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Verviers:

Black Virgin of the Recollects
Mother of Mercy

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.

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.

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.