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« Sailing to Byzantium | Main | Scottish friends and artists »

La Vierge Noir

She is the Queen of the Heavens. Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles back home in California,

…as blue and celestial

…as the sky itself.

No wonder that the spires of cathedrals dedicated to her, like Notre-Dame de Chartres, seem to reach upward almost without any gravity at all.

She is dark and watery and seems to emanate from the very ground

…like the springs in a hidden cavern, where she is often found.

In fact, she is most often found just where pre-Christian mother or earth goddesses have been as well -- like Isis, or Artemis in Ephesus, or Tonantzin on the hilltop of Tepeyac, which was re-named Guadalupe after la Virgen appeared there and spoke to Cuauhtlatoahtzin in Nahuatl with as much courtesy as if he were a prince.

She is as mysterious and powerful and necessary as our own shadow.

“There are actually two churches at Chartres,” guide Malcolm Miller says, “the one you see above ground…”

“…and the other church is the crypt.”

That is, there is the Queen of Heaven

And Notre-Dame Sous Terre. Our Lady of the Underworld…or Underground.

And there is also a second vierge noir at Chartres.

Notre-Dame de Pilar.

Debi: “I have spent a lot of time with Our Lady of Częstochowa.

“In fact, there is an image of her back home on our living room wall.

“To me, she represents the fullness of the Black Madonna. Iconographers have tried to paint over the sword slash that an invading soldier made, but the scar always reappears...because she won’t remove herself from our own suffering.

"She comes from the depths to meet us with unconditional love.”

Chris: “I’ve been to Częstochowa twice before, but in the summer when the church was packed, and I was pressed far back at the doorway.

“But now we were here in the spare dead-cold of winter -- and you could feel the devotion of the people who have come to pray here all around you .
“And you can see the signs of those who have been healed.”

D: “Usually she's dressed so ornately. But imagine her without the brocaded garments and jeweled crown. You can understand her humility better then."

“I see why both men and women place flowers, kiss the pedestal she stands on, and reach up to touch her feet. Children sometimes come to sing to her.”

C: “Say more about why you don’t like it when she’s robed.”

(This is Notre-Dame du Puy en Velay above.)

D: “If you look at Notre-Dame de Rocamadour, there is the sense of her emerging from the underworld—from a mysterious incubation state. For me, the dressings interfere with her essential nature.

“If only I could be as natural as her!”

“In the chapel at Rocamadour, they have refrained from dressing her in a robe. A woman told us that townspeople saw how the added garments didn't fit her, and they insisted they be removed.

“Isn’t this simplicity a reason why she’s so particularly beloved?”

(Sculptures of the Black Madonna are often very old, and even then, often they are re-fashioned from images even older. For example, Notre-Dame de Rocamadour dates from the 12c, but she’s been venerated from at least the 5c – and who knows how long before that? A cave just a kilometer or two away has cave-paintings that have been dated to 25,000 to 30,000 years ago.)

C: “I always dislike all the human accretions. Once Notre-Dame de Rocamadour stood on a plinth on the bare rock of a cave. Then the vault of the cave collapsed, and the current shrine was built.

“But in winter you can still find enough time alone here -- in this grotto with a spring far up a sheer cliff-wall."

"And centuries of pilgrimage and tourism haven't changed her.”

D: “Isn’t this a similar attraction we feel for romanesque churches like Sant-Antimo?

...where the natural world

...coexists with the spirit world art?"

C: “She is like our shadow – all the dark, earthy places in ourselves we fear and which our high ethereal spiritualities even try to destroy.”

D: “...while she keeps her own austerity, which invites us to meet her heart-to-heart—if we dare.

“Listen. There's still water dripping in a corner of the chapel. Can you hear it?

"I’m sure Our Lady still feels a quite at home.”

Reader Comments (3)

Dear Chris and Debi,

I guess I prefer unadorned Madonnas too, having been very much taken with the photos from Rocamadour.

And thanks for the revisit of St. Antimo. Do you remember the woman with the crippled leg who used to sit in the back and shine her torch against the alabaster of the columns and make the deep amber luminescence. I had one of the best lunches of my life outside on the grass there...maybe with you Chris...I only remember the roasted chicken from Rosticeria Monte in Siena, now sadly gone, and the potatoes cooked underneath and baptized slowly in the fallen juices.

The photo of the person exiting the door, I hope from St. Antimo, is all we need of the bridge between two worlds. So lovely.

Bring chicken. Love.


March 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Actually, David, we just had tandoori lamb in Cappadocia. We'll bring some of that, too. The good work you and the crew are doing inspires us with every image and word we get. We can't wait to see you...soon.

We just left Istanbul -- one leg in Europe and the other in Asia. So, we were thinking...we're almost on our way to Dave in Kenya.


Chris and Debi

March 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris and Debi Lorenc

While people may have different views still good things should always be appreciated. Yours is a nice blog. Liked it!!!

June 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDirk

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