The Goddess, the Virgin, and the Land: the Black Virgins as markers of healing sacred sites of France by Anne Z. Parker, PhD


This research explores the significance of the Black Virgin sites of France.  Earlier studies have focused on the cultural and historical significance of the Black Virgin statues, successfully documenting elements of continuity from pagan goddess statues and sites dedicated to Isis, Cybele, and Diana, among other central goddesses of the pre-Christian Roman world, whose worship was adopted at the many local goddess sites with the spread of the Empire. In this study hypotheses and considerations are raised that build on this discussion, with particular focus on the specific locations of the Black Virgins and their meaning in Pagan and present day Europe.  Following this thread of discussion on the sacred feminine and relationship to sacred land, this work seeks to contribute to the discourse on the healing of the disconnection between mind and land that has affected the western European culture world and influenced its capacity for environmental destruction.

The personal underpinning of this research

“Why are Americans so interested in the Black Madonnas?” a European colleague asked.  “Well, I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, however, they seem to represent a window on to a wider, older, and more mysterious role for the sacred feminine in and before the European Christian tradition”, I replied.  “They seem to be some kind of gateway into a deeper connection with land and the feminine, a gateway to something older and long forgotten  It is as if we need to follow their story to recover something in the European heart/mind/psyche. Let’s face it, if the European cultures had not taken on the hallmarks of exclusionary religious views, patriarchy, oppression of women and people of color, and disregard for the Earth and ecological balance we might not even think twice about this apparent anomaly.  Because the Black Virgin stands out as a persistent symbol that is as contrary to these trends in this behavior, she seems to sign a way out of them.”

This personal refection set me on a research journey to uncover for myself the history of the Black Virgin sites of France.  My first impression of actually seeing a Black Virgin, as I began my research, heightened some of the pre-research thoughts mentioned above. There she was, the first Black Madonna I saw, the Black Virgin of Le Puy-en-Velay in the Haute-Loire department of south-central France.  She was dressed in an elegant satin dress from which only her head and that of the child in her arms poked out.  She stood high upon the great altar of the cathedral like a goddess, revered for centuries.  As I read the information cited in the tourist literature[i] I learned that below her is the story of a vision that appeared, a vision on the site of a sacred Dolmen, a stone temple of “Diana”, the name given to any spot where the local earth goddess had been worshipped.  The voice from the vision insisted that a church to the Madonna be built here.  She, the Black Virgin, sits now at the very spot beside a spring (now a well) where earth energy lines cross on the plug of an ancient volcano, presiding, you could say, at a key point of expression of major energy that affects the human body, a place of great healing and alignment.  The ancients undoubtedly knew this place long before anything was built here.  As I stood there I wondered: Can she guide us home to the healing places of this land and our connection to feeling the Earth in a way that gives us a direct feedback loop on balance, care, and harmony with the living Earth? Was she a marker, like a bookmark left long ago in a forgotten book, a book we now seek to read again?

Research Methodology

The research methodology underlying this work is qualitative, heuristic and contemplative.  I wanted to learn enough about the history of these statues and their placement on the land that I could understand what they could tell me about the history of the relationship to land and sacred places in France.  Perhaps because of my own French heritage, long ago carried by ancestors escaping the wars of religion in France in the 1500‘s CE (AD) to the New World, I felt this was the keyhole for which I might find a key to access understanding the disconnect in the European psyche with the land.   My hypothesis is that the actual locations of the Black Virgin sites are important, as much as if not more so than simply the symbolism of the statue within Christian religious discourse. Asking three questions: Who are the Black Virgins? Where are they located? and What do they mean? would be the means by which I would search through centuries of complex European history to clarify my own understanding of the Black Virgins and their possible connection with land and sacred places in France.

My methodology combined visiting a number of Black Virgin sites, notably in central France, where they are most numerous, in order to identify any patterns in location and history, scouring the academic literature on them, and also using standard dowsing methods on some selected sites to determine if I could find any consistency or noticeable patterns in the actual locations.  There is a great deal more published information on the Black Virgins in French than in English and this article specifically makes a contribution to the English language literature by providing some key elements of the French language material to the English speaking public. By standard dowsing I refer to the use of two L-shaped rods for detecting subterranean water and fault lines, which will be described in more detail in that section of the research..  I consider dowsing to be a contemplative method in that it uses body sensations as a reference point and as feedback for registering felt sensation.  This sensory contemplative approach is described in more detail in the section of the article where specific sites are examined.

To provide some additional context for my research in France I also visited a number of Black Virgin sites in Catalonia in Spain, the area of the next largest concentration of them after central France. This mixture of social scientific methodology – historical and anthropological- as well as the sensory contemplative “old science” methods that can be seen to lie within the realm of cultural behavior and belief, seemed the most appropriate to give language to a long story that tunnels, ultimately, deep below culture and logic to the realm of  felt experience and direct perception.

I note that as a North American I am humbled by the depth and detail of European history and am well aware that I am relying on the detailed research of European colleagues to ground my project. A number of authors have labored for decades to produce exhaustive lists of Black Virgin sites[ii]that were of great use in my research. I am particularly indebted to Dominique Susani, geo-biologist and teacher of European sacred geometry, for his advice, insight, and efforts to bring back to light the ancient European understandings of land and sacred places.

The European cultures and beliefs transported to the United States have decidedly shaped many elements of the mainstream culture here, and accessing this heritage is significant to sorting out many long held assumptions about relationship to land and sacred places.  It is this cultural baggage both in Europe and in the United States that I hoped to unpack here in my search for the meaning of the Black Virgins.

Who are the Black Virgins?

 Elegant statues of a black skinned Virgin and child, Mary and her son Jesus, seated in places of honor in churches large and small in France and other parts of Europe have raised many questions and attracted much research and discussion. Accounts of miracles, devotion, and healing abound when the stories of the Black Virgins are told.

The Black Virgins are generally relatively small statues of a Mother holding a child on her lap, which appeared in churches in France in the 9th– 12th centuries, many of them said to have been found spontaneously in nature and some are said to have been brought from the holy land by Crusaders or made by Saint Luc.  They are held in reverence in churches and cathedrals and are also said to be associated with visions and healing powers.  The majority of Black Virgins sites are in France, although there are a significant number in Spain mostly in the border area in Catalonia in the Pyrenees north of Barcelona. In addition there are a much smaller number found in other major cities in Europe and a few in the New World.

