the most beautiful Baroque churches of Belgium, sporting paintings of students of Rubens.

By 1627 more than 200 miracles had been recorded. Many copies of this (black?) Madonna were carved out of the two trees that had housed her. Especially the Jesuits ended up bringing these copies as gifts to all corners of the world. And so Our Lady of Foy became quite famous. She was canonically crowned by the bishop of Namur, in the name of Pope Pius X, in 1909. Her feast day is September 8th, the birthday of Mary. *

 the shrine in Maillen

the shrine in Maillen

 a picture telling the story

a picture telling the story

 a copy portraying  Our Lady of Foy  as black

a copy portraying
Our Lady of Foy
as black

 the original

the original

The 12th century fortified manor house Chateau Ferme d'Arche, sits on Celtic remains, a Roman road is still its driveway. No wonder, perhaps, its owner, Henri Lechien, is a little arrogant. He's also very friendly and rents his place for weddings, seminars, etc. Visit their website: chateaufermedarche

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In

Liege

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In the church Saint-Nicolas-Outremeuse, Rue Fosse-aux-Raines 9, 4020 Liège, 16th century, life size, painted wood. Open Mon, Tue, Thurs, 8-12, Sundays during mass at 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
photo: Joëlle Sacré

La Vierge Noire d'Outremeuse

(The Black Madonna of Outremeuse)

 

Outremeuse is a part of town that is surrounded by two arms of the river Meuse. Hence its name, which means: between the Meuse. This neighborhood has a very strong sense of identity. It calls itself the “free republic of Outremeuse” and possesses its own festival, folklore, fun rituals, cartoon characters, special “fire water”, and of course, its own Black Madonna.

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In case anybody should ever doubt that she is indeed Black, or if you can't get into the church, every other house on the street leading to her church has a little shrine to the Black Madonna.

Her special day is August 15th, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, a national holiday in France and Belgium. The “free republic of Outremeuse” celebrates it for 3 days with lots of music, drinking, parades, puppet shows and a procession of the Black Madonna. She is carried by six Scouts of Unity of Our Lady of Outremeuse and the faithful place flowers on her float as she comes by.

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If you find the church locked, ask in the bar across the street if this nice lady still has the foot long key or if somebody else could open it for you. If you say you come from far away and are writing a book, you might get lucky.

In

Huy

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In her own church Église Notre-Dame de la Sarte on her mountain overlooking Huy, Plaine de la Sarte 84 (about 2.5 km from the center of town), end of 15th century, almost life size, oak wood. *

Notre-Dame de la Sarte

According to the Belgian TV program (see footnote), this is one of eight Black Madonnas in Belgium. Legend says that she was brought here by a crusader, though art historians date her to the end of the 15th century.

The original chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Sarte was destroyed in the 16th century, during the Wars of Religion. So there stood the Black Madonna, disfigured in the ruins, a plaything for children. In the summer of 1621, with the town still occupied by Dutch Protestant troops, a local woman by name of Anne Hardy was passing the ruined chapel on her way home from collecting fire wood. Looking at the statue, she decided to give her a better home (or did she mean to burn her?!). She hid the Black Madonna among her firewood and meant to carry her off, but to her surprise, she could not lift the bundle at all, even when she asked two passers-by to help her. The three realized that the Madonna was refusing to leave her sanctuary and so they returned her to her niche. For this purpose the miraculous statue allowed herself to be picked up with ease. The news of this supernatural event immediately drew crowds of pilgrims. Three sworn affidavits were obtained from witnesses. Soon the chapel was rebuilt and Heaven granted more miracles. The church could not hold the crowds of pilgrims and so a bigger church was built from 1624 to 1628.

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In 1656, when a drought threatened the country with famine, the local government and clergy organized the usual public supplications to the Virgin, only this time they added a procession. The Black Madonna was solemnly brought down from her mountain into the city. She had scarcely returned to her sanctuary, when the rain, that was so desperately needed, began to fall abundantly. From then on, the ritual has been repeated every seven years. It begins with special devotions the night before August 15th, the feast day of the assumption of Mary into Heaven, followed by the procession the next day. The most recent of these rituals (as of this writing in 2013) was celebrated in 2012 with a nine day festival.

On June 26th 1896, the Black Madonna was canonically crowned.


