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Belgium, Brugge

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

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

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.
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*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.