Sophia – Black Madonna


The Black Madonna. You know her, we all know her in memory, – she is hidden behind a sacred black veil, and when we call to her that veil is immediately parted and she sits in silent acknowledgement of our (male or female) deepest being. She is the dark aspect of the goddess, the one that accompanies the white and the red. Wise, benevolent, and unthinkably strong and wise, she is also known as “Sophia”, the one who sees all, is shocked by nothing, and knows all. She is our Great Mother, the one who embraces us in silence when our concerns are too difficult for common understanding. Never judging, never questioning, she is the one who hears, then knows, and unflinchingly provides answers though her vast reserves of wisdom. She is the one who pushes us forward and provides strength, lending hers to ours, and being part of our body so we can do what we must.

In Spain, during the Crusade periods, the Black Madonna of Montserrat became well known. Pilgrims would come to her for forgiveness, healing, advice, love, and wisdom. She was an idolised image, and from what various resources say (see below for excellent references), there was such a feverish love of her that churches, caves and grottoes had trouble keeping her inside. That is, people wanted to have her with them, so there was often theft of her statues and images.

There are old, wizened, wooden images of her that survive, cool dark marble ones, perhaps embellished with gold. Indeed, I had no real understanding of her until later in life.  In our Catholic household we had a beautiful grey stone Madonna, done by an artist, that we all loved but didn’t really know why. There is a fascination around her that defies description. Nothing is ever lost, only waiting to be rediscovered. She is our connection to the earth.

There is a striking statue of her in Chartres Cathedral. Many of these were brought back from the Holy Land after the Crusades to be put in European churches, shrines, and groves.  An excerpt of interest from the resource below explains in more detail:

“From the tenth century onwards there is a veritable explosion of veneration for the Black Virgin, and the places sacred to her began to draw more devotees than the cult of either the father god or his son. Now, suddenly, kings, saints, and pilgrims flocked to bow their heads before the Black Virgin at Le Puy, Rocamadour, Mont St Michel and Montserrat in Spain, beseeching her favour and endowing her shrines with immense wealth and treasure.”

Then another: “Miraculous cures proliferated at her shrines. In particular, women prayed to her for safe delivery in childbirth, pilgrims for a safe journey, criminals for release from their sins. The people worshipped Mary as they always had, (…) but for some the statues of the Black Virgin symbolised Sophia-Sapientia, the symbol of the secret Wisdom tradition studied in many places in Christian Europe, offering a sign to the pilgrim that said: “If you are in search of Wisdom, you may pursue your quest here in safety.” For everywhere at that time the breath of heresy trembled before the zeal of orthodoxy and whatever could not be taught openly as part of Church doctrine, had to be taught in the utmost secrecy, under fear of torture or death by fire.” — (Myth of the Goddess, Anne Baring and Jules Cashford.)  There is further information following on from this quote, that connects the Black Virgin to the “Song of Songs”, which makes good reading.




 So, there is another aspect to Rosetti’s painting”The Beloved”, shown above. Perhaps the ladies in the background represent the sacred wisdom she has, in her darker aspects, the sense of being surrounded by protectors at a moment’s notice, supported inside and outside by knowing, of the light and dark aspects, ready and able for anything?   Most of all, to support herself in any union, indeed, her impending union. So “Dark and Comely” in reference to the poetic imagery of “Song of Songs” relates nicely here, and in some texts it says Rossetti intended it to be so. Perhaps Rossetti intended us to see that everything in the painting is a part of “The Beloved”? Are these images part of the same woman, all women, tested and trialled by life in so many ways? The “black” in question is hardy yet soft, earthy rich, absolutely protective, enveloping like a mothering cloak, wise, forgiving and nurturing.

There are connections to her with the original earth goddesses, so there is sustenance in going to her, sitting in front of her in a shrouded grotto, wooded hill slope, or her shape carved out tree. Or she can appear to us out of a void, just when we need her most. She knows all and understands all, when we don’t.


Baring, Anne & Cashford, Jules “The Myth of the Goddess” Viking Books

George, Demetra “Mysteries of the Dark Moon” (The Healing Power of the Dark Goddess.) Harper Collins

Images: “Rossetti’s Beloved” – taken from own picture, and “She Oak Dream”

copyright Imogen Crest 2005


2 thoughts on “Sophia – Black Madonna

  1. Wow Monika, this is incredible stuff!! Am going to order that book…now!! Do you have any other book recommendations about the Black Madonna? She is my absolute favourite. She is the most significant remainder of my catholic upbringing, although having said that I only learnt about Black Madonnas fairly recently, and was astonished to discover that there is one in a little church here in Dublin!!!! Really, really want to learn more though, and that suggestion linking her to wisdom literature…now that sounds like a very promising lead!! A HUGE thank you for posting all this info!!

  2. Edith, pleasure,I am gratified by your interest in this. Many others are interested too. Will pass on more info when I get a moment. You will love “Myth of the Goddess”. Would be great to see a pic of the Madonna from the Dublin church if you have one in a book.

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