There are an estimated 600 Black Madonnas around the world, give or take a few. Some of the more famous Black Madonnas include Our Lady of Montserrat in Spain; Our Lady of the Underground in Chartes, France; Our Lady of Częstochowa, Poland; Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Switzerland; and Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico, who is also known as The Black Madonna of the Americas.
I, of course, have a fondness for the lesser-known Black Madonna of Costa Rica, Our Lady of the Angels, affectionately called La Negrita or “Little Dark One.”
There are a lot of socio-political reasons for the Black Madonna to appear where and how she has appeared in the world– I’ll be covering those reasons in a future post. First, I’d like to talk about the Black Madonna as . . . well, black. Many people try to sweep her skin color under the rug, excusing her color as candle smoke stains, reminding us that Mary was a Palestinian Jewess and was very likely a dark-skinned woman or shrugging it off with a “She is because she is.”
In 2014, the powers-that-be at the famous Chartes Cathedral, France, literally whitewashed one of their three Black Madonnas: Our Lady of The Pillar. The uproar that ensued is proof that there is more power behind Her blackness than the Church would have you believe.
But we humans look for meaning in everything. It’s part of our social wiring and it’s one of the big reasons we’ve evolved as far as we have. We cannot not communicate. (Thank you B.A. and M.A. in Communication.) So when there’s a mysterious black woman at the head of a Church that has traditionally empowered white people and cruelly subjected those with darker skin? You just know there must be more to the story.
History is even full of examples of attempts by the Church to literally whitewash a Black Madonna, (most recently at Chartes Cathedral in 2014), and the subsequent fervent, passionate uproar that ensues from her followers. After all, if her blackness really doesn’t matter than neither should her whiteness.
But it does matter. It matters a great deal.
I’ve been researching Black Madonnas for close to a decade now, and while I feel that understanding the Black Madonna will be a lifelong quest, below are a few of the theories I support about her blackness. Some of the theories I like more than others but I think they are all correct on some level. Not every theory applies to every Black Madonna either. In future posts I will be exploring some of these theories and connecting them to specific Black Madonnas with more depth.
8 Theories on Why The Black Madonna is Black
1. Yes, Mary was likely a dark-skinned woman and it follows that icons/images of her should also be dark.
2. The Black Madonna is a syncretic icon that has absorbed the local pagan earth goddess. Wherever she is, so too is the earth goddess.
3. The Black Madonna is an appropriated image of Isis and Osiris.
4. Divine Wisdom is black– she is Sophia, the vessel of Divine Wisdom.
5. Chaos and creation are black.
6. She represents the parts of the Divine Feminine that have literally been whitewashed by the Church: She has dominion of death, creation, sexuality, rebirth– all of which are “black.”
7. She is dark and fertile like the earth and like the womb.
8. She represents non-Anglo cultures and believers, the underdog, the minority, the multi-racial person/relationship, major inter and intracultural shifts in history, the colonized, etc.
Do you have any experiences with the Black Madonna? What does she mean or represent to you? Tell us in the comments!
Lead image source: KasiaKonieczka
Inset image source: NYBooks.com