Black Madonna

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Black Madonna of Outremeuse, Liège, in a procession
Black Madonna of Guingamp
Madonna at House of the Black Madonna, Prague

The term Black Madonna or Black Virgin tends to refer to statues or paintings in Western Christendom of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus, where both figures are depicted as black. The Black Madonna can be found both in Catholic and Orthodox countries.

The paintings are usually icons which are Byzantine in origin or style, some of which were produced in 13th- or 14th-century Italy. Other examples from the Middle East, Caucasus or Africa, mainly Egypt and Ethiopia, are even older.[citation needed] Statues are often made of wood but occasionally made of stone, painted, and up to 75 cm (30 in) tall. They fall into two main groups: free-standing upright figures or seated figures on a throne. There are about 400–500 Black Madonnas in Europe, depending on how they are classified. There are at least 180 Vierges Noires in Southern France alone, and there are hundreds of non-medieval copies as well. Some are in museums, but most are in churches or shrines and are venerated by believers. Some are associated with miracles and attract substantial numbers of pilgrims.

Black Madonnas come in different forms, and the speculations behind the reason for the dark hue of each individual icon or statue vary greatly and are not without controversy. Though some Madonnas were originally black or brown when they were made, others have simply turned darker due to factors like aging or candle smoke. Jungian scholar Ean Begg has conducted a study into the potential pagan origins of the cult of the black Madonna and child.[1] Another speculated cause for the dark-skinned depiction is due to pre-Christian deities being re-envisioned as the Madonna and child.[2]

Studies and research[edit]

Research into the Black Madonna phenomenon is limited. Begg links the recurring refrain from the Song of Solomon, ‘I am black, and I am beautiful’ to the Queen of Sheba.[1] Recently, however, interest in this subject has gathered more momentum.

Important early studies of dark-skinned holy images in France were by Camille Flammarion (1888),[3] Marie Durand-Lefebvre (1937), Emile Saillens (1945), and Jacques Huynen (1972). The first notable study of the origin and meaning of the Black Madonnas in English appears to have been presented by Leonard Moss at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on December 28, 1952. Moss broke the images into three categories: (1) dark brown or black Madonnas with physiognomy and skin pigmentation matching that of the indigenous population; (2) various art forms that have turned black as a result of certain physical factors such as deterioration of lead-based pigments, accumulated smoke from the use of votive candles, and accumulation of grime over the ages, and (3) residual category with no ready explanation.[4][5]

In the cathedral at Chartres, there were two Black Madonnas: Notre Dame de Pilar, a 1508 dark walnut copy of a 13th-century silver Madonna, standing atop a high pillar, surrounded by candles; and Notre Dame de Sous-Terre, a replica of an original destroyed during the French Revolution. Restoration work on the cathedral resulted in the painting of Notre Dame de Pilar, to reflect an earlier 19th century painted style, rendering the statue no longer a "Black Madonna".[6][7]

Some scholars chose to investigate the significance of the dark-skinned complexion to pilgrims and worshipers rather than focusing on whether this depiction was intentional. By virtue of their presence, many Black Madonnas turn the shrines in which they are housed into revered pilgrimage sites. Monique Scheer attributes the importance of the dark-skinned depiction to its connection with authenticity. The reason for this connection is the perceived age of the figures and the idea that these depictions are more accurate to historical Mary since many of the works are eastern in origin and since Mary herself likely had dark skin.[8]

List of Black Madonnas[edit]


Our Lady of Guidance, Manila



Black Madonna at Catholic Tsuruoka Church, Japan
  • Tsuruoka city, Yamagata prefecture: Tsuruoka Tenshudô Catholic Church features a black Madonna statue given by France during Meiji period[12]

The Philippines[edit]

Our Lady of the Rule of Opon in Lapu-lapu City, Cebu, Philippines





Marija Bistrica


Czech Republic[edit]


Madonna of Saint-Jouan-des-Guérets (35)
Vierge noire de Graville (Le Havre)
The statue of the Black Virgin at Rocamadour
Black Madonna of Toulouse




Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Cathedral Basilica of Eger, Hungary.



Tindari Madonna Bruna: restoration work in the 1990s found a medieval statue with later additions. Nigra sum sed formosa, meaning "I am black but beautiful" (from the Song of Songs, 1:5), is inscribed round a newer base.
Street performer in Black Madonna costume in Venice







Icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, covered in a decorative silver shield, at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Poland.









One of three of Turkey's surviving icons of the Theotokos on the island of Heybeliada at the Theological School of Halki


Three icons portraying the Theotokos with black skin survived in Turkey to the present day, one of which is housed in the church of Halki theological seminary.

  • Trabzon: Sümela Monastery[49]


United Kingdom[edit]

The Americas[edit]


Nossa Senhora Aparecida


Costa Rica[edit]



Trinidad and Tobago[edit]

United States[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Begg, Ean (2017). The Cult of the Black Virgin. Chiron Publications. ISBN 978-1630514419.
  2. ^ Moss, Leonard W.; Cappannari, Stephen C. (1953). "The Black Madonna: An Example of Culture Borrowing". The Scientific Monthly. 76 (6): 319–324. Bibcode:1953SciMo..76..319M. ISSN 0096-3771. JSTOR 20482.
  3. ^ L'Atmosphère : Météorologie populaire (1888), édition avec gravures fr.
  4. ^ "Black Madonnas: Origin, History, Controversy". The Jungian scholar, San Begg published a study of Black Virgins and their possible pagan origins.
  5. ^ Begg, Ean (2006). The Cult of the Black Virgin. Chiron Publications. ISBN 9781888602395.
  6. ^ Filler, Martin "A Scandalous Makeover at Chartres", The New York Review of Books, December 14, 2014
  7. ^ Ramm, Benjamin. "A Controversial Restoration That Wipes Away the Past", The New York Times, September 1, 2017
  8. ^ Scheer, Monique (2002). "From Majesty to Mystery: Change in the Meanings of Black Madonnas from the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries". The American Historical Review. 107 (5): 1412–1440. doi:10.1086/532852. JSTOR 10.1086/532852.
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  47. ^ "Jerusalem - mosaic of Madonna in Dormition abbey Poster • Pixers® • We live to change".
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  51. ^


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