The History of Black Virgin Marys
Quotations from various sources throwing a light on the history of several Black Madonnas follow:
“Why are the majority of the virgins that are revered in the celebrated pilgrimages, black? At Boulogne-sur-mer the sailors carry a Black Virgin in the procession. At Clermont in Auvergne, the Black Virgin is revered as also at Einsiendeln, Switzerland, near Zurich, to which thousands of pilgrims – Swiss, Bavarians, Alsatians – go to pay her homage. The famous Virgin of Oropa in the Piedmont is still a Negress, as well as the not less legendary on of Montserrat in Catalonia, which receives 60,000 visitors a year. I have been able to trace the history of this one to the year 718 A.D. And it was always black. Tradition says that St. Luke who personally knew the mother of Christ, carved with his own hand the majority of these Black Virgins. It is highly interesting to know, therefore, if the mother of Christ was not a Negro woman, how it happens that she is black in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain?” (“Romain Rolland, Intermediare des chercheurs et des curieux,” Vol. 34, p. 193, Paris.)
The Black Virgin of the Hospice of Espalion is called “La Negrette.” Another writer adds that the Black Virgin of Notre Dame of Hal, near Brussels, Belgium is a shrine for a large number of pilgrims. She is credited with having performed many miracles, one of which was saving the cathedral by catching 33 cannon-balls in the folds of her robe. The cannon-balls are on display. This same writer also names the Black Virgin of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Grund, Luxemburg. (Ibid., Vol. 33, p. 633.)
“In Russia, the image of Notre Dame of Kazan is a Black Virgin. The Miraculous Virgin of Czenstochowa, Poland, is of the same color. I believe that is due to its very ancient Byzantine origin.” (Ibid., Vol. 34, p. 640)
“The Black Virgin of Chatillon-sur-seine was thrown into the fire by the revolutionists in Oct. 1793. Grenoble also has its black Virgins. In Perigord there is a Notre Dame the Black:” (Ibid., Vol. 35, p. 65, 66, 67.)
“In Normandy two Black Virgins have been the object of a veneration that goes back to the earliest times of our national history and attracts each year at Notre Dame de Deliverance, near Lion-sur-mer and at Notre Dame de Graces, near Honfleur, innumerable pilgrims, especially sailors.” (Ibid., Vol. 34, p. 169.)
“The Virgin of Notre Dame de Liesse (Aisne) is one of the oldest of France, and the pilgrimage to her dates back to the 13th century with its legend of Ismery, the girl of the Egyptian Sudan which was transported by the Virgin with three cavaliers of Effies, Marchaux de Coney from the borders of the Nile to the little village of Ile-de-France where was actually built the sanctuary of the Black Virgin, another Mary of the Egyptians.” (Ibid., Vol. 35, p. 300.)
Anatole France says, “In the little church of Mende (Loziere) above a fountain in a little chapel, or rather, a little altar, closed by a window, is a Black Virgin, which appears to be of the Middle Ages. The statue of Puy de Dome which was broken during the Revolution was no other than an Isis of basalt holding her son Horus, on her knees.
“I have always had a very great liking for and curiosity towards the Black Virgins, which are very ancient. They wear mantles that resemble window-shades, and are open and short. The reason they are sitting is that they dress as if though they were standing, the effect being a touching contempt for the human form. The Greeks also had their black idols.” (Intermediare des Chercheurs, etc., Vol. 40, p. 293.) See also “Pierre Noziere,” by Anatole France.
“There are numerous Black Virgins: they are really black: some of them are even Negresses and not merely painted wood.” (Ibid., Vol. 60, p. 653, 1909.)
Huysmans in “La Catherdrale,” describes the Virgin as a Negress,” and Christ as a little Negro. (p. 31.)
Georges Sand says, “A divinity of ancient Egypt, brought, it was said, from Palestine by St. Louis, is the idol that the Revolution has broken after centuries of veneration. A new Black Virgin has been inaugurated but it is said she performs less miracles than the old. Happily there has been preserved in the treasure of the Cathedral the waxes which the angels bore when they descended from heaven to place them with their own hands on the altar the figure of Isis.” (“Le Marquis de Villemar.”)
