The BLACK MADONNAS OF SPAIN

The idea for pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna at the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria  in Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain germinated after I interviewed Dr. Andrew Chesnut for a blog post on  Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.   Dr. Chesnut discussed that Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is said to have originated from the Black Madonna in Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain.  I googled and did extensive research about this Black Madonna in Extremadura, Spain and pondered whether to go on this pilgrimage. However, something else finalized my decision to see the Spanish Lady of Guadalupe (Black Madonna) this summer. Deep betrayal from people.  I felt hurt, angry and powerless.  I needed healing. Some kind of transformation from this betrayal. I will not go into the details of the betrayals, except that I now understand Dr. Maya Angelou’s quote “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time”. Dr. Angelou is so right.

Pilgrimages are considered as travels to a sacred place for personal transformation.  People find the sacred in many different places, such as, walking on the beach, going out in nature, places of worship or deep conversations and connection with loved ones. Encounters with the sacred can uplift the soul, create distance from the whirlwind of life,  crystallize a new perspective on situations and create momentum to be “unstuck from sticky and messy situations”. In this post, I will share my experiences on the pilgrimage to see the Black Madonnas in Spain for healing from betrayal. Even though my original plan was for pilgrimage to the Spanish Lady of Guadalupe in Extremadura, Spain, I also saw two other Black Madonnas in Spain. However, it is estimated that there are  51 Black Madonnas in Spain. Additionally, I will also discuss the concept of the Black Madonna and God-image, a concept in psychology about our internal representation of a personal God, through which we may process information about the Divine. I will also discuss  contextual influences on our God-images, such as themes of power and influence in social structures.

 

The Black Madonna

What is the Black Madonna?   Black Madonna typically refers to the icon, statue or painting of the Virgin Mary with the Christ child, associated with the catholic church. Michello (2020) reported that about 500 Black Madonna images, icons or paintings exist in the world.   Images of the Black Madonna are found in many places in Africa ( Ethiopia, South Africa and Rwanda), and Europe ( France, Spain, Poland and Switzerland). In her powerful and authentic voice of describing her five-week walking pilgrimage of seeing and worshipping Black Madonna icons throughout France, Cleveland (2023) described the Black Madonna in various states, such as, pregnancy, breast feeding and holding the Christ child. In her book, “God is a Black Woman”, Cleveland (2023) viewed the Black Madonna icons as strong, powerful, and majestic.

In her doctoral dissertation on Black Madonnas, Landman (2012) noted that the definition of the Black Madonna is “not straightforward” and there is not much knowledge about who created these mysterious icons and images.  Landman (2012) noted that the  images of the Black Madonna, excluding those in Africa, can be categorized as “black, dark brown or grey”. Landman (2012) discussed Sara Boss’s (researcher on Marion studies)  succinct definition of the Black Madonna:  a Madonna, whose devotees describe as “Black”.

Some theorists  have argued that the Black Madonna is related to pre-Christian Goddess images. According to Lydia Ruyle (2005), different names for the Dark Mother image in pre-Christian times have been “Isis of Egypt, Diana of Ephesus, Crow Mother of the Hopi, Aumakua of Hawaii, Kali of India and Palden Lhamo of Tibet” (p.3). Michello (2020) noted that the image of the primordial Black Divine mother, as the creator from darkness and chaos, stems from African indigenous beliefs, which have influenced different world religions, such as, Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) and Hinduism. Like the Black Madonna, feminine faces of God in Hinduism, Goddesses, such as Kali and Durga (often called “Ma”), are characterized by their tremendous “shakti”, referring to their sheer strength, power, fierce endurance, conquering battles and protecting their devotees.

There seems to be different views about the catholic church’s acceptance of the Black Madonna images. Michello (2020) cited scholarship  that the  catholic church has been hesitant in accepting these Black Madonnas due to race and gender issues. The Black Madonna is black and female, presenting an intersectionality of social identities, which are marginalized in the leadership hierarchy of the traditional catholic church. Cleveland (2023) described the predominantly white male images of Divinity in traditional Christianity, as ‘whitemalegod”. Cleveland (2023) posits that these images have been used by patriarchal societal power structures to oppress marginalized groups, including legitimizing slavery. Delp (2021) noted the longstanding systemic restriction of females in the catholic church leadership throughout history. Delp (2021) reported that just recently the catholic church is discussing if women can be called to serve as deacons. Theorists, like Michello (2020) highlight that the catholic church’s reticence maybe linked with the cult of the black virgin’s  advocacy for equal representation for women.

