The Role of Popular Piety in the Development of Black Madonna Iconography
Walker, Cassandra Twiggy
In Europe there are over three hundred churches dedicated to the Black Madonna. In particular, one hundred and forty of these Black Madonna sites are located in southern France. The purpose of this thesis is to identify and explore the existence of Black Madonna iconography in Europe in order to provide insight on why this alternative Marian imagery flourished during the early medieval period. In addition, this thesis will trace the complex role of Black Madonna imagery in rural France as a means to explore the relationship between Christian iconography and pre-Christian folk traditions.This study was aimed at exploring the development of Black Madonna iconography in Europe and the means by which this imagery reflected the transformation and absorption of pre-Christian symbolism into the emerging tradition of Marian representation. Black Madonna iconography is classified as a representation of the Virgin in which she is intentionally depicted with a darker skin tone and a rustic demeanor. Black Madonna iconography in contrast to images of a "white" Madonna reveals unique social, cultural and religious traditions of the medieval folk community. The veneration of Black Madonna imagery within the European Christian community is considered to be a unique cultural and religious phenomenon due to the appeal of this dark-skinned Virgin to a largely Caucasian community. Part of the mystery regarding Black Madonna veneration is the enduring devotion to these images by a devout Christian sub-culture who is provided with a representation of the Virgin that is distinctly different from the image that contemporary Christianity has come to embraced.In conclusion, the cultural and historical analysis of Black Madonna imagery in this thesis indicates that:1. In the middle ages Black Madonna iconography emerged in rural areas where there was already the presence of strong pre-Christian folk traditions that contained powerful feminine deities.2. Many Black Madonna mythologies are directly connected to the earlier traditions of feminine deities in eastern and western religions.3. Due to their darker color, Black Madonnas are considered more powerful than their traditional white counterparts. In addition, many of these dark Virgins are appealed to for their unique dominion over death.4. The physical characteristics of Black Madonna statuaries from southern France echo the appearance of the local rustic community.5. In the middle ages as in contemporary Christianity, Black Madonna iconography was used as a metaphor for the disenfranchised populace who may have had very little authority in the political or social hierarchy.
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