One of the most glaring examples of layers of history in churches in the south of France is the presence of Black Madonnas. If a church contains female imagery it’s a plus, but if it contains a statue of a woman, often seated with a child on her lap, then it could signify the presence of ancient goddess worship which would have taken place on the sight of the church long before the Catholic church erected the building. It’s commonly known that most churches are built on top of ancient temples, previous places of worship or ley lines as a way for the current and future generations to dampen down on particular faiths.
I’m not a catholic and neither am I in to organised religion. What I choose to believe in is a private matter. My grandmother, mother and I were raised in a faith founded by a woman and based on christian principles which have influenced my life. I remain a seeker of truth and wisdom based on Divine Love. Because of that, I’ve often been curious about the role of women and spirituality.
Over centuries, the mainstream patriarchal church has sought to wipe out the role of women as a way to justify a male dominated organisation. And rather than completely wiping out sacred feminine imagery, often the stories of these images and figures would be re-written with a somewhat male slant! Black Madonna’s have been found in churches across the world – some more famous than others such as Rocamadour where pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compestella came to pray at the feet of Our Lady of Rocamadour. Side note – while researching her book – Field of Stars – and preparing to walk the Camino, my mother visited Rocamadour.
Visiting sacred sites is often one of the few ways you can find out about local history or past events. Sadly in recent years a power hungry Vatican has sought to diminish the significance of the sacred feminine by whitewashing these statues. For example, the black madonna in Chartres was painted white a couple of years ago. When we visited last year, I nearly didn’t find her as I was expecting to see a black statue rather than a white one.
After a few days relaxing at home, we began to ease into our Sacred France journey with a visit to Rocamadour which is little over an hour east of our home in the Dordogne and within the Quercy National Park. Rocamadour is an ancient pilgrimage sight perched on the side of a rock face deep in a gorge. The terrain offers natural protection away from the world for those wishing to find sanctuary. The remains of St Amanaur are located here together with the beautiful Our Lady of Rocamadour. The village is on three levels with a 19th century chateau at the top (used to house diocese visitors). A sanctuary is located in the middle level with a collection of chapels and housing. St Amanar’s remains were found on this level in a cave next to the chapel that now houses Our Lady. The lower level is the main village street.
Now somewhat of a tourist trap, we made our way down the hill to Sanctuary to look for Our Lady. Of all the Black Madonna’s I’ve seen since learning of their existence, she is the most primitive and african looking. Unlike many madonna’s she is simple and has not been ‘dressed up’ like a doll. To me she is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen – beauty in simplicity. Unfortunately she was so far away on the altar that it was difficult to grasp her actual size…but after seeing a replica a friend recently purchased for her home, I now see that Our Lady was a large heavy wooden statue…quite phenomenal.
After exploring the chapels in the Sanctuary, we walked down what felt like a couple of hundred steps to the village. In the past, pilgrims would crawl up these steps on their hands and knees as a final act of devotion before reaching the Sanctuary. We enjoyed lunch and a little shopping in the village before returning home.
I have a feeling we’ll visit Rocamadour again one day and continue our exploration of this fascinating village.