Monday, November 11, 2013

The Black Madonna in Provence: An Earth Based Spirituality

                       The Black Madonna from the Crypt of the Abbey of Saint Victor, Marseille

I have always been fascinated by images of the Black Madonna--rich, earthy, like dark-roasted coffee she leads us into darkness. Many have conjectured that she continues a tradition of pagan earth goddesses, most frequently the Egyptian goddess, Isis with her son Horus. But, in the case of Marseille, whose Greek founders herald from Western Anatolia in the city of Phocaea near the ancient Ephesus, the patron goddess was Artemis--the many breasted nurturing earth goddess.

So I often delve into the crypt in the St. Victor's abbey when I visit Marseille to reconnect with darkness, an earthly baptism. It is the beauty of metaphor that can free up us religious liberals to at once be skeptical of religious canons and textual literalism and, at the same time, reinvent for ourselves profound spiritual experience. I believe even atheists would be moved by cryptic encounters, interpreting the experience as aesthetic rather than liturgical.

Whether we view the Black Madonna as art, as archetypes of the feminine repressed, as emblems of the neglected earth or as icons pointing to veneration of the Virgin Mary, she cannot fail to inspire our curiosity for the extraordinary and a transformation of our souls.

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