With regard to Notre Dame de Liesse of Soissons, a Negro Virgin, she was a native African, who was brought to France, and whose exemplary life caused her later to be identified with the Madonna. The story is that she was Ismeria of Ismery, that she came from the Sudan, married Robert D'Eppes, son of William II of France, and bore him a son named Jean, who was the companion of St. Louis, king of France, during the Crusades. In a chart of 1236, he is designated under the name “Son of the Negress.” So great was her fame that a town sprang up near the place of her burial, and pilgrims from all parts of France came to pay their homage. Among them were Joan of Arc; Louis XI, and Francis I. Very rich gifts were brought to her shrine, and it appears that she received much more homage than the Madonna herself. (Drochon, J.E.B., “Pelèrinages Français,” Paris, 1890.)
Black Virgins abound, or abounded in Russia. The Eastern Church has two types of Virgins; one frankly African with Ethiopian or Galla features; the other Byzantine with a copper complexion and classic Greek features. The preferential worship of this Black Diety by the Slavs goes back to the dimmest antiquity. (Fraser, “The Golden Bough.” (Vol. 9, p. 92, London, 19145.) Additional references to the Black Madonnas of Russia, as well as those of the British Isles, and elsewhere, are contained in “Notes and Queries,” (9, Ser. II, 367, 397, 449, 475, 537. IV, 77, 135, 177, 315.)
Naturally these are objections to this theory. The Rev. Canon Brugiere puts forth the opinion that the Black Virgins are the result of a too literal interpretation of the passage “I am black but beautiful.”
He says: “We believe that the desire of the artist was to recall the passage, “I am black but beautiful, Oh daughters of Jerusalem; it is especially in a spiritual and a mystic sense that one attributes this black color to the Holy Virgin.
“Here are the principal reasons given by the commentaries cited: Although beautiful by the plenitude of grace, the Virgin Mary is black being a daughter of Adam, who had sinned and by his sin soiled all his posterity. But Mary is exempt from the common law and only has the appearance of being soiled.
“The Virgin Mary, said Rupert the Benedictine (1125 A.D.) appeared black when Joseph wished to send her away in secret, believing that she had become a mother after the common law but in reality she was beautiful because she had conceived by the operation of the Holy Spirit.
“The Holy Virgin appeared black when witnessing the crucifixion of her Son. She was at the foot of the cross, disfigured and as blackened by the excess of sorrow.
“It is, therefore, quite natural that these Biblical souvenirs suggested the idea to the artist to paint the Virgin brown and even black.” (Bull. Soc. Hist. Et Arch. De Perigord, Vol. 24, p. 80, 1897.)
This is highly fantastic. It is an attempt to explain away fact by allegory and theological hocus-pocus. Moreover, Isis and her son, Horus, with Osiris, her husband, (which constitutes the Holy Trinity), were worshipped in Europe centuries before the Christian era. The first historical contact of Italy with Egypt was about 1400 B.C. Later came the Phoenicians who were also worshippers of the Black Goddess and who traded as far to the northwest as Britain.
In 58 B.C., the Roman Senate ordered the statues of Isis in the Capitol to be destroyed. But in 48 B.C. her worship returned with accelerated vigor when Cleopatra came to Rome as the wife of Julius Caesar. After the battle of Actium in which Cleopatra and Antony were defeated Isis was again ordered banished. Agrippa's efforts to enforce this order caused riots at Rome, and served but to increase the zeal of the Egyptian missionaries. The persecution continued until the time of Tiberius; but the Black Virgin came back into power under Caligula. Suetonius tells of Egyptians and Ethiopians at Rome playing a scene in which Isis is represented. Under Nero the power of the Black Virgin and her son increased, and the Emperor Domitian in escaping from the Capitol wore the robe of a priest of Isis. Isis was especially adored by the women, and it was the custom of her devotees to break the ice of the Tiber and go into bathe for which they were mocked by Juvenal in his Sixth Satire.
The mystical religion of Isis with its beautiful liturgies and ceremonies; its rich ornaments; its sacred emblems; its initiations, together with the sorrows of Isis for her tunes, says Plutarch. At the same time her holy life offered a lesson of piety and encouragement for all, especially women.
