Here you see what happens when you
don't renovate wooden statues once in a while. This Black Madonna
is so worm eaten that you can barely make out the face and of baby
Jesus only a little stump is left. If she wasn't dressed like a
queen, you'd take her for a piece of fire wood. And yet this very
ancient Madonna emanates a powerful energy and has been reputed
as a miracle worker for about a thousand years.
The earliest written record of a church in the village dates from
1101. The little old church lady who guards the key to the chapel
told me in 2009 that those records already mention a statue being
taken on a procession. We assume it was this same Dark Mother. Tradition
says that she was brought to France from the Holy Land by a pious
crusader around 950 A.D. Scholars think that she may be a 14th century
replacement of the original.*
By the 15th century her chapel was one of three main pilgrimage
sites in the county and the oldest one of them. Our Lady the Black
One was famous for her miracles " and the affluence of her visiters
A 16th century chronic of the bishops of Lodève recounts that after
the statue had been hidden during a time of wars, the bishop ordered
it to be reinstalled in its chapel.
On May 14th 1855, Pope Pius IX declared Our Lady's sanctuary a
"priviledged altar ". At that point she was moved from her original
place above the entrance to a place of honor above the altar. Some
time later she was relegated to the back of the chapel and placed
on "a vulgar pedestal". Her present niche to the left of the altar
was built in 1896, supposedly to honor and protect her.
Her feast day procession is celebrated on September 8th and the
old folks still have miracle stories to tell about their Black Madonna.
If you are in the area, don't miss one of France's most beautiful
villages, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, 15 minutes North-East and the
fully preserved Knights Templar town La Couvertoirade 30 minutes
to the North.