The striking thing one encounters recorded in the literature on the Black Virgins is the incredible persistence of the “cult” of the Black Virgin represented by the persistence of the statues over time despite often repeated destruction of the statues themselves and even the churches that contained them.  They seem to inspire great devotion and reverence.  They have black colored skin and are generally 30-70 cm in height.  It is interesting to note that although the child too has black skin the statues are referred to as Black Virgins or Black Madonnas, not as Black Jesuses or Black Mother and Child statues.  There is apparently only one statue in France that is referred to as a Black Jesus, the statue in the cathedral of Saint Flour in the Auvergne region that is called “the only Black Christ in France”[iii].

The Black Virgins have been considered an enigma in western culture and a phenomenon that was somewhat hidden or obscured within the Catholic Church[iv].  Initial questions about them were raised in the 1930s and 40s followed by some extensive research on them that produced several excellent books in the 1970s and 80s[v], now leading to an increasing number of books about them in the first decade of the 21st century.  This hidden or obscured story is now coming to the surface and being received with interest.  Based on extensive research of the many Black Virgins in France and beyond, this emerging literature is offering a strong consensus that the Black Virgins are continuations, in the sense of being cultural expressions of the Goddess or Great Mother in her various forms as pagan goddesses prior to the spread of Christianity in Europe.  That we should have doubted this reflects more on the active efforts of the church to erase this idea from the European mind than on its simple obliteration from memory with the passage of time.  Ean Begg, one of the few English language authors on this subject, offers a perspective on this recent uprising or outbreak of interest in the Black Virgins: “The return of the Black Virgin to the forefront of collective consciousness has coincided with the profound psychological need to reconcile sexuality and religion in western cultures”[vi].

It had been generally accepted that the early images of the Madonna and child were based on those of the Goddess Isis and her son Horus[vii] and as we shall see there has been far more continuity than simply the artistic form of the statue.  Begg[viii] notes that it is no longer shocking, as it was only a few decades ago, to suggest that the Black Virgins represent the continuation of Pagan goddess-worship and that some may once have been statues devoted to Isis or other deities.  In his exhaustive analysis[ix] of the goddesses of the Roman period he particularly highlights Isis, Athena, and Cybele as key goddesses who were honored at sites of the Black Virgin prior to the construction of churches over them.  Some examples of well known Black Virgin sites in France include Toulouse the site of the Goddess Pallas Athena, Le Puy-en-Velay and Paris associated with Isis[x], as well as Lyon a site dedicated to Cybele.  As the Roman Empire spread numerous local goddess sites – sacred stones, healing waters, springs etc – were swept into the context of the Roman pantheon.  Temples were built on sites where springs or megalithic stones that had been revered for millennia.  It has been suggested that a generalized worship of the great Goddess might well have established itself as the dominant religion of the Roman Empire[xi] had it continued in its early Pagan form.

With the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 312 AD the Roman Empire shifted to the new world view of Christianity.  This signaled a movement away from emphasis on the divine feminine, or even an equal role for the feminine, in the century that followed.  Much has been said about the Church’s’ efforts to suppress the church of Mary and uphold the church of Paul, whose views were patriarchal. With this diminishing of the divine feminine, came suppression of women as well.  The New Testament does not offer much justification for a cult of the feminine principle as divine wisdom, as Mother of God, or queen of heaven.  Despite the struggle of Christianity with the Gnostics’ equal role for women (among other perceived heresies),  a century after the conversation of Constantine the Council at Ephesus in 431 CE established Mary as Theotokos, the God bearer, seating the expression of the divine feminine more strongly than had been allowed in the early days of Christianity.   This could be considered a sign on some level of refusal to entirely submerge the divine feminine on the part of the people of the world influenced by the Roman Empire.  The worship of Mary as Mother of God after 431 CE allowed some continuity of the desire for the divine feminine, if repressed and on a lower rank than the worship of the masculine.  Despite this movement towards allowing her worship, the overall shift towards the masculine in Christianity struck a blow to western culture.   Begg[xii] captures the long term impact of this blow:  “The literalization of the virginity of Mary, like the literalization of Eve’s role as the wicked temptress of Genesis, broke the heart of Christianity and the work of reparation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary have still not wholly healed the wound.  Thus the dichotomy of virgin and the whore, the good mother and the witch, continues to gnaw like an unresolved canker at the soul of modern man“.

It is in this historical context that the Black Virgins must be located to understand who and what they represent.  The Black Virgins did not make any significant appearance until the period of the building of Romanesque churches during 1000-1150 CE(AD) [xiii].  This coincides with the revival of statues in European art, which had disappeared because they were considered to be “graven images” and were thus abhorred during the time period from the conversion of Europe to Christianity to the rise of the Romanesque period. Thus the earliest Black Virgins appear in this first period of revival of religious statues.  Following their first appearance many have survived in fascinating ways over the centuries.  Many were destroyed during the War of Religion in the 1500s or later during the French Revolution and were replaced with replicas of the originals and persist to the present day.  Various authors have documented the Black Virgin sites including enumeration of those where only the story remains. Bonvin[xiv] cites figures of 190 recorded in 1550, 205 in 1945, and about 320 in the 1980s, about 80 of which fit his criteria as the original type of Black Virgin statue. Begg[xv] sites a figure of approximately 450 existing Black Virgins in Europe and a few other locations not counting those in Africa. Building on this earlier research Jean-Pierre Bayard[xvi] offers a list of some 447 sites in France, while noting that only about 100-150 in France and some 30 in Spain and 20 in Italy currently receive the active homage of innumerable pilgrims on an on-going basis.  The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio website[xvii], largely following Begg’s list (as the only English language author to do such extensive research on them), offers a list of 134 in France that are still in place, still black, and still possible to see.  The length of the lists vary depending on the definitions of Back Virgin sites, e.g. if paintings and stained glass versions are included as well as statues, and over time as some have been lost, found or whitened.  Despite the range of definitions of Black Virgin sites their presence in France is clearly extensive. They have persisted despite likely church reluctance.