Footnotes:

* According to a Belgian TV program “teletourism”, which aired a piece on Black Madonnas on 10/11/2012, she is made of oak, according to Ean Begg, walnut wood. Ean Begg also reports some people’s doubts as to whether this is truly a Black Madonna, but in this video she is clearly referred to as one of the 8 Black Madonnas in Belgium, including by the parish priest. (Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Penguin Books, London: 1985, pp. 157-8.) Here is the link to the French video. It starts with a minute on gift boxes before it launches into the mystery of Black Madonnas. Click on the photo of the artist to start the video. http://sacrafeminae.org/
Other info taken from: http://huyhuyenphoto.skynetblogs.be/archive/2007/03/10/notre-dame-de-sarte.html

In

Hal/Halle

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In the Basilica St. Martin (open 7a.m.-7p.m.), Kardinaal Cardijnstraat 1, center of town, 15 km SW of Brussels. Before 1267, the head and hands were carved from walnut wood. The remainder is a rough frame covered with linen strips and a kneadable tallow. Formerly painted. 92.5x26 cmphoto: Andreas Lechtape

Our Lady the Black Virgin of Hal

According to tradition, Ludwig IV of Thuringia sent this and three other Black Madonnas home to his wife St. Elisabeth of Hungary (d.1231) when he was on his way to the Crusades. He never made it further than Southern Italy, but Belgium profited from this treasure he secured. St. Elisabeth left the statue to her daughter Sophie of Brabant, who in turn left it to her daughter Matilda, Countess of Holland, who gave it to the church St. Martin in 1267. The church was declared a basilica in 1946.

Marian devotion in Hal, however, goes back much further. In ancient times a sacred oak tree bearing a Madonna statue, was venerated. Several ancient European religions held oak trees sacred, from the devotees of Zeus in the South to the followers of Thor in the North. This particular sacred tree remains to this day. Early on a sanctuary was built to enclose it. Now the remains of the trunk of this king of trees are still honored in the crypt of St. Martin, where you'll also find the remains of several human monarchs.

Our Lady of Hal is one of the first Madonnas of the type virgo lactans (nursing virgin) that appeared in Western Europe towards the end of the Middle Ages. With her right hand Mary offers her breast to baby Jesus. A little booklet in the sanctuary has much to say about this kind of Madonna.(*1) It acknowledges that depictions of the divine child being nursed by his mother go back not only to earliest Christian times, but probably have their roots in Egyptian Isis worship. In the Christian world they are justified by this Bible passage: "While he (Jesus) was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed." (Luke 11:27) Although Jesus does not respond favorably to this woman's outcry, Christian liturgy echoes her veneration of Mary. E.g. in the octave of Christmas it says: "Blessed are the breasts that nursed Christ, the Lord." The Church Fathers, notably St. Augustin, often contemplated the miracle of the human Virgin-Mother nursing God as her baby. The author of the booklet in Hal also cites an old Latin hymn that sings out: "Oh glorious woman, elevated above the stars, Him who created you by his design, your sacred breast has nourished."

The nursing virgin theme disappeared in middle and late Byzantine art, but reappeared in late medieval Italy, then France and the rest of Europe. 17th century Greek icons of this type are called 'the most holy nurturer of our life' (panaghia trophos).

 The canon balls in the church. Photo: Ella Rozett

The canon balls in the church. Photo: Ella Rozett

But let us return to Hal. After the reformation, a fierce struggle engulfed Belgium as Catholics and Protestants fought for control over the country. Our Lady of Hal, as the most ancient and most important Marian shrine of Belgium, became the symbol and rallying point for Belgium Catholics. Therefore the Protestants, who had already demolished so many statues, made it a priority to destroy the Black Madonna of Hal as well. In 1580 the deciding battle took place. An overwhelming Protestant army laid siege to the town, bombarding it with canon balls. But, legend says, the Queen of Heaven appeared on the city walls and intercepted the fiery balls in her lap. The gunpowder turned her black. The grateful population brought hundreds of canon balls that had landed inside the city walls to Our Lady, piling them under her bell tower. 32 of those are still kept in the church.

 Resin variation on Our Lady with canon balls

Resin variation on Our Lady with canon balls


Other miracles attributed to this Black Madonna include saving the city from another siege in 1489, raising people from the dead, and healing many sick. In 1667 an epidemic ravaged the city and did not stop until on the first Sunday in September the Black Madonna was carried in a fervent procession along a path that stopped at all the churches and chapels of Hal dedicated to Our Lady. This so-called Wegom (big tour) is still followed with a solemn procession every year on the first Sunday in September. Pilgrims also walk this Wegom individually. It takes about 1 1/2 hours. The traditional 'small tour' is to circumambulate the altar space containing the statue three times (but not during masses).


