Tradition says that around the year 1775 a local
tenant farmer by name of Peter Becker sought relief from a debilitating
illness at the feet of the Black Madonna in the Carthusian monastery
near Koblenz. When the Queen of Heaven heard his prayers and did
indeed heal him, he erected, in thanksgiving, a small chapel in
his home village Windhausen and placed in it a Black Madonna similar
to the one he had sought out. Several miracles and wonders took
place immediately. E.g. a wilted lily in the hand of the Madonna
brought forth fresh buds and during a prayer meeting that Peter
Becker held with others the statue lit up with a heavenly light.
A boy was healed of paralysis, a blind person was given sight, and
a girl could leave her crutch at the feet of the Madonna. With that
of course so many pilgrims started coming that a bigger chapel was
needed, which Mr. Becker promptly provided.
This honeymoon between the divine Mother and her children didn’t remain
undisturbed for long. The king had ordered enlightenment and religious
equality between Catholics and Protestants. This meant the presence
and power of Catholicism had to be reduced and “old time religion”
with its “superstitions” was frowned upon. As in other
places (see Chartres) Catholic clerics used this as an excuse to
curtail grass roots practices they hadn’t dared to forbid
before. Now the local bishop prohibited the collection of offerings
and the presentation of ex voti in the Windhausen chapel and ordered
the Image of Grace to be moved to the parish church in Herschwiesen.
But since the chapel and the statue were the private property of
Peter Becker, he simply took the Black Madonna into his home.
Shortly thereafter the French occupied the Rheinland and they too
wanted to get rid of the holy place in Windhausen. The police chief
of Boppard was ordered to take a troop of soldiers and destroy the
chapel of the Black Madonna. Having been warned of this danger,
the local peasants filled the bigger chapel with hay and straw,
pretending to be good, enlightened citizens who had turned a useless
chapel into a rational barn. They asked for the “barn”
to be saved and consented to the old, outgrown chapel to be razed.
Meanwhile Peter had taken off with the Black Madonna, in search
for a good hiding place. He thought of burying her in the forest,
but when he began to dig, he uncovered a crucifix in the ground
and a spring of fresh water gushed forth from the hole. Later it
turned out to be healing water. Next he hid the Madonna in a hollow
oak tree, but the oak was struck by lightning and the statue blackened
completely. Finally Our Lady was brought to a neighboring village,
where the police found her, moved her to Koblenz, whence she disappeared.
Under Emperor Napoleon I the enmity between state and church loosened
and the “barn” in Windhausen could once more become
the chapel it was meant to be. A Mary statue was installed there
and painted black in remembrance of the original. With that pilgrimages
started up again, even stronger than before.
Peter Becker died in 1806 at age 70, reputed to be a very holy man.
His chapel wasn’t officially consecrated by clergy until 1831.
"To the Black Madonna"
At the end of World War II the chapel was badly damaged, but the Madonna
was saved by some neighbors who ended up housing her for three years.
The necessary repairs seemed almost impossible to accomplish in the postwar
years, but Mother Gipp, the hostess of the Black Madonna, kept urging:
“Finish the chapel and my son will come home from the French prison
camp where he is held! When the chapel is complete the Mother of God will
send him home.”(*1) And so it was. The night
before the rededication ceremonies Mother Gipp’s son called to say
he was in Boppard, almost home. He attended the opening mass the next
The postwar repairs were only rudimentary. It took till 1985 for the shrine
to be restored to its former glory. Since then pilgrims come once more.
The booklet from which I have taken most of this information quotes a
local poet who writes: “…all thoughts and words died in me
when I stood before that dark miracle in glowing, sparkling light, of
which grandfather and the old mothers in the village had told stories…”(*2)
Yes, that indeed is the mystical power of the Black Madonna: to halt our
thoughts and concepts long enough so we can experience the divine spark
*1: The Catholic parish of Herschwiesen, “Pilgerbüchlein
zur Schwarzen Muttergottes von Windhausen”, Boppard: 2005, p.12
*2: ibid, p.11