Jacques Bovin’s book Vierges Noires engages an extensive analysis of the many Black Virgin statues scattered all over France in the search for patterns that might reveal their history.  He distinguishes two types of Black Virgins: 1) Those that come from the Romanesque architectural and artistic tradition that share a similar look and initiatic purpose, and 2) Other statues from other later time periods that are disparate in style. It is this first group that he considers to be the most significant to the analysis of the history of the Black Virgins.  These statues have a particular style of a classic representation of the Virgin “in majesty“, with the mother sitting with the child on her knees, presenting him to the adoration of the sages.  She is wearing a long robe with hanging sleeves and the child is in a simple toga with bare head and feet.  Any crowns, robes, or liturgical accessories that these statues may now have are later additions.  This style of statue was common for all Romanesque Virgins, as well as for the Black Virgins within this group.  The second group of Black Virgins consists of copies of or replacements for destroyed original Romanesque ones, or those that were later were inspired by the original Romanesque ones. They can also be found in Poland and Mexico, although the majority is centralized in France.

Following the Council at Ephesus in 431CE, when the Virgin Mary was authenticated as the Mother of God and codified as “Theotokos“ (the Mother of God), images of her could be created and eventually gave rise to Romanesque statues showing her as a mother. The styles of art representing Mary and child have varied significantly over the centuries since this initial period.  The Romanesque style remains unique for its portrayal of Mary as powerful: “Alone, in all the history of iconography of the Virgin Mary the Romanesque Virgin is the only one who appeared as “the all powerful throne”: the seat of wisdom, charged with the double symbol of the power and the knowledge transmittable”[xviii].

It is important to pause here and ask the question that all the researchers on this topic have asked – why are the Black Virgins black?  Is the color spurious or purposeful? I summarize pages of scholarly debate and discussion in saying that, yes the color of the statues was intended to be black, and is not an error.  Seven of the most common earlier (prior to extensive research on the Black Virgins) explanations of the blackness of the Black Virgins and their (recent) rebuttals are as follows:

1.  She is black simply for artistic reasons.  This does not take into account the religious and initiatic purpose of art of this time period.

2.  Mary had dark skin like Egyptians or Palestinians.   This is true, but no one talks of Black Jesuses and in the Middles ages the fashion in Europe was to have White Virgins.

3.  The statues were made by black artists.  Possible but since the 8th Century art depicting human forms was not allowed in the Orient.

4.  They are made of a black substance.  The Black Virgins of France are mostly painted black on wood or fabric underlying the paint.

5.  They just got dark over time.  This does not hold up in most cases since the rest of the statues’ clothes or other components did not turn black over time.

6.  The color was chosen for melancholy. This view does not fit with the role or representation of Mary of the time period as the seat of power and knowledge, “in Majesty”.

7.  She is from a sinful race, Mother of sadness. Maybe some people were shaped by this view, but this is not likely the trait that has inspired such fervor and devotion to her over time.

On the basis of the work of various authors I conclude that in most cases the color was specifically chosen for some purpose, whether it was the original color of the statue or not.  There are stories of Black Virgins that were painted white and then later returned to their original color, or that were originally white that were at some point painted black, but despite some such complexity over time there is a clear trend of venerating Black Virgins and preserving them as black.[xix]  [xx]

It is important to note again that this discussion of skin color arises in the context of cultures where skin color is surrounded by an atmosphere of judgment.  In essence, the black color stands out as an anomaly within a white European context where almost all other statues were in the pigments of the residents of these countries. We are also not speaking within a context that is found in India, Tibet, or Taoist temples in China where deities are shown with skin colors in a wide range of colors – red, blue green, black, white etc.; each color having its symbolic significance, at least following the 9th C in Europe when the Black Virgins appeared.  Bovin raises questions about the earliest Black Virgins statues, wondering whether they may have really been polychrome, hinting that perhaps they even had a variety of skin colors having symbolic meaning. Bayard draws attention to images of prior Pagan statues in a variety of colors, in different contexts for the same Goddess, and emphasizes black as a color of creative and generative energies, profound mystery, and fecundity.

In any case in the European Christian context from the 9th C onward we mainly find only statues with colors within the range of the natural local colors of human skin. In the case of the Black Virgins we see that the black color stands out, persists over time, is the object of significant reverence, and, we can now conclude on the basis of extensive analyses, was intentional.  Black Virgin statues that were damaged or destroyed were very often replaced, with an exact copy if possible. In a very few cases an original statue was safely hidden or stored away, either to protect it or because it was not considered fashionable, thus providing a few very well preserved examples of the originals e.g. at Rocamadour, Orcival, and Chazeuil.[xxi]

The oldest Black Virgins, the Romanesque, share a number of interesting traits:

They are all Virgins “in Majesty”

ŸThey are the same style with Mother holding child, however the child may range in age from a tiny baby to a young man

There are no original religious symbols attached

They have large hands with long fingers of equal length

ŸThey all have the same dimensions relative to their size.  They average 70 cm by 30 cm by 30 cm not counting the pedestals (which some have and some don’t).  The proper dimensions of the mother is .63 m and .68 m which is the sacred measure of the Egyptians, the measure of reference in building the Pyramid of Cheops[xxii]

Ÿ  Some were said to have origins in the Orient and to have been brought by the crusaders or Saint Luc (or made by him)

Ÿ  Most are said to have been created specifically not by human hands, but were found in trees, in lakes streams or springs, or by a bull or cow while plowing field.  A significant number have stories in which once found people tried to take them to another location, but they repeatedly returned on their own or became too heavy to move, and this caused a church to be built in situ where they were found

Ÿ  They are situated often in remote places far from modern life on precise locations. They are often locations which have a spring or well that is now inside the crypt of the church (or may have dried out but is remembered)

Ÿ  They attracted pilgrims to their sites, sometimes thereby assisting in the local economy.  In some cases they were the object of imposed pilgrimage for the expiation of sins or legal crimes, such as to Rocamador

Ÿ   They have the attribution of the same types of miracles, i.e., those of resuscitating dead babies long enough to be baptize them and liberating captives from their chains

There is a key story that is important with regard to the identity or appreciation of the Black Virgins that may or may not have shaped the statues or their color, but that nonetheless plays a major role in the perception of Mary in France. The three saints Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome, and Mary Jacobe[xxiii] are believed to be the women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb at the resurrection of Jesus. According to French legend after the Crucifixion of Jesus, Mary Salome, Mary Jacobe, and Mary Magdalene set sail from Alexandria, Egypt with their uncle Joseph of Arimathea, or alternatively were cast adrift in a boat that arrived off the coast of what is now France, at a the location known as Notre-Dame-de-Ratis. The present day name of this site is Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. It is a pilgrimage destination for Roma (“Gypsies)” who gather yearly in the town for a religious festival in honor of Saint Sarah, known by the French as Mary Magdalene’s daughter, and also known as Sara-la-Kali (Sara the black). Dark-skinned Saint Sara is alternatively said to have possibly have been the Egyptian servant of the three Marys. In the various versions of story we have a direct connection to representatives of the divine feminine in the Christian stories, including the possibility of a daughter of Jesus who is reputed to have married into the French nobility. France thus defines its early stage of the influence of Christianity as shaped by these feminine historical figures. The affection for the Black Madonna statues may be strongly connected with this story.