However, according to the University of Dayton website, Druicy wrote that many of these Black Madonna  “images have received approval from ecclesiastical authority in light of the divine approval manifested by well-attested miracles (subsequently approved by Church leadership)”. Landman (2012)  noted that progressive female spirituality movements have also embraced the Black Madonnas.

 

The Black Madonnas of Spain

 Santa Maria (Black Madonna) in Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain.

 

In my view, the Spanish Black Madonna in Extremadura knows betrayal, inside and out. She is tough, survived burial for hundreds of years and remerged triumphantly. She is also known as the “Lady of Silence”. For me, this “silence” refers to the critical phase of finding safe places to heal from the wounds of betrayal. To come out transformed and whole again. Maybe even better and stronger. Even before I started my pilgrimage, I had an odd experience at my local library, when I requested to check out Cleveland’s (2023) book, “God is a Black Woman”.  As the librarian checked for the book, someone, who had heard the conversation between me and the librarian, came up to the library desk and said “God cannot be a Black woman because He is a Spirit”. With a grimace on her face, the  librarian rolled her eyes at the stranger and stated to me, “I do not have the book in the system, but I will order it for you so that I can read it after you”.  This librarian and I were in solidarity that this book is important.   I think that the librarian’s frustrated and aggravated looks scared this person away.   I was somewhat shocked by this intrusion. I never had any random person lecture to me about what book I need to read. I thought “God is a spirit. I agree. But why such a fuss on divine image of God being a Black woman”.  So, I read Cleveland’s (2023) powerful and beautifully written book voraciously before my pilgrimage. As a social psychologist, theologian and professor, Cleveland (2023) discussed receiving emails from people inquiring whether she is a witch when she was writing her book, “God is a Black Woman”. Cleveland (2023) made a great point: images which are deemed sacred  and profane illustrate powerful dynamics of power and privilege in social power structures. Rozette (2022), for example,  noted that one would expect “African Madonnas and Jesuses to be black, and yet they often are not” . Rozette (2022) reported that in many African Bibles, Jesus is painted as a white man with long blonde hair and blue eyes.

My pilgrimage to see the Spanish Black Madonna of Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain, started at the beautiful and vibrant city of Madrid. After reaching Madrid, my husband, son and I did a fair amount of research about how to reach the monastery in Extremadura, Spain. The monastery is rather remote and distant from the heart of Madrid. The Extremadura region is often referred to as “old soul of Spain”, with Roman ruins and medieval castles. The car drive from Madrid to the monastery is about three hours and 15 minutes. We were very blessed to find someone who drove us to the monastery. The drive allowed us to see different landscapes:  farm regions with  cattle, horses, sheep, then,  miles of open green  fields, under the blue sky, scattered with purple, lavender and yellow colored wild flowers and the winding roads through gorgeous mountainous regions.   After traveling through mountainous areas, we reached the quaint town of Guadalupe, which sprung up around the monastery.

The Royal Santa Maria Monastery in Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain is an UNESCO World Heritage site. The monastery is large with ornate architecture, and numerous museums. The monastery tours are in Spanish. The Spanish Lady of Guadalupe is dressed in royal garments, with her face uncovered. I prayed to her for protection and healing. She felt familiar to me. She knew my heart and soul. It was like I was visiting my mother. I found her eyes having the same intensity as the Hindu Divine Mother image of Kali that my mother worshipped. The Virgin of Guadalupe in Spain  personified Shakti : power, strength and perseverance. At the Spanish monastery, I also saw the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose basilica is in Mexico City.

Cleveland (2023)  noted that the correct translation of the Biblical line in Song of Songs  is  “I am Black and I am Beautiful” and not “I am Black but Beautiful” (p.159).  The Spanish Virgin of Guadalupe is black and beautiful.  After seeing the icon of the Virgin, there was discussion of the theory in our tour group that  the Madonna  was not originally black, but, darkened due to her age or grime. I found myself rather irritated and frustrated with this discussion. To me, she is majestic:  black, beautiful, loving, compassionate, and powerful.

Peterson (2014) noted that the actual sculpture of the Spanish Virgin  is “two feet in height (59 cm)” but looks bigger “once dressed and on her pedestal”.  The original Virgin of Guadalupe statue is said to be sculpted by St. Luke and associated with many miracles, such as, ending an epidemic in Rome.  Christopher Columbus reportedly prayed to the Virgin to save his ship and crew in a fierce  storm and then, named an island, Guadalupe, to honor her. Peterson (2014) wrote that due to the Muslim invasion of the Iberian peninsula, the Spanish Black Virgin of Guadalupe image was “buried in a cave for safekeeping (in the Extremadura), only to be discovered 600 years later by a humble shepherd”. The shepherd is said to have had a vision from the Virgin about uncovering her icon and building a church at the site.

