I feel there is something obvious lacking in conventional appreciation of Mary. We recognise her as a childbearer, sanctified so she feels no pain, (and so we don’t have to think about her pain). If the story is true she must have suffered trauma, but we don’t discuss it. Her portraits show a saintly smile and a gracious presence, which of course she is. A beautiful icon. But who bears witness to Mary the human being?
I think the dark Madonna, or the shadow Madonna, is the acknowledgement of Mary the human woman. And perhaps her popularity is indicative of how many millions of women around the world suffer trauma silently because they are permitted no real voice ….
If you want to read more about the dark Madonna, I recommend Caitlin Matthews’ book Sophia, Bride of God. She devotes a section to the black Madonna which is a great starting point for anyone wishing the research the subject. It contains a summary of literature and theories, but it cannot summarise all the little bits of folklore which are never written down and so cannot be found in a book or a library.
At Loreto is the house where Mary grew up and where she received her pregnancy news. The Knights Templar claim to have dismantled it, transported it to Loreto, and rebuilt it there to save it from destruction in religious conflict, but the official story is that it got transported to Loreto from the Holy Land by angels. Local myth says that the surrounding trees (laurel trees) bowed to the house when it was placed on the ground. You can take it allegorically if you like. Anyway the trees are long since gone, it is a thriving religious town due to it having been declared a place of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages.
But regardless of where the house came from, or whether the trees bowed, there are many layers here. The architecture begins with a tiny brick house, surrounded by a marble construction, surrounded by another, and another and so on as different periods of history passed and different generations added more. There will be hidden layers that lie inwards too, not in the least caused by the fact that the Knights Templar guarded the site for many years. I am sure everyone is right, and I am willing to consider any of the theories as plausible. There is definitely deep mystery lurking here … and at the other end of the spectrum I remain unoffended by the prospect of Mother Mary being African.
But this is what it means to me.
She is the shadow Madonna who cries behind the saintly face. The Madonna who was scared, the Madonna in pain, the Madonna who was brave but in the end was helpless against fate. The Madonna who lost her son.
So let us light a candle to the Dark Madonna, to send love, and to listen to what she wants to say.
I left the three feathers from Assisi there as an offering.
Fly away Madonna!
Fly away and be free.
I am glad I made the trip there. It has cost muchos-euros in a taxi fare, but what a treat it was – winding through the hills and farmlands, all the way to the sea. Incidentally the driver from Assisi was a beautiful old man, tall and kind, with a calm presence and a very gentle smile. Just the sort of fellow who might get followed by robins and squirrels if he went walking through the forest.
Some photos …
Here she is – inside her house – it was hard to photograph as flash photography is not allowed and it is very dark in there. The experience of walking across the threshold into this little house was overwhelming.
The walls come forward immediately where the alter finishes. It is very small. I sat on the floor in a corner at the back (right) against smooth brick walls.
Around the little house lies much gilt and gothic architecture and very detailed artwork. It is a gesture of love from the craftsman and donors involved, and as an art gallery it is magnificent. Once again photos were not easy but here is one of the surrounding structure which is grand and cathedral like
The surrounding buildings are more how I imagine the Knights Templar would have had it
there is another dark Madonna above the exterior entrance to the cathedral
and a Madonna perched on the roof, with what looks like electric light bulbs strung around her halo
23 July 2013, Assisi – Italy