In this summary of the key stories and patterns of the Black Madonna statues of France we find some answers to the question “Who are of the Black Virgins?”  They seem to be a continuation of the veneration of pagan goddesses often on the locations of their prior temples.   It cannot be said they are unique in this regard from other Mary statues or the locating of other churches on top of pagan sites, but there has been a distinct history of veneration of these statues that appeared in a specific time period and whose worship has outlasted the repeated destruction of the original statues. In this they represent something dear to the people of France over the centuries.  They may also be seen as a continuation of or at least a remembrance of the power of the feminine that was so eclipsed by the coming of Christianity.

 Where are they located?

 In my preliminary efforts to learn something about the Black Virgins I took out a map of France and mapped all the Black Virgin sites that I could find listed on The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio website .(  I wanted to get my own first impressions of the patterns, if any, before reading the extensive academic discussion on this issue.  I found, as others have, that the majority are in France, notably in central France and that the Chemin de Saint Jacques, a major medieval pilgrimage route, seemed to have a noticeable number of them along its path.  Studying the pattern I began to think of them like acupuncture points across the body of the land.  This image may not be far off what is emerging in our knowledge about the megalithic relationship with the land and its sacred energies.  This visceral, and, to me, intriguing image inspired my efforts to find out more about the location of the Back Virgins.

 As we have discovered in answering the question of identity above, the location of the Back Virgin statues is clearly an important part of their story.  They appear first in the 9th C following a period from the 3rd to the 9th C of destruction of and takeover of pagan sacred places.  In this period of transition the four words of order of Christianity were: “Crush Paganism, baptize those you cannot destroy, baptize those you should not destroy, and save the Pagan values if you want to be able to Christianize”[xxiv].  Pope Gregory the Great [xxv]who was pope from 590-604 CE recognized that people were creatures of habit and he wrote a papal epistle stating that pagan places of worship should not be destroyed.  He said that the idols should be removed and the buildings purified with holy water and, thus, transformed into consecrated Christian churches with relics of the holy martyrs.  The Pagan holy sites, festivals, and deities were incorporated into the church.  Thus many, if not most churches built in the Romanesque period, were literally on top of Pagan sites, which included Pagan Roman temples and earlier pre-Roman Pagan sites such as groves of trees, dolmen, standing stones and circles, holy springs and wells etc.

Some authors say that some of the Black Virgins were among these early idols, possibly Isis statues thus converted, among other statues of the Mother Goddess.  The research of Jacques Bonvin leans in the direction of the Black Virgins beings built to the sacred proportions the Goddess, but carved in France during the early Romanesque time period. Thierry Wirth confirms this hypothesis[xxvi] Bayard notes that most are made of local European wood, with a few made of stone or other materials[xxvii]. (2001) In either case the Black Virgins were placed on ancient pagan sites in the 9th C CE[xxviii].  While many places of the Mother Goddess were dedicated to Mary in this manner after the spread of Christianity, the Black Virgin is seen as playing a distinctive role in this transition:   “Par contre il est remarquable, que seul la Vierge Noire ait su cristalliser toutes les croiances du paganism, pour es unifier avec la christianisme, sans denaturer la valeur du chaque croyance.  En cela La Vierge Noire est unique.” (By contrast it is remarkable that only the Black Virgin knew how to crystallize all the beliefs of Paganism in order to unify them with Christianity without altering the value of each belief.  In this the Black Virgin is unique.)

The evidence from the research on the Black Virgin sites in France that demonstrates that many are directly on top of temples to Isis, Cybele, Diana, Athena, and other Goddesses of the Roman pantheon that had, in turn, been built on the earlier pre-Roman Pagan sites, e.g. Paris, Rocamadour, Toulouse, Lyon etc., allows us to pursue questions about the original choice in location of these sites by early pagan peoples that may be relevant to the Black Virgins.  The Celtic and pre-Celtic Pagan approach to sacred sites was one of reverence for and awareness of the energies of the land[xxix].  It is useful to shift into the perspective of what is now known about the placement of pagan sacred sites in order to understand why their location is significant in ways that the modern mind is often untrained in or unaware of.  The placement of menhirs, dolmen, and stone circles was not random.  Underground currents of groundwater and minor fault lines were understood to have an effect on the human body and other life forms.  Working with these subterranean energies, the careful placement of stones could harmonize and generate beneficial energy for a significant area around them.  Both the original locations and the harmonized energy generated by megalithic stones were felt to be helpful to human health and spiritual development.  Thus, is any area the local people were well aware of the sites that were healing and/or beneficial locations in which to do rituals.  While wells, springs, and sacred groves were understood to be places with healing energy (where stones may or may not have been placed) Pagan sacred sites also included spots of great energy and power that did not necessarily have surface water as an obvious expression.  Caves too played an important role.

Emerging work in the field of geo-biology has brought our attention to this language of earth energies and sacred geometry that were key to the building of megalithic monuments.  Much remains to be rediscovered in this area.  For our purposes here it is useful to have in mind that the pagan sites represent both individual local healing and beneficial places, but also often an interconnected network of sacred sites that are thought to balance to energy of the larger landscape[xxx]. My image of acupuncture points on the land mentioned above is a potentially useful one for imagining how the megalithic landscape was perceived by those who envisioned it.  It was in the context of this pagan perception of landscape that the Christianity converted the Pagan temples and sacred sites.  People knew and understood them to be important spots in the spiritual and initiatory life of their community.

Jacques Bonvin[xxxi] contends that the Black Virgin statues were designed to act not just as symbols, but as transmitters of energy the way the megalithic stones were used to literally transmit energy around them, somewhat like a radio crystal.  They were intended to capture the energy of the Earth below them and make it available for healing.  It is this connection with the Earth energies below that he feels is the cause of the repeated report of miracles of the Black Virgin statues.  This is an intriguing idea and fits with the older understanding of these sacred sites and their capacities for initiation and transformation of the human.

