February 23, 2018 3:14 PM   Subscribe

If you've been to the Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres at Chartres, Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery, the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, or many others, you may have noticed that the Madonna was black - either due to paint, natural materials, age, smoke, or perhaps .... mystical significance. Is Our Lady of the Underground a Goddess in Disguise?

Black Madonnas: Origin, History, Controversy
The Black Madonna: 'We come from, and are contained somehow, by this darkness'
The Black Madonna: A Folkloristic and Iconographic Investigation
Cultural Semiotics: The Case of Black Madonna Icons
There are over 400 Black Madonnas around Europe (according to various scholars’ accounts), but it’s important to understand that they come from different sources, materials, and cultural contexts. If we universalize or over-generalize the phenomenon, it’s not very far, then, from talking about people who see Mary in their buttered toast or Christmas lights. Most of the Black Madonnas are wood statues, and many of the black faces seem to come from the natural aging of the wood, oxidizing of paint pigments, and the smoke and soot of candles in churches. There were local cults all over Europe that may have memories of pre-Christian goddesses, but certainly there is no cultural memory of this today. The significance needs to be explained by other means, according to a cultural grammar and symbolism current in the cultures that find them significant. Similarities with cultures that had little or no contact with European Christianity is not causality or an indicator of some universal truth. One could say the same thing about red or white cultural symbols: what we could say about this in universal terms doesn’t explain how or why they have meaning in the historically specific cultures that take them to mean something.
Is there a secret Cult of the Black Virgin, a relict of Paganism in Provence?
This is all quite confusing. The Virgin Mary: Beautiful and Black? What do the Druids have to do with it? The Dark Mother of the Druids: Black Madonnas and Gallic Sacred Space.
Why are we drawn to the Black Madonna?

BTW, Chartres has been restored, losing some of what we thinkof now as the Gothic ambiance in a "scandalous makeover" and the repainting of the Notre Dame du Pilier figure.

Or are we all just mything the point, and engaging in the demise of mystery?
posted by the man of twists and turns (9 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
We need images of the Black Madonna now more than ever, from America and Mickey McGrath. His Black Lives Matter Madonna is stunning.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:36 PM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I once visited Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the town in the Camargue that is a center of Roma culture. That's where Saint Sara makes her yearly pilgrimmage, aka Sarah-the-Black or Sara-la-Kali. She's not Mary but rather one of Mary's servants. The really evocative thing is the name Kali; some people think they may suggest a connection to the Hindu kali, a remnant of the Roma's Indian origins. Catholicism is nothing if not generous in its syncreticism.
posted by Nelson at 5:11 PM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I was 12 or 13, somewhere around the time of confirmation classes, I read Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and was particularly struck by "The Fire Balloons," in which a Catholic priest on Mars tries to bring Christ to the Martians in their own form--a luminous blue sphere. In response to worries over his choice of vessel, he answers "The form does not matter. Content is everything...and each will worship the same thing in a different guise." That has stuck with me over the years. Chartres or a meetinghouse; Mary or Guanyin; Notre Dame du Pilier or the Black Lives Matter Madonna I linked above. The debate over who shall be the custodian of presentation, and why, matters, but so do the connections that everyday people make with these varied spaces, images, and statues. The contemplation matters, and (to paraphrase Wm. Gibson) the Street will find its own glorious and transformative aesthetic for mystery....
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:01 PM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

The image they refer to as the "banner image" of Our Lady of Czestochowa is one of the most beautiful religious images I've ever seen. I can't stop looking at it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:24 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

That first black madonna link is visions of kuato à la total recall.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:08 PM on February 23, 2018

There is such a virgin in la Daurade, Toulouse.
posted by nicolin at 1:58 AM on February 24, 2018

The image they refer to as the "banner image" of Our Lady of Czestochowa is one of the most beautiful religious images I've ever seen. I can't stop looking at it.

You can't overestimate the importance of the Our Lady of Częstochowa to Polish national identity. I'm not religious anymore but I have her icon painted on wood by Benedictine monks (from the US Southwest). It's really the only symbol of my Polish heritage that I have.
posted by tommasz at 5:05 AM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I haven't read Henry Adams' Mont St. Michal and Chartres for years, but I recall a description of Chartres in past as being brightly decorated and not like its (until recent) form. The intent was sensory overload. There were records of bad noblemen, who otherwise had no-one to tell them how to behave, walking into Chartres, being overwhelmed and instantly reforming. In effect, it was an engine for reaching the unreachable.
posted by lagomorphius at 6:35 AM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I went to Częstochowa after having read China Galland’s book about Black Madonnas and Tara, and it was pretty damn intense.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:42 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older The Flamin' Hot Cheetos origin story   |   In Praise of Negative Reviews Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments