The Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Poland
Black Madonna of Outremeuse, Liège, in a procession
Black Madonna of Guingamp
Madonna at House of the Black Madonna, Prague

The term Black Madonna or Black Virgin tends to refer to statues or paintings in Western Christendom of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus, where both figures are depicted with dark skin.[1] Examples of the Black Madonna can be found both in Catholic and Orthodox countries.

The paintings are usually icons, which are Byzantine in origin or style, some of which were produced in 13th- or 14th-century Italy. Other examples from the Middle East, Caucasus or Africa, mainly Egypt and Ethiopia, are even older.[citation needed] Statues are often made of wood but are occasionally made of stone, 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. About 400–500 Black Madonnas have been recorded in Europe, with the number related to how they are classified. There are at least 180 Vierges Noires in Southern France alone. There are hundreds of copies made since the medieval era. Some are displayed in museums, but most are in churches or shrines and are venerated by believers. Some are associated with miracles and attract substantial numbers of pilgrims.

Black Madonnas come in different forms. Speculations behind the basis of the dark hue of each individual icon or statue vary greatly and some have been controversial. Explanations range from Madonnas made from dark wood, or Madonnas that have turned darker over time, due to factors such as aging or candle smoke, to a study by Jungian scholar Ean Begg into the potential pagan origins of the cult of the black Madonna and child.[2] Another suggestion is that dark-skinned representations of pre-Christian deities were re-envisioned as the Madonna and child.[3]

Studies and research

Research into the Black Madonna phenomenon is limited. Begg links the refrain from the Song of Solomon, ‘I am black, and I am beautiful’ to the Queen of Sheba.[2] Recently, however, interest in this subject has gathered more momentum.

Important early studies of dark-skinned holy images in France were by Camille Flammarion (1888),[4] Marie Durand-Lefebvre (1937), Emile Saillens (1945), and Jacques Huynen (1972).

The first notable study in English of the origin and meaning of the Black Madonnas 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 divided 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) miracle-worker Madonnas, the focus of the study, Black Madonnas found in areas of a Roman legion and, therefore, not a reflection of the population's skin colour.[3]

In the cathedral at Chartres, there were two Black Madonnas: Notre Dame de Pilar, a 1508 dark walnut copy of a 13th-century silver Madonna, standing atop a high pillar, surrounded by candles; and Notre Dame de Sous-Terre, a replica of an original destroyed during the French Revolution. Restoration work on the cathedral resulted in the painting in 2014 of Notre Dame de Pilar, to reflect an earlier 19th-century painted style. The statue is no longer a "Black Madonna" and the restoration was severely criticized for wiping away the past.[5][6]

Some scholars have chosen to explore the significance of the dark-skinned complexion to pilgrims and worshippers rather than focusing on whether this depiction was intentional. By virtue of their unusual presence, the Black Madonnas have sometimes acted to make their shrines revered pilgrimage sites. Monique Scheer attributes the importance of the dark-skinned depiction to its connection with authenticity. The reason for this connection is the perceived age of the figures.[7]

List of Black Madonnas


Our Lady of Guidance, Manila



Black Madonna at Catholic Tsuruoka Church, Japan

The Philippines

Our Lady of the Rule of Opon in Lapu-lapu City, Cebu, Philippines






Marija Bistrica


Czech Republic

TROJA CHATEAU chapel- original "Montserrat Madonna" from Old Town Byzantine building (pg.100 of Martin Krummholz ISBN 978-80-7010-131-5)


Madonna of Saint-Jouan-des-Guérets (35)
Vierge noire de Graville (Le Havre)
The statue of the Black Virgin at Rocamadour
Black Madonna of Toulouse


Shrine of Our Lady of Altötting, Altötting: Gnadenkapelle.



Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Cathedral Basilica of Eger, Hungary.



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.
Street performer in Black Madonna costume in Venice



Our Lady of the Pine Woods Lithuania





Icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, covered in a decorative silver shield, at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Poland.







Image of the Virgin of Candelaria, in the Basilica of Candelaria (Tenerife).



One of three of Turkey's surviving icons of the Theotokos on the island of Heybeliada at the Theological School of Halki


United Kingdom

North America

Costa Rica



Trinidad and Tobago

United States


South America


Nossa Senhora Aparecida


See also


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  2. ^ a b Begg, Ean (2017). The Cult of the Black Virgin. Chiron Publications. ISBN 978-1630514419.
  3. ^ a b Moss, Leonard W.; Cappannari, Stephen C. (1953). "The Black Madonna: An Example of Culture Borrowing". The Scientific Monthly. 76 (6): 319–324. Bibcode:1953SciMo..76..319M. ISSN 0096-3771. JSTOR 20482.
  4. ^ L'Atmosphère : Météorologie populaire (1888), édition avec gravures fr.
  5. ^ Filler, Martin "A Scandalous Makeover at Chartres", The New York Review of Books, December 14, 2014
  6. ^ Ramm, Benjamin. "A Controversial Restoration That Wipes Away the Past", The New York Times, September 1, 2017
  7. ^ Scheer, Monique (2002). "From Majesty to Mystery: Change in the Meanings of Black Madonnas from the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries". The American Historical Review. 107 (5): 1412–1440. doi:10.1086/532852. JSTOR 10.1086/532852.
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