A significant feature of the many stories about the Black Virgins is her relationship to place.  In the majority of stories she was found in nature in a tree, spring, or plowed field.  In the stories of the plowed field it is a bull or cow that refuses to move at a certain spot.  Digging below this spot a Black Virgin statue is found.  In most of these stories of her being found in nature there are attempts to move the statue that are repeatedly unsuccessful.  She mysteriously returns to her spot at night and at last, when repeated attempts to move her fail, a chapel or church is built there.  This element of her choosing her own location is central to the whole notion of a Black Virgin. She, like Isis and other Earth Goddesses, is seen as a powerful expression of and catalyst for Earth energies.

In looking at the Black Madonna sites on the large scale it is reasonably noteworthy that they are predominantly in the Auvergne region around and south of Clermont-Ferrand, which is highly volcanic, as are areas of Catalan like Olot[xxxii]. These are certainly areas of dynamic earth activity.  I do not think it could be said that the Black Madonna is specifically and exclusively associated with volcanic landscapes; however, the correlation of Black Madonna sites to volcanic landforms in France is significant and merits further exploration.

Examining Some Black Virgin sites

 On the basis of this literary inquiry into the identity of the Black Virgins and their locations I examined a large number of Black Virgin sites in person and then selected a few of the sites to study in detail with an interest in determining if there were any similarities between or specific qualities of these sites that could be perceived or documented. This examination of the sample sites is a preliminary and experimental approach to testing my hypothesis that the locations of the Black Virgin sites are significant. I selected Les Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer, Marseille, Lyons, Le Puy-en-Velay, and Clermont Ferrand sites to study.  The methodologies used can be seen to be in the realm of social science in something akin into the methodology of “participant observation” in which one engages in the behavior of the human subjects in order to understand the world through their eyes and experience.  In this case that entailed using some methods that are indicated by the way the ancient pagans worked with sacred places.

Having arrived at a chosen site my methodology was three fold: 1) Simply sit in the church and notice anything that attracted my attention about how it felt to be in that location, 2) Walk the “petite labyrinth”, an old method of “walking up” the energy of a sacred site and 3) Map the very basic patterns of subterranean water and fault lines, referred to as “fire line” throughout this paper, with dowsing rods.  The first method is accessible to any of us, to simply notice how we feel.  Does this spot feel relaxing, calming, energizing, or irritating?  This is in the realm of the subjective.  This subjective realm influences how we select houses to buy, rooms to live in etc, so although we may have little language for this area of human perception, it does play a role in our lives.  The ancient pagans were attentive to this aspect of sacred sites, so it had a major impact on the original selection of the sites.  I tried in this situation to notice how my body felt, while temporarily suspending what I was thinking about the church and its long complex history.  I was just noticing how my body responded to the land in this place.

“The second method used to assess the sites is again one that comes from the pagan earth based tradition that selected the sites, walking the “petite labyrinth”, a method of “walking up” the energy of a sacred site. In a church aligned with the apse to the east this involved walking in the north door (if possible or if not coming in the west door) to stand before the apsidal chapel on the north arm of the transept then proceeding to the back left side of the church, then proceeding up the central aisle to the main altar. Stopping for a few minutes at the spot just behind the altar where the priest stands, and then making a circuit around the apse area behind the altar in a small loop and, if present, the ambulatory as well, returning down the central aisle to the back of the church, going over to the right aisle, proceeding down that aisle to stand before the apsidal chapel on the south arm of the transept and then exiting out the south door if possible, or just returning to the back and out the west door.”.  All this is done at a moderate walking pace with pauses while standing before the apsidal chapels, the two back corners of the church and the spot behind the altar to take in the energy of the place.  This could be understood as a longer savoring of the location.  Underlying this it is also literally a way of taking in the energy of the place into the body as it is likely the ancients did given their careful locating of geomantically powerful spots. This method acknowledges that the place, the land, influences the human body and that taking some time to feel it is different and has different results than simply wandering about and snapping photos.

The third method[xxxiii] basic dowsing makes use of old methods of getting specific readings on the location of subterranean water or very minor fault lines.  Most well digging businesses, as well as plumbing businesses have at least one person who is trained in dowsing for subterranean water.  Although modern science has no category for acknowledging these skills, the ancient sciences did, and modern practicality still needs and makes use of these techniques.  The technique relies on the fact that the minor electromagnetic charges generated by the movement of underground water due to friction have an impact on and can be felt by the human body.  To become a dowser one simply learns how to draw ones attention to the body’s ability to feel these electromagnetic charges.

Finding underground minor fault lines is less well known, but follows the identical methodology.  The electromagnetic charges generated by the exposure of differing layer of rock or other substrate types to each other with crustal movement is something the body also naturally feels.  Again it takes only moderate training to become aware of feeling these lines.  I have chosen the term “fire lines” to designate the fault lines and their potential resonant patterns.

The builders of stone circles, megaliths, and early churches all understood the significance of working with these lines for healing and the focalizing of energy of sacred places.  By using these simple techniques I was able to map the water and fault lines under churches to find the patterns.  These patterns could thus be compared and contrasted.  In addition to mapping these patterns on my own I mapped a selection of churches with colleagues trained in dowsing.  We mapped separately and then compared what we had found, thus confirming to some extent the very basic patterns of fault and water line[xxxiv]. This “old science” method gives us some access to what the original discoverers of or builders on these sites may have been looking for or experiencing when they chose them.  I focused on Black Virgin churches, but also mapped a number of other churches so that I might have a sense of the differences or similarities between the Black Virgin sites and those of other sacred sites.

Method One:

I found my experience at the chosen sites varied.  In some cases I felt renewed and refreshed like a battery recharging, while in others I felt that the energy so intense that I could only stay in it for a short time.   It is quite possible that others would feel differently at any site, as I might over time, depending on one’s state of awareness, health, and feeling of balance in body or lack thereof etc.  I do note that these sites overall have very strong, intense energies that noticeably affect how one feels.

In my case I noted the following body sensations, separate from my visual observations of the beauty, darkness, artistic qualities or other visual features of the sites.

