The Heart of the Black Madonna

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Way of the Stars

The Black Madonna of Montserrat, Copy of the Original at the 
Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela in Spain

The Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela in Spain

One of the more intriguing aspects of the Black Madonna's is the fact that they seem to dot the landscape around the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in France and Spain. The larger shrines and cathedrals that house some of the more famous Black Madonna's like Einsideln in Switzerland and Czestohowa in Poland are also on the Camino, but it is called Jocobs Weg in that part of the world.

The Camino is an ancient pilgrim route for those who could not make it to Jerusalem, and was chosen because it was felt that the terrain reminded one of the "way of the stars" which is what Compostela means.

It has become quite the thing to do in these days of frenzied technology, to simply take a back pack, good walking shoes and a walking stick and set off on the road, passing through some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of Europe to the destination of Santiago De Compestla Cathedral. I am planning to do this next Spring, if you want to join, let me know!

In the small city of Le Puy en Valee, (below) which is a French starting point for the pilgrimage, the faithful gather in the church there and pray to the Black Madonna at the start of their journey on the Compestela. There are in fact two Black Madonnas in this Cathedral.

The Christians of the Middle Ages approached the Compostela as an act of transformation, as a journey to contemplate one's life and how one could connect with the divine. There are ancient pre-christian mystery traditions associated with these walk ways that involve the concepts of love, transformation and the earthly journey. 

(If you read my book The Black Madonna Journey of the Human Heart, there is a long discussion of the Compostela and it's relationship with the Black Madonna. Go to the funding site to help it get published and get your own copy

It is interesting when you think of how the Christian Mystics took the best of ancient traditions and evolved them into Christian ideals of the transformation of matter and the blessings of true spiritual love. 

This may be why the Knights Templar brought the Black Madonna's to the Continent and placed them all over the Compostela.

Recently there has been a terrible tragedy near Santiago de Compostela, that has shook the local community and the Spanish nation as a whole. 

What has so devastated the Spaniards what that it happened on St. Christopher's Day in Santiago de Compostela, which is a joyful time in a city steeped in Christian hospitality and tradition. How could this be? While not an official Catholic Feast day, St. Christopher and his day were dropped in the late 1960's for reasons only known to those who chose to do these things,  but the day it still is a festival occasion, particularly in Santiago de Compestela. The people celebrate him anyways, and he is known as a martyr as well as by his legend of being a very tall person, who was dedicated to helping people crossing across a turbulent river. His icons depict him carrying children, and even the Christ Child, across swirling waters.

St Christopher Carrying the Christ Child by Bosch c. 1485

As the tragedy unfolded, it brought out the best of locals, who rushed to the scene to help the injured, to comfort those who were mourning, and to come together in prayer as a way to deal with the horrors they witnessed.

The first picture reminded me of the St. Christopher painting. What is so interesting as well as tragic about this accident is that it was basic human error, there are no terrorists to blame, no natural disasters to site. 

We have much faith in our technology, in our machines as modern humans. We think that science and progress will make us immortal and impervious to disease and tragedy. It is a deep shock when the machines and computers we trust our lives to fail and cause such death and destruction, for in many ways we worship these machines. What is true is that we can rely on the kindness of strangers, that the simple human touch which reaches out to us will carry us through troubled waters. This is where our faith should be. Our faith should be in the Spiritual world, which is the true sustainer of life, here and beyond the threshold.

I am always deeply moved that a communities first response to tragedy is kindness and prayer. 

The song Bridge over Troubled Waters, comes to mind, as does the 23rd Psalm, 

"And even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, you are with me"

No machine can ever do that for us. No computer can  promise to companion us through life's great trials. We need one another, we need Christ.

As we mourn yet another terrible tragedy that is a result of the failure of machines and technology, let us re-dedicate our own belief systems and look to the source that truly gives live and support during difficult times.

The Black Madonna's with their scarred and somber faces all along the Compostela remind us of this, that there is much suffering in this world, but it does not mean we are alone, there is comfort for us in one another as well as in the bosom of the Divine.

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