 

The Black Madonna at Montserrat

 

Even though, I did not get to travel to the monastery of the Black Madonna at Montserrat,  I saw her image at the church called, Saint Vicens De Sarria in Barcelona. She is also referred to as the “The Virgin of Montserrat” and “La Moreneta”. She is black, beautiful and radiated shakti. She holds a sphere (symbolic of the universe) in one of her hands.

According to the foreverbarcelona.com website,  Jesus asked Saint Luke in Jerusalem to carve a status of the Virgin Mary. After St. Luke carved the statue, he gave it to Saint Paul, who traveled to Barcelona and gave the statue to the Christian community in Barcelona. The statue was hidden in a cave in the mountain of Montserrat in 718 when Barcelona was attacked by the Moors. The miracle is said to have happened 80 years later when a group of shepherds saw light and music in a cave and found the Virgin Mary singing and playing instruments with angels.

 

The Santa Maria de la Alhambra in Granada

The church of Santa Maria de la Alhambra is located in Granada, in southern Spain. Santa Maria de la Alhambra is known as the “Lady of Anguishes”. We saw her in a procession. She is greenish grey in complexion. She suffered one of the greatest betrayals ever, the death of her son, God-man, Jesus Christ, by the  very people that He came to offer salvation.

Landman (2012) discussed Sara Boss’s scholarship on “green Mariology”,  which suggests that Mother Mary is also known as the mother of earth and the cosmos. She is seen as protector of not just her human children, but, the earth ecology. Landman (2012) noted that Black Madonna images are also important in ecological awareness and advocacy. I interpreted the Lady of Anguishes in distress about the escalating climate crisis, faced by humanity.

 

 God Image and the Black Madonna

 Aslan (2017) discussed two very important processes of the mind, Theory of Mind and Hypersensitive Agency Detection Device (HADD), which shape how human beings create images of Divinity or God image. The theory of mind suggests that we use ourselves as the primary model or paradigm through which we conceptualize other phenomenon, including Divinity.  The cognitive theory of HADD suggests that we are biologically programmed to detect human agency or human cause to understand unexplained phenomena. Since Divinity is such a vastly unexplainable phenomenon, which is difficult for the human brain to comprehend, we may lean towards images of God in human form and with human attributes to develop emotional relationships with a personal God in theistic belief systems.  God-images refers to our internalized psychological representations of  God, impacted by our personal history, parental figures, relationships, life experiences and families, and communities.  Hall and Fujikawa (2013 ) talked about the development of the explicit (conscious) and implicit (unconscious) aspect of God-image. Hall and Fujikawa (2013 ) discussed that God-images may change during a person’s spiritual development.

God images may include our working model of our relationship with our personal God. We may attribute traits to our God-image. Some people, for example,  describe their Gods as loving, forgiving,  kind and a source of protection, whereas, others view their God images as punitive, angry, vindictive and harshly critical. Hall and Fujikawa (2013 ) reviewed research and delineated that positive images of God are related with more empathy, better self esteem and less personality pathology.

Hall and Fujikawa (2013) described there needs to be more research on contextual influences on God images. They discussed how racial minorities and culturally diverse people may have difficulty relating to white male images of divinity, defined by dominant power structures in social contexts. Authors, such as, Cleveland (2023) and  Galland (2007) have written about their spiritual journeys impacting their  God images. Cleveland (2023) reported that due to her extensive and very painful experiences of discrimination as an African American woman,  she did not connect with white male images of Christ.  She encountered many different Black Madonnas in France, such as the Black Madonna of Moulins, Our Lady of the Sick, (described as “She Who Cherishes Our Hot Mess”),  Our Lady of the Fountain, Our Lady of the Good Death (helps us loose our false selves to embrace authenticity), Virgin Warrior is the Go Consent (who loves by letting go), and Black Virgin of Saint-Gervazy (helps us to find home).  I particularly love Cleveland’s (2023) relationship with the Lady Who cherishes Our Hot Mess. That is what mothering is. Cleveland (2023) wrote about her encounters with the holy Black Madonna as liberating during her pilgrimage in France. She wrote that  “Sacred Black Feminine helped me relax into my body because I was able to relax into Her diverse and inclusive body…Her body is infinitely relatable and always expanding to include Her precious children. There is enough room for all of us” (p. 155). Additionally, Galland (2007) described her aloneness in relating to the male Buddha in her practice of Buddhism. Thus, she started her spiritual journey in connecting with Tara, female Buddha in the Tibetan tradition. Galland (2007) also wrote about her aloneness and difficulty connecting with male images of Divinity in the Roman Catholic church and thus, searching for the Black Madonna.