The worship of Isis, as the Black Virgin, lasted centuries after the introduction of Christianity. As late as 394 A.D. Her processions still marched through the streets of Rome. Isis is made to say by Apuleius, African philosopher and romancer (125 A.D.):
“The Phrygians call me Pessinus, the Mother of the Gods; the Athenians call me Cecropian Minerva; in Cyprus, I am Paphian Venus: I am Diana Dictynna to the archers of Crete; Stygian Prosperina to the Sicilians at Eleusis, I am the ancient Ceres; to some I am Juno, to others, Hecate. It is only the Ethiopians and Arians, illumined by the dawning light of the sun, and Egypt powerful in her ancient lore, who honor me with the rites that are really mine, and call me by my true name, the Queen, Isis.” The Arians were a religious sect of Africa.
The worship of Isis spread through the remainder of Europe and into Asiatic Russia. Ancient statuettes of her have been found in Northern France, in the Rhineland, and on the Moselle. Her temples were in all that region, as well as in Britain. She is believed to have had a temple in Paris, and another nearby, at Melun. By certain archaeologists the word “Paris,” is supposed to be a corruption of “Bari-Isis,” becoming through Roman pronunciation “Parisii,” the name of the tribe that inhabited the site on which Paris now stands. The boat in the coat-of-arms of the city of Paris is supposed to be the bark of the Negro goddess. Isis was the goddess of navigation, as will be seen later on. According to De Breuil, a statue of Isis existed in the Abbey of St. Germain-des-Pres, Paris, as late as 1514, when it was ordered broken by Cardinal Briconnet.
Isis, says Encyclopedia Britannica, was worshipped in Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, almost all the remainder of Europe, and England. (See Isis.)
Larousse Universal Dictionary says; “One of the most ancient of the divinities of Egypt, she formed with Osiris, at the same time her son and husband, a mythical trinity i which is to be found the Holy Trinity of the Christian religion. Isis was the force of life itself which gathered all the scattered forces of life from death and decay, warmed them in her bosom, and perpetually gave them new life.”
When the Christians came into power after the edict of Constantine they were powerless against the great hold of the Black Madonna on the people so they ended by compounding her religion with theirs, changing her name to Mary. It is significant, too, that the mother of Buddha, was Maryamma, indicating another source of Christianity as well.
According to Madame Blavatsky: “It was none other than Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, who openly embraced the cause of Isis and Anthropomorphized her into Mary, Mother of God. (“Isis Unveiled,” vol. II, p. 41.)
Grant Showerman says of the transformation of the Pagan religions of Rome into the Christian one:
“What was true of pagan literature was true of other arts. It was especially true of painting. So far were the Roman Christians from resisting the seductions of pagan form that their painting not only shows the same characteristics and the same changes period by period; but it borrows pagan motives and pagan fixtures. The Good Shepherd in the Catacombs is not the bearded Christ of later time but a smooth-shaven and shapely figure of pagan art.
“Christian civilization was indebted to paganism not only for arts but culture in general. The new religion itself, was not unmixed with the old. In both doctrines and ceremonial, it came to have much in common with the pagan religion. The resemblance between the doctrines of Christianity and those of the oriental religions especially was striking.” (Eternal Rome, pp. 321-26. New Haven, 1924.)
St. Augustine himself says:
“What is now called the Christian religion has existed among the ancients and was not absent from the beginning of the human race until Christ came in the flesh from which time the true religion which existed already began to be called Christian.” (Retract. I, 13.)
Conclusive proof that the Black Madonna is Isis is contained in the fact that Isis was the goddess of navigation. The greatest feast of the cult of Isis was that of the Ship. On a great number of the coins of Asia, Isis is represented standing on a galley, holding a veil inflated by the wind. In the romance of Apuleius there is a long description of the ceremonies held at Kenchrees, the port of Corinth. This feast marked the end of the bad season wad was the signal for navigation to begin again. To this day in several sea-ports of Europe, sailors hold these ceremonies, and as their patron saint they carry a Black Virgin called Mary exactly as their fellows of two thousand years ago carried a Black Virgin called Isis in their processions.
