The Black Madonna of the Church of the Black Madonna in Vitina - Letnica Kosovo
August 15th is the Festival of the Assumption of Mary. Scholars report that the concept of Mary, mother of Jesus, upon her death going straight up to heaven, body and soul has been part of popular belief since the first Christian centuries. The Assumption of Mary became church dogma in 1950, in no small part as a response to the horror of two world wars and two atomic bomb attacks. The world needed consolation and something great to believe in, this dogma raised the compassionate divine feminine to new heights in the Western world. When I was looking to see if there was any art that would reflect this feast day and the Black Madonna, I was surprised to learn that there is a Catholic Church in the hills of Kosovo, just outside of Macedonia, called The Church of the Black Madonna. It is believed that at this Church, Mother Theresa received her calling to dedicate her life to the service of God.
Mother Theresa was born in Skopje, Macedonia. There is a very beautiful center to her life and works in the City. I find it rather interesting that she received her inspiration from a Black Madonna.
Each August 15th in the town of Vitina - Letnica Kosovo, there is a festival of the Black Madonna, where the famous statue is brought through the town for pilgrims to witness. What is also of note, is much of the interest from the West was brought about by peace keeping soldiers participating in the Pilgrimage on August 15th.
Pilgrims in Vitina - Letnica
I knew about the nation wide pilgrimage that happens in Poland each year to the Jasna Gora shrine in Czestochowa,
What I found so very interesting, is much of the information I have found on pilgrimages to these Black Madonna shrines comes from US Soldiers. Some wrote of their conversion experience at the Letnica, some were baptized. I found this picture from the Illinois National Guardsmen who walked to Czestochowa along with German and Polish Soldiers. These nations in the past were at war with one another, now they march together to bow to the Black Madonna on their own pilgrimage.
What is it about the Black Madonna that attracts these soldiers? What about the Black Madonna inspired Mother Theresa? We know that both Bernard of Clairveaux, founder of the Knights Templar and great father, reformer of the Church was also inspired by a Black Madonna, as was St Ignatius.
Today was a somber Assumption day, particularly in the cradle of Christianity. The ongoing drama in Egypt, where there is great violence from the military towards the people, and in turn the people are attacking the Coptic Christian Churches, burning and looting them.
The Coptic Church is one of the most ancient of all Christian churches. Tradition states that his Church was founded by St Mark, who was one of the original seventy Apostles and one of the four Evangelists. St Mark was an African native of Jewish parents, he was born in Cyrenacia. His family moved to Jerusalem to escape the violence of the day. They had their home destroyed and confiscated, so they fled for shelter to the holy city. St. Mark's main missionary work was in Africa, and the evidence of this lives to today as the Coptic Church is prevalent in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Iraq . Mark's Gospel is the shortest of the four. I like to think that Mark just got right to the point, he also was full of invitations to get moving, get doing to spread the Gospel.
The original Black Madonna's came to Europe through the Coptic priests and monks. I think it is no accident that the founder of this sect was an African, which is one of the reasons the Madonna's were black.
Black is also the color representation of Cosmic Will. Maybe this is why so many great leaders of the Church were inspired by these Madonna's. Maybe this is why soldiers are drawn to these Madonna's.
The Symbol of St. Mark is the winged lion, symbol of Courage and the Heart. If he was the inspiration behind many of the original Black Madonnas, and the color of Black is related to the will and to courage, this may also be another reason why so many literally take up the cross when witnessing these images of the divine, these Black Madonna's.
The people of Egypt will need some of this courage and willfulness in the days to come. St Mark's family escaped violence to come to Jerusalem. Many of Egypt's Christians will need our prayers for courage in these days. It will be very easy to slip into despair or into violence, and neither is very useful.
I am praying for the people of Egypt tonight on the Assumption of Mary day, where so many Christians are flocking to Black Madonna Shrines. I am praying for the mothers who are weeping for the loss of their children, I am praying for the Christians who are picking up the pieces of their burnt out churches, some of the oldest in the world, that out of this great pain and loss, that something new and life giving can emerge. We can survive and evolve together. In this way we can thrive. This I think is the best way to celebrate the Assumption of Mary and the Festival of the Black Madonna.
"…[the] abyss of despair is an important existential achievement for consciousness that evolves toward a greater sense of individual freedom and responsibility. In the past such states of extreme desperation, meaninglessness, and loneliness were consciously enacted as the most demanding tests of the human soul and spirit powers in all serious ancient, spiritual rites of passage and initiation." Y Ben-Aharon.