 

Black Madonna and Healing

The topic of betrayal is complex. People betray for different reasons. There are different degrees of betrayal.  Each individual’s recovery from betrayal varies. In terms of my own pilgrimage for healing from betrayal, my “human self” still struggles with anger, hurt and sadness at times. The experience of betrayal sucks. However, this pilgrimage helped me create some distance from this experience. My higher self reminds me that I need to process my anger, sadness, grief and  let go. The Black Madonnas of Spain remind me of the strength and Divine Grace of the Divine Mother to sustain me.  The Black Madonnas of Spain remind me that the actions of betrayal are more about the betrayer. The betrayer is responsible for his/her karma, and I am responsible for my karma. The Black Madonnas of Spain  seem to whole heartedly agree with the lyrics of my favorite Taylor Swift song, “Shake It Off”.  I love Swift’s lyrics,  “And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, I shake it off, I shake it off”. I  listen to that song frequently and groove to the music.  The Black Madonnas  remind me to heal from the wounds of betrayal, shake it off and not become bitter. Faced with betrayal, the Black Madonnas challenge me to figure out who I am, such as, my core values and dig deeper into self discovery and self acceptance. They remind me to practice gratitude for the good people and things in my life and still look for the good in the world. The Black Madonnas  remind me to live my best life, keep moving forward, trust and love myself even more.  They remind me to stand in my own truth. The Black Madonnas got my back. They remind me that this too shall pass. I take great comfort in this.

I will end with a full circle moment. After the pilgrimage, when I went to return Cleveland’s (2023) book, “God is a Black Woman” to the library, the same librarian, who had ordered the book, saw me and recognized the book. It is an odd experience because I see different librarians every time that  I go to the library’s front desk. I thanked the librarian for ordering the book. She said “I order many books but I remember ordering this book”. She smiled and took the book from me.

 

REFERENCES

Aslan, R. (2017). God: A Human History. Random House

Galland, C. (2007). Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna. Penguin Books

Cleveland, C. (2023). God Is a Black Woman. HarperCollins Publishers

Delp, Christine ( September 23, 2021). Gender, Cultural Change and the Catholic church. https://thesocietypages.org/trot/2021/09/23/gender-cultural-change-and-the-catholic-church/

Duricy, M. Black Madonnas: Origin, History, Controversy. https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/b/black-madonnas-origin-history-controversy.php

Hall, T. W., & Fujikawa, A. M. (2013). God image and the sacred. In K. I. Pargament, J. J. Exline, & J. W. Jones (Eds.), APA handbook of psychology, religion, and spirituality (Vol. 1): Context, theory, and research (pp. 277–292). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14045-015

Landman, M. R. (2012). Doctoral Thesis: Investigation in to the Phenomenon of the Black Madonna. University of Roehamptom, London. chrome-extension://hbgjioklmpbdmemlmbkfckopochbgjpl/https://pure.roehampton.ac.uk/portal/files/445689/Melanie_Landman_PhD_11_Jan_2013.pdf

Michello , J. (October 10, 2020)   The Black Madonna: A Theoretical Framework for the African Origins of Other World Religious Beliefs, Religions:   https://www.academia.edu/60331901/The_Black_Madonna_A_Theoretical_Framework_for_the_African_Origins_of_Other_World_Religious_Beliefs

Peterson, J.F. (2014) “The Virgin of Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain.” Object Narrative. In Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion . doi:10.22332/con.obj.2014.22

Rozette, E. (2022). The Madonna and the Child of Soweto, The Black Madonna. https://www.interfaithmary.net/black-madonna-index/soweto

 Ruyle, L (June 18. 2005). Goddess Icons of the Dark Mother Around the Globe. https://www.academia.edu/12028983/Goddess_Icons_of_Dark_Mothers_Around_the_Globe?rhid=28520978496&swp=rr-rw-wc-24439000

 Veciana, M. L., Who is the Black Madonna Our Lady of Montserrat?https://www.foreverbarcelona.com

 

 

 

 

 

The BLACK MADONNAS OF SPAIN
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