A Black Madonna or Black Virgin is a statue or painting of Mary in which she is depicted with dark skin, especially those created in Europe in the medieval period or earlier. The Black Madonnas are generally found in Catholic countries. The term refers to a type of Marian statue or painting of mainly medieval origin (12th to 15th centuries), with dark or black features whose exact origins are not always easy to determine. The statues are mostly wooden but occasionally stone, often painted and up to 75 cm (30 in) tall. They fall into two main groups: free-standing upright figures or seated figures on a throne. The pictures are usually icons which are Byzantine in style, often made in 13th- or 14th-century Italy. There are about 450–500 Black Madonnas in Europe, depending on how they are classified. There are at least 180 Vierges Noires in France, and there are hundreds of non-medieval copies as well. Some are in museums, but most are in churches or shrines and are venerated by devotees. A few are associated with miracles and attract substantial numbers of pilgrims.
Important early studies of dark images in France were done by Marie Durand-Lefebvre (1937), Emile Saillens (1945), and Jacques Huynen (1972). The first notable study of the origin and meaning of the so-called Black Madonnas in English appears to have been presented by Leonard Moss at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on December 28, 1952. Moss broke the images into three categories: 1) dark brown or black Madonnas with physiognomy and skin pigmentation matching that of the indigenous population; 2) various art forms that have turned black as a result of certain physical factors such as deterioration of lead-based pigments, accumulated smoke from the use of votive candles, and accumulation of grime over the ages, and 3) residual category with no ready explanation.
On 23 July 1816 twelve Marist aspirants, priests and seminarians, climbed the hill to the shrine of Our Lady of Fourviere inLyon, France and placed their promise to found the Society of Mary (Marists) under the corporal on the altar while Jean-Claude Courveille celebrated Mass.
The basilica Notre-Dame de la Daurade in Toulouse, France had housed the shrine of a Black Madonna. The original icon was stolen in the fifteenth century, and its first replacement was burned by Revolutionaries in 1799 on the Place du Capitole. The icon presented today is an 1807 copy of the fifteenth century Madonna. Blackened by the hosts of candles, the second Madonna was known from the sixteenth century as Our Lady La Noire.
Le Havre,(Seine-Maritime): statue near the Graville Abbey (Abbaye de Graville)
Le Puy-en-Velay: In 1254 when passing through on his return from the Holy Land Saint Louis IX of France gave the cathedral an ebony image of the Blessed Virgin clothed in gold brocade (Notre-Dame du Puy). It was destroyed during the Revolution, but replaced at the Restoration with a copy that continues to be venerated.
Liesse-Notre-Dame, (Aisne): Notre-Dame de Liesse, statue destroyed in 1793, copy of 1857
Marseille,(Bouches-du-Rhône): Notre-Dame-de-Confession,Abbey of St. Victor ; Notre-Dame d'Huveaune, Saint-Giniez Church
Tindari Madonna Bruna: restoration work in the 1990s found a medieval statue with later additions. Nigra sum sed formosa, meaning "I am black but beautiful" (from the Song of Songs, 1:5), is inscribed round a newer base.
Positano (Campania): Located in the church of Santa Maria Assunta, the story of how it got there—sailors shouting "Posa, posa!" ("Put it down, put it down!")—gave the town its name.
San Severo (Apulia): "La Madonna del Soccorso" (The Madonna of Succor), St. Severinus Abbot and Saint Severus Bishop Faeto. Statue in gold garments, object of a major 3 day festival that attracts over 350,000 people to this small town. The infant Jesus is white.
Kališta, Monastery: Madonna icon in the Nativity of Our Most Holy Mother of God church
Ħamrun: a medieval painting of a Black Madonna rests in a small church, with the church being possibly the oldest one in the area, originally built in honor of St. Nicholas. Brought to Malta by a merchant in the year 1630, the painting is of a statue found in Atocha, a parish in Madrid, Spain, and is widely known as Il-Madonna tas-Samra. (This can mean 'tanned Madonna', 'brown Madonna', or 'Madonna of Samaria'). She may also be called Madonna ta' Atoċja, corresponding to the Spanish Nuestra Señora de Atocha. There were celebrations in 2005, the painting's 375th year in Malta.
According to Stephen Benko, "the Black Madonna is the ancient earth-goddess converted to Christianity." His argument begins by noting that many goddesses were pictured as black, among them Artemis of Ephesus, Isis, Ceres, and others. Ceres, the Roman goddess of agricultural fertility, is particularly important. Her Greek equivalent is Demeter, Earth Mother. The best fertile soil is black in color and the blacker it is, the more suited it is for agriculture.