The Black Madonna
Around 500 mostly wood statues and paintings, scattered throughout Europe, depict the Madonna and child in the usual style but with dark brown skin. Despite concerted efforts in the past to explain away the coloration as soot or age patina, each Black Madonna has become the focal point of a cult that stirs such devotion in the faithful that the modern Church now seeks ways to exploit this phenomenon.
Numerous Black Madonnas are located in Eastern Europe, but over sixty per cent are found in France, and most of them in the south, where alternative legends of the Virgin Mary still circulate. Research into the history of the Black Madonna indicates that this depiction of Mary and child is the original model. Only later, when representations of the Madonna were closely monitored by the Inquisition, did the white Madonna become the official standard. But why would white-skinned people portray their sacred icons with dark skin in the first place?
The Real Mary
The widely-held presupposition that Mary was a native Palestinian girl blurs what ought to be palpably obvious. Scholars wax poetic on the eternal significance of the ancient mother Goddess whose dark skin mirrors the dark soil of the earth, or explain how reverence of the Black Madonna is merely a continuation of Isis worship, and Isis was sometimes depicted as black. Whereas the early Church undeniably co-opted pagan sites and pagan iconography, the simplest justification for the black Madonna is that the earliest Christians believed that Mary was brown-skinned.
Almost all the women mentioned in the New Testament happen to be named “Mary:” Mary, mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene; Mary of Bethany; Mary mother of James the younger; Mary mother of John Mark; Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Rome. Is it purely coincidental that women associated with the Galilean Jesus should have the same name? Or is “Mary” (Hebrew, Miriam) a sectarian title used to conceal the real names from the uninitiated? In the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, none of the main protagonists are identified by their real names. Is ‘Mary’ necessarily a Hebrew?
No known traditions exist linking Mary to India, but the Black Madonna’s fine facial features give her an unmistakably south Asian appearance.
From the large hordes of Roman coins discovered in Indian port cities, archeologists know that bilateral trade between western India and the Roman Empire peaked during the first century CE, after Rome had conquered Egypt and opened up the Red Sea, and before the rise of Islam closed contact between India and the West. During this time the prosperous the Jewish business community in India would have had its Indian counterpart in Judea.
There is no documented migration of people from India to the Middle East, but in all likelihood one group of Indians did travel west in this period. They became known later in Europe as “Gypsies,” predecessors of today’s Romani people. By all accounts, white Europeans assumed these Indians came from Egypt due to their dark skin – though their movement in large numbers is not believed to have occurred until between 1000 and 1500 CE.
Gypsy society is tightly closed to outsiders, and no tangible evidence exists of their history or religious beliefs. Much of Gypsy folklore, however, centers on Jesus. Gypsies (Romani) still teach their young that the infant Jesus was protected by Gypsies while he was in Egypt. Another legend, which is often embellished, claims that the nails used by the Romans to crucify Jesus were made by a Gypsy blacksmith. Originally, the Romans told him to make four nails, but he withheld one at the last minute when he learnt their purpose. As a result, Jesus was fixed to the cross with three nails, and spared the agony of a nail through the heart. By way of a reward, God allows Gypsies to steal without reprisals in the afterlife.
All European states, with the support of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches, have had laws to repress or expel Gypsies, and interestingly anti-Gypsy sentiment has been whipped up periodically by the accusation that Gypsies refused to help the infant Jesus along his journey to Egypt.
The patron saint of Gypsies is Saint Sarah, or “Sarah the Black.” Every year a mass pilgrimage of Gypsies visits her holiest shrine on the coast of southern France, where legend states that Sarah arrived together with the so-called “Three Marys,” who were the three women that allegedly came to the tomb of Jesus. The iconography of Saint Sarah appears to be a carbon copy of the Black Madonna.
The suggestion was made by the authors of the groundbreaking Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and repeated by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code, that Sarah was the daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. If that is the case, then is Sarah not a dead ringer for her grandmother?
Mary, Quite Contrary
None of the four Gospels claim Mary is a descendant of King David. According to Luke, Mary comes from a priestly Levite family. Only because it was accepted that the Christ was Davidic, do Matthew and Luke show Davidic genealogies for Jesus, but neither genealogy links directly to Mary or to Jesus’ unnamed father. One must conclude from the evidence that Jesus was not Davidic by birth – and neither were his parents.
“…the story of the Black Virgin may also include a heretical secret with the power to shock and astonish even post-Christian attitudes, a secret, moreover, involving political forces still influential in modern Europe.”
Ean Begg, Cult of the Black Virgin
The Church is disinclined to prohibit veneration of the Black Madonna since the Church itself has exploited the cult of the virgin for almost two thousand years. But if the Church were ever to consider a ban on the Black Madonna, it would have to explain why. And it could never do that.