In the Basilica of La Daurade, Haute-Garonne
department, Midi-Pyrénées region, an 1806 reproduction of a much older
statue destroyed during the Revolution, painted wooden bust, dressed
up to look like a full size statue.
'Daurade' is a kind of fish and must be one of the strangest nick-names for a statue of the Blessed Mother. Yet it was skillfully chosen, because everybody will ask: "Why is Our Lady called La Daurade?" And then this ancient story has to be told from generation to generation:(*1)
In 109 B.C. the Roman Consul Servilius Cepio drained the lake of Toulouse in search of the famous 'gold of Toulouse' that the Gauls had stolen from Delphi. Instead of discovering a worldly treasure however, the statue of a Dark Mother was found floating in the draining water. She was revered as a Pagan goddess until it was decided in 415 A.D., when all Pagan worship was outlawed, that she was really Mary the Mother of God.(*2) The present, late 18th century incarnation of her church still stands where the lake once was, on the banks of the river Garonne.
The statue known as the Brown One was stolen in the 14th century and replaced by a copy, which later became known as the Black One.
The Belt of the Black Madonna
According to Sophie Cassagnes-Brouquet, it was an ancient Pagan practice to borrow a belt from a goddess and tie it across a woman’s belly during childbirth in order to ensure a quick and painless delivery. Both Isis and Hera were known to lend out their belts,(*3) and so was Mary. The “real” belt of the Virgin was venerated in Marsat (another Black Madonna shrine) since at least the 6th century, but only queens and princesses dared to borrow that one. Other women had to content themselves with the belts or mantels of miraculous statues of Mary, like la Daurade or the Black Madonna of Thuir.
Well, with so many people wanting to get under a mantel of the Black Madonna of Toulouse there weren’t enough to go around. To make matters worse, her whole wardrobe was burnt during the Revolution. That’s when the Church resorted to mass producing belts that would be consecrated to the Virgin by praying and touching them to the miraculous statue for a while.
To this day a priest at the basilica will individually bless such birthing belts for specific women to help during labor. A mother will obtain the belt for her daughter, just like her mother did for her.(*4) They do so well before the baby’s due date so that wearing the belt keeps reminding the mother to pray Mary for grace. The white satin belt with an image of the Black One on it comes in an envelope together with a picture of la Daurade, a medal of her that one can wear, a candle to light as a symbol of one’s faith and prayers, Marian prayers such as the rosary and the Magnificat, as well as instructions on how to use the belt properly. They say: “What does the sign matter? Belt, medal, or candle are nothing if there is no heart in them! But when one loves, a nothing, a piece of fabric, renders a presence. It’s not magic, it’s prayer.”
If you don’t feel like asking for a belt in the basilica you can see an old one at the National Museum. It is inscribed with the words: “OH MARY, DIVINE MOTHER, PRAY FOR ME. PROTECT ME.”
The Miracles of the Black Madonna
In 1631 when the Black plague was threatening the city, the inhabitants staged an elaborate procession of the Virgin called, ‘The descent of Our Lady the Black One.’ After that descent from the high altar down into the dirty streets, the disease gradually disappeared. From then on, whenever there was a serious calamity threatening Toulouse, whether drought or flood, the people brought their Dark Mother to descend among them.
But one day, on 8/18/1672, a terrible fire broke out outside of Toulouse.
When it had destroyed 200 houses and was threatening the palace of parliament
and the whole city, the archbishop armed himself with the Blessed Sacrament
(i.e. a consecrated piece of bread that Catholics believe to carry the
real presence of Christ). He personally took it to the place of destruction,
all the while asking Jesus to put out the fire. To no avail; the fire
raged on. So the faithful decided to bring out the Black Madonna instead.
As soon as she arrived at the fire the wind changed and the flames quickly
died down. Hmmm…. No one believed this was a coincidence, but what
did it mean? To this day the theologians of Toulouse try to find an acceptable
In 1790, during the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution, Our Lady the Black One's triumphant processions were outlawed and the statue placed in a museum. After five years the secular authorities graciously decided to allow the statue's return to her church. But they didn't expect anything like the huge fervent crowds of faithful that pressed around their Mother. Horrified, they ordered the precious Madonna to be destroyed after all. It took another 12 years, till 1807, before a copy could be made and safely innstalled in her church. The event was celebrated again with a great processsion and to this day the cult of la Daurade is very much alive.(*6)