  1. Les Saintes Maries de la Mer (in the fortified church with the same name) – intense, yet renewing and filling
  2. Marseille (Abbey Saint-Victor) – magnetizing and filling
  3. Lyons (older side chapel in Notre-Dame de Fourviere) – strong and grounding
  4. Le Puy-en-Velay (Cathédrale Notre Dame de l’Annonciation du Puy-en-Velay) – very inviting, intense, and renewing
  5. Clermont Ferrand (Notre Dame du Port) – profoundly altering, and so intense I could only stay for a short time


Method Two:

The result from method of walking “petite labyrinth”: coincided significantly with Method One.  Practicing Method One makes me aware of how my body feels in a location while Method Two magnifies the feeling of energy extensively.  Walking in this way can make one feel filled with sensation, almost as if drunk, ecstatic, or deeply steeped in sensation.  This method is, I feel on the basis of trying it, a valuable way to encounter the energy of healing places.  My results are the same as for Method One, but magnified into a longer lasting overall body sense.  It engendered a feeling of coming to know a place more deeply and of having learned a lot from it.  It also takes a certain amount of commitment or engagement.  I found it was not possible to encounter more than two sites in one day in this way and I would actually recommend only one in a day maximum.  In fact my advice would be to focus on one site only, preparing to go to it, experiencing it and then returning home to digest that experience, although a pilgrimage to a series of sites can be very profound as well.  Engaging a sacred site as sacred in this way is a bit like eating a full meal; one is not hungry for more for some time.  It certainly takes one out of rushing from place to place to a style of deeply savoring and appreciating places.  I found the Black Virgin churches and immediate areas around the statues to be particularly intense, as contrasted to some other major church sites in France, such as Notre Dame, Chartres, and Conques that I would characterize as more cooling, refreshing, or calming.

1.   Les Saintes Maries de la Mer (in the fortified church with the same name) – A feeling of fullness and sense “Move from fullness” i.e. not from lack or empty feeling but from fullness and balance

2.   Marseille (Abbey Saint-Victor) – Fullness in womb, a sense of “The Goddess is in the crypt” is the feeling of fullness and completeness from which one can give to others

3.   Lyons (older side chapel in Notre-Dame de Fourviere) – Dropping into deep direct sensing and love, allowing myself to love the ancestral holy place and feel at home

4.   Le Puy-en-Velay (Cathédrale Notre Dame de l’Annonciation du Puy-en-Velay)– Invigorating energy, power, and direct action of the feminine

5.   Clermont Ferrand (Notre Dame du Port) – This was like getting hit over the head with the Zen Master’s sandal, it knocked me into “no mind” for three days

Method Three

The recognition of fire and water lines in sacred sites is what I consider to be the basic building blocks of understanding the energies of sacred sites.  Sacred stones, stone circles, or churches were designed to magnify and even broadcast these basic energies.  I specifically chose here to focus on mapping only the very basic water and fire lines.  Doing this is simple and accessible in that anyone can be trained in doing it with a very moderate amount of instruction and practice.  It is also repeatable and can be cross checked by two people working independently.

Following this metaphor of the basic building blocks, subsequent elements in sacred building include attention to the latitude, the natural net, the alignment of the building (often towards summer or winter solstices or the equinox), as well as a host of techniques used in sacred geometry in the construction of  the buildings and use of space.  Both the ancient pagan builders and the builders of the early churches understood the full significance of all of these features when used in conjunction with each other.  I have focused only on the earth energy lines in my study of the Black Virgin sites in order highlight the importance of the earth energies and to provide an accessible method of beginning to understand the importance of these sites.

I planned to map each of my chosen church sites and then compare patterns between sites. On the basis of what I had read[xxxv]  and heard I was expecting to find very simple crossings of water lines, or water and fire lines at the center of the churches or just behind the altar.  In addition I was aware that many ancient sacred sites in Europe had been focused around upwelling blind springs, i.e. springs that do not reach the surface but instead spread out a bit like spokes of a wheel below ground. What I found were patterns of water and fire lines that were far more elaborate than I had imagined.  It is important to note that where water or fire lines cross when experienced (or drawn) from the perspective of a two dimensional view (looking downwards) on the ground surface level, they are felt simultaneously, whereas from a side view perspective they are generally operating at different layers of the earth’s substrata.

As I began my mapping I began to notice some repeating patterns.  I found that every Black Virgin that I observed in France, with the sole exception of Clermont Ferrand, if still in her original church or location[xxxvi], is always on a fire line, and is most often on a crossing of two fire lines. Other statues of Mary with baby in her arms are generally found on fire line as well, and sometimes on a crossing of two fire lines although less consistently than the Black Virgins.  Statues of Mary alone are usually not placed on fire lines and may be placed on water lines, although not as consistently as are Jesus statues.  Black Virgin statues are consistently in churches that have very extensive fire lines throughout the whole church, more so than churches where there is simply a Virgin and child statue.  There are occasional water lines and even some holy wells in churches devoted to the Black Virgin, but the fire lines stood out as a significant context of the energies selected for the placement of these churches and statues.  The repeating patterns of fire lines shown in the diagrams appearing along lines of pillars or between them may be resonant patterns of the primary lines in the central areas of the church, an effect created by the sacred geometry design of the church, however, the overall effect of a powerful magnification of fire line energy in the Black Virgin churches is noticeable.

I began to realize that the patterns under the Black Virgin sites as well as the major cathedrals in France and Spain are stunningly complex.  I was grateful to do some mapping of a number of sites with colleagues so that I could see that they too found these phenomenal patterns. As mentioned before, further thorough independent mapping of these sites will be important to pursue in the next steps of this research. Churches in France that are focused around a Black Virgin are mainly based on complex patterns of fire lines (and their possible resonance), thus creating the very intensive energies such as I experienced in Methods One and Two.  The French Black Virgin sites, with their extensive expression of fire lines, contrast noticeably with many other French churches and cathedral sites that are focused on water line crossings or combinations of water and fire lines.  By contrast, in Spain my sampling of Black Virgin and non-Black Virgin churches revealed a different tendency than that in France.  There nearly every church is focused primarily on fire lines with few to no waterlines in evidence.  My samples there come from Castilla y Leon and Catalonia.  Thus, in Spain the Black Virgin and non-Black Virgin sites are similar in terms of placement on subterranean energies focused on fire lines, while in France there is a noticeable propensity to place Black Virgins in locations with complex fire line patterns and to place other churches on patterns that include major water lines.

