Chartres, France – Black Madonna (Chartres Cathedral); Clinton, MA – Black Madonna (Saint John the Guardian of Our Lady Parish); Magdeburg, Germany – Black Madonna (Magdeburg Cathedral)
The Black Madonna tradition originated in the Middle Ages around the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, concentrated in France but also in other areas; there are approximately four to five hundred of them in Europe. The prominence of the tradition is attributed to the stories of miracles surrounding these paintings and statues. In a study of approximately one hundred examples, Leonard Moss divided them into three categories with the majority falling into the first: “dark brown or black madonnas with physiognomy and skin pigmentation matching that of the indigenous population” (Duricy).
The Black Madonna in Chartres Cathedral in France is a 1508 wooden replica of a thirteenth-century silver version. The Black Madonna in Magdeburg Cathedral in Germany dates to around the thirteenth century.
The Black Madonna in Saint John the Guardian of Our Lady Parish in Clinton, MA originally belonged to Our Lady of Jasna Gora. Jasna Gora was constructed in 1913, held its last mass in 2010, and was demolished in 2012. The Black Madonna, Our Lady of Jasna Gora, was painted in Poland in the Byzantine style and brought to the church in 1938. The painting is modeled after the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Poland, which was said to have originally been painted by St. Luke then brought to Poland via Constantinople in 1384. More likely, it was a sixth to ninth-century piece. The original was destroyed beyond repair by robbers in 1430. It is credited with a number of miracles, including several Polish military victories, making the painting a national monument.
Although the Black Madonna is a widespread and popular tradition, there is a distinct issue with many of these pieces of art: namely, that they are being “restored” and turned distinctly white. Indeed, the Chartres Black Madonna no longer looks like the image in this photo. It looks more like the image here of the Magdeburg Black Madonna, which was “cleaned” in the nineteenth century. Pilgrims travel long distances to visit these statues, only to find them altered beyond recognition.
“The Black Madonna of Czestochowa: Poland’s Most Revered Icon.” Polish American Journal. http://www.polamjournal.com/Library/APHistory/blackmadonna/blackmadonna.html.
Duricy, Michael. “Black Madonnas: Origin, History, Controversy.” All About Mary. University of Dayton. https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/b/black-madonnas-origin-history-controversy.php.
Ramm, Benjamin. “A Controversial Restoration That Wipes Away the Past.” The New York Times, 1 Sept. 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/arts/design/chartres-cathedral-restoration-controversial.html.
Travers, Terry A. “History of Parish Retold.” Worcester Daily Telegraph, 1 Feb. 1969. http://tqretro.blogspot.com/2016/07/our-lady-of-jasna-gora-story-211969.html.
Courtesy of Saint John the Guardian of Our Lady Parish