Black Madonnas

The date of this article is January 2005 and you must have been living under a rock if you haven't at least heard of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. The Da Vinci Code is a fast-paced, fictional conspiracy novel. The plot revolves around a murder in the Louvre and several other mysteries and alternate history theories. It debuted as #1 on the NY Times bestseller list and quickly hit the #1 position with every bestseller list in the U.S. A year after its publication, this fictional book has sold more than 6 million hardback copies, published in more than 40 languages. .

Some see Brown's novel as a major challenge to orthodox Christian theology. One of the premises of the plot was that the Christian church has been hiding something about the life of its savior for 2,000 years. Because of the popularity of the novel, the sources he has drawn on have been the subject of public attention and the theories are being re-examined again by the public.

Two of Brown's source books are Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln and Richard Leigh's Holy Blood, Holy Grail and Margaret Starbird's The Woman with the Alabaster Jar. Both books assert that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that Mary Magdalene, after the crucifiction, settled in France. Margaret Starbird, in The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, makes much of the Black Madonna statures in France. She links them to the veneration of St. Mary Magdalene as the bride of Christ as well as the Cathar heresy in France and pre-Christian goddess worship.

Pre-eminent among her [the Madonna's] many shrines the Cathedral of Chartres, which was the site of an ancient cult to the Black Madonna, centered around a statue known as "Our Lady Under the Earth," located in a grotto under the structure.

Pilgrims have sought Our Lady's shrine at Chartres since pre-Christian times. Today they continue to flock to the healing waters of the "Well of the Strong" in the crypt where the original stature of the Madonna was enthroned. This Madonna's statue was destroyed in the sixteenth century; however, legend holds that the shrine, sacred to the Mother Goddess so often worshipped at a well or spring, was deemed holy by Druids long before Christians adopted it.
--Margaret Starbird, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, p. 79

The veneration of St. Mary Magdalene historically has flourished alongside veneration of the Black Madonnas. The Egyptian goddess Isis has also been linked with the Black Madonna cult as well as Mary Magdalene.

Black Madonnas are a type of Marian statues or paintings of primarily Medieval origin (12th - 15th century) of dark or black features whose exact origins are not always easily determined. There are a number of Black Madonna statues scattered around the Mediterannean. The Black Madonna cult flourished in Medieval Europe. As statues, they are carved either from black wood, such as ebony, or wood that is painted black. Some images are carved in stone. Black Madonnas can also be found in paintings, frescoes, and icons.

The Black Madonna cult centered around the allegedly miraculous character of these images. The image of the Black Madonna was believed to be a very powerful miracle worker, especially in the areas of fertility and healing.

So--what has this got to do with the worship of Diana in Italy? Directly, not a whole lot. The statue of Diana of Ephesus in Rome was said to be black. Diana did have a black or earth fertility aspect to her, as did Isis and Cybele, who were also venerated in Pagan Rome. As of yet, I know of no scholar who draws a link between Black Diana and the cult of the Black Madonnas. Nevertheless, there are several Black Madonnas in Italy and Sicily.

In order to be on the cutting edge of scholarship, I will list the Black Madonnas in Italy and Sicily. Whatever links these individual images have to pre-Christian worship might be revealed later.



Michael P. Durcy, Black Madonnas,

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