The diagrams from the 5 chosen Black Virgin demonstrate the amazing complexity of the patterns chosen for churches in France.  I consider these maps as preliminary.  I attempted to be very thorough in each church I mapped.  Some factors affect this work, however.  In some churches, notably those is Spain, but also some in France,  the public is explicitly not permitted to walk or stand in the area of the church near the high altar.  This area is very important to understanding the site.  In France, where the churches actually belong to the people (and the government) and are in essence on loan to the Church, it is often possible to step into these areas for the purpose of measuring.  In Spain where the Church owns the churches it is less easy to do complete mapping, or sometimes even to gain access to the inside of the church at all.  Also in mapping such intensive patterns the individual dowser can get a bit over circuited and may miss a few lines here or there. This is why is it best to map complex church patterns with a few colleagues, where the work can be shared and full detail picked up by dowsers working in different parts of the church.  In any case I tried to be as thorough as I could, using techniques such as returning to churches when refreshed for double checking and reading the energies from the outer apse or even outside the church around the area of the apse if necessary.

DIAGRAMS and Photos

1.Les Saintes Maries de la Mer (in the fortified church with the same name) – contains a fresh water well and a major water line, as well as a crypt where Black Sara, as she is called in this context, has been consciously placed on a crossing of fire lines.  This statue is not a Romanesque Virgin “In Majesty” but an elegant standing statue, a copy of a medieval Virgin made of plaster painted black that is about 4 and a half feet tall with no baby in her arms.  This is a site with long history as a Pagan goddess site and it may also be associated via its earlier name Notre-Dame-de-Ratis with Ra, the sun[xxxvii].

FIGURE 1 Photo of Church of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer

FIGURE 2  Photo of Black Virgin in the crypt

FIGURE 3 Diagram of Church:  Note the water lines: one running down the long central axis of the church and one across the opening to the apse.  The rest are fire lines.  The Black Virgin, in this case also known as Black Sara, is carefully placed on the crossing of two fire lines in the crypt.

2.Marseille (Abbey Saint-Victor) – Here the Black Virgin is found in the crypt in the very oldest part of the Saint-Victor, which is the most ancient building in Marseille, on a crossing of fire lines just next to a well.  Many miracles are attributed to her and she is said to have been created by Saint Luc[xxxviii]..  She is associated with a name meaning “new fire” which is said to be connected the ceremonies for her held on February 2..

FIGURE 4  Photo of Church

FIGURE 5 Photo of Black Virgin in the crypt

FIGURE 6 Diagram of Church

3. Lyons -(older side chapel in Notre-Dame de Fourviere) – The Back Virgin is found in her own chapel next to the Notre Dame de Fourvier on top of one of the holiest hills in pagan France on the site of a temple dedicated to Cybele.  The chapel was built in 840, whereas the large basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere was built between 1872 and 1896.  The three-foot high wood statue of the Black Virgin is the focal point of the chapel; she is directly over the main altar. The original statue was said to be built by Saint Luc.  It was destroyed by Protestants in 1562 and rebuilt in 1598, and likely remade again in the 18th century.

FIGURE 7 Photo of Church of Notre Dame de Fourviere

FIGURE 8 Photo of Black Virgin in the Chapel

FIGURE 9 Diagram of Church

3.  Le Puy-en-Velay (Cathédrale Notre Dame de l’Annonciation du Puy-en-Velay)  In Le Puy the BlackVirgin is placed in the central spot on the high altar on a crossing of fire lines.  The sacred well, formerly a healing spring, is behind her (just outside the church’s back wall) and the water line may cross directly under her at the crossing of the two fire lines.  This whole church is on top of an extinct volcanic plug.  This was an area with many megalithic stones, including reports of a dolmen on this sites and the small mountain the church is built on is named Anis, a name that evokes Ana the Celtic goddess before she became Saint Anne[xxxix].  The location is associated with miraculous healings. There are many versions of the story that underlies the building of the church: a woman with a fever went to the dolmen located there and slept on its slab.  The woman was healed and she asked the bishop to build a church there.  He went here on July 11th and despite the season snow covered the stone and the surrounding area.  As he arrived a stag leaped out and marked the outline of the church he was to build.  This druidic stone from the old dolmen, called the “stone of fevers”, still lies within the church, now moved to a spot on a fire line near the apse where the Black Virgin is located.  The original statue was said to be made by the prophet Jeremy and belonged to the Great Sultan of Babylon who gave it to Louis the 9th during his crusade in the 13th century.  The king gave it to Le Puy in 1251.  It was burned in the revolution and a copy was made in 1844 following the description of the earlier statue written by the geologist Faujus de Saint-Fons.

FIGURE 10 Photo of Church

FIGURE 11  Photo of Black Virgin in the church

FIGURE 12    Diagram of Church

4. Clermont Ferrand (Notre Dame du Port) The Black Virgin is in the crypt on a water line between a crossing of two fault lines with the sacred well directly in front of her.  She is said to have been in the crypt since the 6th century. She was “found” next to a druidic well that was octagonal in shape and was said to have miraculous water.  A statue “in majesty” was sculpted in 947 by the architect who was rebuilding the church at that time. It was covered in gold leaf. Remade on the 18th century from walnut wood, following the destruction of the previous statute in the Revolution, she is still in the crypt near the well. There are a number of other Black Virgins in this town that was said to be the “Harvard of Druidic studies”.

FIGURE 13 Photo of Church

FIGURE 14 Photo of Black Virgin and the holy well in the crypt.

FIGURE 15  Diagram of Church

What emerges from the mapping of the patterns under the churches in France and Spain is that these are truly unusual sites.  Independent dowsers may find differences in detail based on their sensibilities in much the same way two people sitting in a room many agree on the wall color and the furniture, but notice and remember different details, such as books, flowers, electronic equipment etc.  Further testing other over time will be of great interest.  It is also possible that some lines are resonance patterns built up by the church as it magnifies the key energies underneath the area of the apse, as mentioned above.