Footnotes:

(*1) A. Houssiau, Notre Dame de Hal, edited by R. Decoster, Halle, p. 5-6+12

In

Brussels

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In the church St. Catherine (open daily 7-7), Place St. Catherine, downtown Brussels. 15th century, 100 cm, light stone painted black.photos: Ella Rozett

The Black Dear Lady
(De Zwerte Lieve Vrouw)

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In 1744 sailors threw this statue into the river Senne, but instead of sinking to the bottom it was later found floating on a piece of turf, fished out, and venerated in Brussels.

In

Brugge

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In the Church of Our Lady of the Pottery attached to the Pottery Museum, Potterierei, 79 - 8000, A.D. 1676, 162.5 x 107.5 cm photo: Mark Veermans

Our Dear Lady of Regula
(Onze Lieve Vrouw van Regula)

In 1664 the Augustinian monk Jacob Willemart (1626-1697) traveled from Brugge to Spain. Nobody knows why, but the good relations between Spanish and Belgian Augustinian communities must have played a role. Among other places, he visited the Augustinian monastery of Regula in Chipiona, where he listened with rapt attention to the miracle stories his Spanish brothers told about the Black Madonna of Regula. (see: Chipiona) He took notes which he later expanded upon, publishing a book under the title "The Sacred History of Blessed Mary of Regula". Before his departure his Spanish brothers gave him a little print of their Black Madonna.

In the course of the next three years his personal devotion to Our Dear Lady of Regula kept growing. Once she healed him of a serious illness and after that he kept asking the Augustinians of Chipiona for an exact copy of the statue, promising that it would be made accessible for public veneration in his hometown. But his brothers refused, saying such a grace hadn't been bestowed upon anybody, not even the great ones on this earth (such as kings and cardinals). Yet in 1676 a friend of Brother Jacob Willemart traveled to Chipiona on a special mission and lo, it reaped great fruit: Soon the devotee of the Black Mother received a letter announcing that a copy, not a sculpture, but at least a painting, of the Mother was on its way to Brugge. It was to arrive on a ship with the fitting name Sancta Maria.

Upon receiving it in Brugge, Willemart took it straight to the bishop to ask his permission to install it in the Augustinian church for the veneration of the faithful. The bishop gave his full support, even granting an indulgence of 40 days(1) to whomsoever venerated the newly arrived Black Madonna. In the following days the arrival of Our Lady was celebrated with great festivities, sacramental music, and processions. The whole city was decorated and canons stood ready to salute the Queen of Heaven. With great pomp she was enthroned as a monarch in her church. The faithful received her with such enthusiasm and love and in such great number that there were barely enough priests to hear confessions and distribute communion. Traffic in the city broke down. At least that's how Jacob Willemart describes it in his book.(2)

The Black Madonna spent the first few weeks after her arrival in the Nikolas Church, while a very special altar was prepared to receive her into the Augustinian Church. She would be flanked by silver plaited images of Sts. Augustine and Paul holding an imperial crown over her head. Inscriptions above and below the sacred image read: "This is my place" (a quote of the Heavenly Mother from the legend of Chipiona) and "The Virgin of Regula, the only patron of the people of Brugge." In Latin: VIRGO DE REGULA BRUGARUM SOLA TUTELA. If one reads all the letters that can double as Roman numerals as such, they form 1676, the year the Black Madonna arrived in Brugge. Above the crown held by the saints, two angels hold an anchor and greet her as the Star of the Sea (the one who shows us the way when we are lost in the ocean of suffering.)

Our Lady of Regula quickly became one of the most beloved objects of devotion in the city, especially among the Spanish families. In less than two years her altar was covered in gold and silver ex-voti, proof, says Willemart, that the prayers of the faithful had been heard.

During the French Revolution, in 1796, the French state dissolved the Augustinian order and sold all its lands and belongings. Only a few things could be saved from profanation, among them the Black Madonna of Brugge. She was hidden for a while and then appeared in the hospital-convent of the Pottery, whose nuns followed the rule of St. Augustine. Though they did not belong to the same order as the Augustinian brothers, they did have a bond with them.

Here she remains today, newly restored in 2004 and still intriguing her Belgian children. 


Footnotes:

*1: I.e. that soul would have to spend 40 days less in purgatory before being admitted into Heaven.
*2: Scholars doubt his account, of which there is little proof. They think that he projected the celebration of the arrival of Duke Karel van Villa Hermosa, which took place 2 months before Our Lady came, onto her entrance into the city. ("Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van Regula: de Zwarte Madonna" a booklet published by the Stedelijke Musea Brugge 2004, p.7) Who knows. Maybe the Duke's canons and decorations were still in place and were lit up again for the Queen of Heaven.

In