Why should a Madonna be white not black;
why framed in a cage of beliefs that are set – solid as stone?
No. There is nothing but the celebration of her darkness
and the gentle hardness of that face, even I can touch.
— Jenny Hamlett
The most sacred icons of the Catholic Church are the Black Madonna and Christ child, which are found in Europe’s most venerated shrines and cathedrals. Each year, hundreds of thousands of European pilgrims ritually humble themselves before the image of Black Mary and her child Jesus at Black Madonna sites throughout France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Portugal and other Catholic countries. Many Black Madonna statues have had the black paint literally kissed off of their hands and feet.
In Poland, the Church encourages believers to pray to the Black Madonna of Czestochowka every morning before rising. It is reported that Pope John Paul II followed this ritual. In June, 1979, shortly after he was elected to the papacy, he visited “The Lady” of Czestochowka, Poland’s holiest shrine, and one of the oldest and most famous Black Madonna sites. At Our Lady of Koden (Poland), there are statues of white saints carrying pictures of Black Madonnas. Pilgrims throughout the ages have visited Black Madonna sites, seeking and receiving inspiration, relief from their afflications, and healing. Today, there are over 300 documented Black Madonna sites in France alone. Sometimes they are hidden within secret vaults, while the public is shown Madonnas with European features.
Some shrines, such as the one at Czestochowka, explain that the Black Madonna is black only because of the soot from hundreds of years of votive candles. However, according to some scholars, many Black Madonnas originally had African features, but were destroyed. When they were replaced, the artists retained the dark skin color but gave white European features to the paintings. In some cases, where the originals have survived, Mary and her child Jesus have the skin color, hair, and features of the African ancestors.
Over the next several days, as we honor this Dark time of Winter, we’ll explore the mystery of the Dark Goddess in many of Her forms, including the ancient origins of the Black Madonna. As always, I invite your thoughts and experiences if you would like to share.