Thursday, December 22, 2016

Schwarze Notmuttergottes and Our Lady of Dublin: Two more Black Virgins

I've seen upwards of 20 Black Madonnas since stumbling half-drunk into the dark and cool confines of the Notre Dame de la Daurade basilica in Toulouse 15 years ago, so astonished at its Black Madonna that I embarked on a near-obsessional path in search of more "Vierges Noires".  The flame has abated, but it still gives me an excuse from time to time, when I travel someplace new, to visit an out-of-the-way village church or chapel in order to see another example or to simply poke around some place I might not otherwise have visited.

That said, I've never seen anything but "Latin" examples, for lack of a better term, in the south of France, Spain and Catalonia and, to my surprise, Andorra.  So it was with great pleasure that I was able to see a couple of examples outside of those countries.  The first is in Luxembourg city, the second in Dublin.

Schwarze Notmuttergottes

The first thing I noticed about the Luxembourg and Dublin Madonnas is that there is no origin story similar to the Spanish and especially French Madonnas.  These are almost to a number described as having been found after the strange behavior of animals, usually cows or oxen.  They were often found in springs, buried or hidden within bushes or trees.  They usually could not be moved from where they had been found.

Like most Black Madonnas, the Schwarze Notmuttergottes is renowned as a miracle-worker.  Many scholars date her to ca. 1360 and from the Cologne school, but there are no documents to support this; some Medieval accounts say she was brought back from the Middle East during the Crusades, which may account for one of her titles, the "Egyptian Mother of God."  We have seen a strong link between the Black Madonnas with Egypt before, not only in connection with Isis, but with Saint Sarah and the "three Marys".  It occurs to me that her mysterious origin may be a key feature to an especially fervent cult; not knowing from where or when she came, it's easier to imbue this ambiguity with a sense of mystery and miracle.  Having detailed documentation of being sculpted in a workshop makes it more difficult to imagine her as a miracle-working wonder sent from God.  To my eye, her posture, s-curve, coloration, crown and baton make her a dead-ringer for Notre Dame de Bonne Délivrance, located in the wealthy Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, said to be a 14th c. copy of an 11th c. original, though some say she is far more recent.

Her titles have included "Star of the Heavens" and the "Queen of Peace".  Already dark due to the wood in which she is made, she was inevitably darkened by years of burning tapers and incense, becoming specifically the Schwartze Notmuttergottes, or "Black" Mother in the wake of a plague epidemic, when she was charged with protecting children.  The centrality of her blackness as a salient feature is attested to not only in her name after this event, but in the fact that in later restorations her skin has been painted black; by the time of the plague, her blackness had become a critical part of her power.

The "Emergency Mother" was housed in a Franciscan monastery which was destroyed during the French Revolution; She was hidden for a while at the convent in Marienthal until in 1805 it became possible again to publicly display her at the church of Saint-Jean-du-Grund.  She is especially venerated during Lent.

Our Lady of Dublin is housed in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland. It is sculpted in wood and probably dates from the 16th century

Local legend says she started her life at St. Mary's Abbey, which was dissolved in 1539 as part of the Henrician reforms.  The first documentary evidence has her at St. Mary's Lane Parochial Chapel in 1749.  This chapel was razed in 1816, and (according to newspaper accounts in 1947 and 1974) Our Lady was found by a Carmelite priest in 1824.  It had been thoroughly disrespected at his point.  The priest is reported to have found her for sale in a common shop, and that she had in the interim, perhaps just after the Dissolution, been placed face down in an Inn's courtyard to serve as a pig trough!

Reports of neglect are a common theme in her story; a newspaper account from the 1830's reports that Her silver crown had been sold off; an article from the 60's states that when the Jesuits relocated the St. Mary's Lane chapel to Anne St., they simply left the statue behind.  In 1947 She went on temporary display at the National Museum of Ireland "as an example of a Catholic statue to survive the Penal days in Ireland"  She had obviously been rehabilitated; indeed, it has been on display in its current chapel since 1915, and rededicated in 1974.  (

Her neglect and disrespect, and most of all, survival, is perhaps why she has been so revered.  The Irish survived English attempts to subjugate them and their Catholicism the Protestantism the English brought with them.  She thus has a kid of nationalist role like the Black Madonnas, for example, of Mexico, Poland, and Brazil.


  1. It is a fascinating obsession Daurade. I guess there are also a few Black virgins in Portugal. Two of them are the Black virgin of Nazaré and the Black Virgin of Guadalupe in Raposeira. The associated legends are about miracles and miraculous findings, or naturally about the Templars. The symbolic interpretations and the worships around the Madonna and the places are fertile land. In Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe Sanctuary the image is missing, but it is a wonderful little architectonic jewel.

    1. I keep losing my messages! They boiled down to a) I hope you're well b) are you back in Portugal? c) that Guadalupe church is nifty and d) you should visit Torrecuidad:

      Haha. Sorry for the brevity but I just lost a longish message and don't have the heart to do it again!

    2. Brevity is fine. I'm back in Portugal, but not completely. It was inspiring to read the description of the Torreciudad Sanctuary and the Black Madonna. Thank you for your tip and thank you for the exciting posts. Keep doing the good Job. Happy New Year Daurade.

    3. Happy New Year to you as well! If you ever feel like visiting Toulouse, let me know. St. Sernin Basilica is considered the apex of Romanesque church architecture and rightly so. It's an elegant building and well worth a visit; I'd be happy to show you around Toulouse and you'd be welcome to stay with us here. There's not a great deal of remarkable architecture, but the city as a whole is rather unique in France due to the ubiquitous use of brick as opposed to cut stone. The Jacobin church is also an atypical design, almost delicate, unusual for Romanesque architecture; the central pillars evoke palm trees and the bricks alternate between light and dark earth tones, so it's striped -- influenced by Moorish design I think. The Cathedral is kind of curious; it's as if they weren't quite sure what they wanted to achieve so it's clumsy and asymmetric. Kind of ugly to be honest! It's home to a collection of Medieval tapestries, which is fairly uncommon. Montauban is similar to Toulouse in the widespread use of brick and very nice as well, though much smaller. The Musée Ingres is good as well, with an impressive collection of Renaissance and Neoclassical painting and Ingres' studio is set-up as well. Cassoulet, foie gras, duck, Armagnac...we eat well!

  2. Huh. I tried to add an image but the code to make it work doesn't seem to function anymore....

  3. What a great Menu in a single paragraph!!! Architecture, Painting and good eating. I tried to check online some of you suggestions and you are right about the brick's unique character. It would be great to visit your nice city. I always made East and West tangents to Toulouse on the way to Paris or Lyon or Italy... And the Cathedral is the kind of work that becomes interesting precisely because it is disconcerting. It would fit in Robert Venturi's "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture". I think you already know Lisbon, but whenever you return, please warn me. Sardines, Codfish, Red Wine... you are welcome.


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