Today, the majority of the Black Madonnas have Caucasian features. The reason is that nearly all the original ones were destroyed by fire or by mobs during revolts of the predominant population. During the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars there was a general destruction of Black Madonnas in Europe, two notable instances occurring at Montserrat, Spain, and at LePuy, France. The former is the patron saint of Catalonia: the latter, the principal Madonna of France.
Two of the oldest black Madonnas of Europe are those of Loretto, Italy, and of Nuria, Spain. The first is said to be the original of all the Black Virgins. It was destroyed by fire about 1930 and was restored by Pope Pius XI who, according to Father Ledit, ordered “the color preserved.” The Black Virgin of Nuria, which is called “The Queen of the Pyrenees” is distinctly Negro.
Thus, from this mass of evidence, we have undoubted proof that it was the Negro, who originated not only religion, but Christianity as well. The fact is significant, because no matter what some may think about religion, it was the source from which came ll our learning, art, science, and culture in general.
Note: Once when I said that the original Christ was black, a Jewish girl said I was taking away even Christ from the Jews. Most German, English, American, and Latin American Jews do not like mention of a Negro strain in their people. Anti-Semitic writers constantly refer to the Negro Semitic writers frequently use this to belittle them.
For instance, Louis F. Céline, in his violently anti-Semitic novel, “Bagatelles Pour Un Massacre,” harps on the Negroid characteristic of the Jew. He says, “The single defense, the sole recourse of the white man against robotism, and certainly against war, and a return to the days of the cave-man, is to return to his own emotional rhythm. The circumcised Jew is on the way to castrate the Aryan of his natural emotional rhythm. The Negro Jew is about to tumble the Aryans into Communism and robot art, to give them an objectivist mentality that will make them perfect slaves for Jews. The Jew is only a Negro, after all. There is no such thing as a Semitic race. It is an invention of the freemasons. The Jew is a cross between the Negro and the barbarous Asiatic.” (pp. 191-2, Paris, 1927.)
On the other hand, several American whites have declared that one is no friend of the Negro to class him with the Jew.
The Christ idea has evolved racially just like the human race itself. Once, it was black, now it is white. So far as we know, it was originally East Indian. In a world without its Goebbels, Mosleys, and Lindbergs the question of what race was Christ would be a matter of purely ethnological curiosity.
The material on the worship of Isis in Europe is vast. Some of the principal works in addition to those given are:
Lafaye, C., “Divinitiés d'Alexandrie hors D'Egpyt,” Paris, 1884.
Lievre, A.P., “Isis et la Magie, etc.,” Poiters, 1898.
Ruby, J., “Christus,” Paris, 1912.
Schaafhausen, “Ueber den Roemischen Isis Dienst am Rhein,” in Jahrb. d. ver. v., Alterthsfr. Im Rheinl. No. 25.
Arnoldi, Richard, “Roemischer Isis-cult an der Mosel,” Ibid., p. 87.
Burel, J.k “Isis et Isiaques sous l'Empire Romain,” Paris, 1911.
Guimet, E., “Les Isiaques de la Gaule,” Paris, 1916. - This work contains illustrations of statues of a Negro Isis found in France and other Egyptian relics.
Rusch, A., “De Serapide et Iside in Graecia,” Berlin, 1906.
Weigall, A., “Paganism in our Christianity,” London, 1928. (List of Virgin Births, pp. 42-46. Isis into Virgin Mary, p. 208.)
For hundreds of additional references: See Isis in Dict. Des Antiqu. Grecques et Romaines, Vol. 3, pt. 1, Paris, 1900.
Misc.” For the cross as an ancient symbol of worship in the Old and New World see:
“The Cross” - Chap. I. The Cross before the Christian Era and in Prehistoric Times,” by Seymour, W.W., New York, 1898.
Higgins, G., “The Celtic Druids,” pp. 126-131.
Massey, G., “Man in Search of His Soul,” London, 1897.
“The Historical and Mythical Christ,” London, 1921.
On prehistoric mother-goddesses, se Childe, V.G., “Dawn of Civilization” (consult index of same), New York, 1925.
Rogers, J.A. Nature Knows No Color-Line, pp. 29, 30, 40, 41. 1952.