In any case, I feel it is noteworthy that such phenomenal patterns of earth energies appear and were clearly sought out for the locations of the early stone circles, dolmen, Pagan temples etc. They were then taken over by the churches.  The actual shapes of the buildings of the churches themselves appear to have been influenced by locations of these subterranean lines.  From the subterranean patterns I have mapped I would say that these sacred sites, both Black Virgin and non-black Virgin churches, have a large number of subterranean energies in a relatively small area.  Thus, the early Pagan people and the early churches knew they were on top of spots that had a significant impact on the human body.  For the purposes of doing ritual or prayer, they were consciously bringing people into a location of energies that are altering, impacting, healing, and otherwise very different from the locations where people usually spend their time.

From this, we can conclude that the older churches in France are in fact on actual healing or physically powerful spots.  Thus, it was not just the lovely architecture or inspiring art that made the churches powerful, but also the earth energies below them.  In this context, the Black Virgins in France seem to have been markers of sites that had strong fault line energy, which is intense and fiery.  The more cooling energies of water were associated with Jesus or the masculine.  The Black Virgins are often placed in underground in crypts, emphasizing the earth energy quality of the divine feminine.  The location of many Black Virgin sites in the volcanic Auvergne region of France (as well as in the volcanic region near Olot in Catalonia in Spain) may be a larger statement of the connection of the Black Virgins with fire (fault) lines and earth movement.

It may not simply be the perceived power of or belief in the statues themselves, but the power of the land below them that is the key to where they, and the ancient temples and stones that pre-dated them, are located.  The Black Virgins may thus be seen as markers of a particular kind of healing spot, where one can encounter significant and body altering energy, hence their fame as places of miracles.  They are not just a continuation of the goddess in her symbolic form as a statue but as the actual energies of the area itself.  It has been suggested that the kinds of energies in these spots can be altering in such a way that visions, manifestations, or other non-ordinary states of mind can occur.   In well known ancient sites like Delphi, the priestess would descend into a cave where they entered altered states and gave prophetic visions or statements.

We can consider that the Black Virgins were a way of marking important healing sites even as the publically acceptable culture surrounding them no longer remembered or wished to acknowledge their importance in this way.  People knew that they were spots to go for prayer and miracles, while no longer being explicitly aware that the earth energies play a role, complimenting and in fact accelerating the power of prayer and intention.

I consider all of my conclusions from the mapping the selected sample Black Virgin sites to be working hypotheses that emerged from my primary research, which can be further checked by others. Summarizing the patterns I observed I note the following as defining elements of Black Virgin sites:

Black Virgin statues were consistently placed directly on fire lines (with the sole exception of Clermont Ferrand) within the context of sites with significant fire line energy patterns.  Some water lines also play a role in these sites

Ÿ  A number of Black Virgins are associated with holy wells, but not all

Ÿ  A number of Black Virgins are located in subterranean crypts, but not all

Ÿ  In France, most Black Virgin sites are in volcanic regions, while some are not

From this, we can conclude that the Black Virgins have been consciously associated with active earth energies.  We cannot say that they are associated specifically only with volcanic energies or healing subterranean wells or water, but we can say they have been placed in highly unusual spots with a significant number of fault lines.  Attention and intention have gone into their placement so that they are not just locations where statues have been randomly placed, but active sites that impact the human body. 

What do they mean?

 Ultimately making meaning lies within each of us as individuals and cultural beings, and the meaning we make of things has significant power to shape the world and our behavior. We have seen in this exploration of the Black Virgins that she has been a powerful cultural symbol in the European, and particularly in the French context.  The evidence suggests that she is a continuity of the powerful feminine images of the early goddesses, that people sought to keep alive within or despite the limiting role and role models of the feminine available under Christianity.  The preliminary research has shown here also suggests that the actual energy of the locations of the Black Virgin is central to their purpose.  Thus, how we feel in their locations may be more significant than what we think about their meaning.

I personally conclude that these are healing sites of great importance in the life of the people of France.  These sacred sites had not only had cultural meaning to pre-Christian and Christian people, but they have value and benefit to the human body regardless of the belief system or language that is overlaid upon them.  In this light, it is important to protect and care for these sites not simply because of the inspiring architecture and religious history, but because of the healing earth energies present there.  It is also valuable to make these sites open and welcoming to the public from all beliefs and backgrounds.  In France where the state owns the churches, this is occurring fairly successfully.  I recommend that the central holy spots by the altars and within the inner apses to be made available to those who wish to make the labyrinth walk (this could be done quietly and respectfully in keeping with the contemplative atmosphere of the churches).  The cultural context has trained people to ”respect” these powerful spots by blocking off access to them, but in actuality, it would be far more compassionate to make these powerful spots more fully available for the healing and inspiration of the general; public.

The Black Virgin statues have served as markers for certain kinds of sacred and healing spots, despite the historical suppression of understanding and working with earth energies.  The loss of the knowledge of earth energies, and even more important the loss of understanding of how to work with them, I believe, has had a significant effect on the European psyche.  It has allowed us to disconnect and lodge ourselves in the realm of ideas, thoughts, and concepts.  Some elements of grounding and feeling became underdeveloped in a way that allowed us to pay no attention to our treatment of the earth.  The conversations with, inspirations from, and deep relationships with land, place, and earth that have been lost in the European-origin culture world could be revived by a reawakening of our active (and interactive) understanding of sacred places.  I suggest and dearly hope that this re-engagement will play a role in realigning us with the earth in a way that regains the ecological balance we so clearly need to find at this point in human history.

The key here is not so much to adopt a new or old idea but to re-open ourselves to feeling.  In the metaphor of acupuncture points on the human body, sacred places are not separate from the sacred body of the earth as a whole, they are simply powerful points at which we can engaging in healing and balancing ourselves and our earth. All of this clearly signals that we need to cease fighting about sacred places, they do not belong to any one belief system; they belong to humanity and all life.  Competing, fighting, and cutting off or otherwise restricting access to sacred sites serves no purpose other than to disconnect even those who seek unique ownership from the connection they seek.

It is my hope that this research and the further research that it may inspire welcome us into recovering our sense of the power of sacred sites, our respect for the earth, and the healing of the disconnect between mind and the land that has affected the western European culture world and influenced its capacity for environmental destruction.  This is a clear invitation to us to reconnect, relearn, and repair.

The mystery of the Black Virgins continues to attract and magnetize, inviting us to a quest for meaning and healing.  Bayard notes that the black color of the Goddess reminds us of the great cosmic night that gave birth to the universe. Our explorations of her meaning can in no way “solve” the mystery. Ultimately she is mystery. Engaging in this exploration brings us into intimate, feeling relationship with and contemplation of the mystery of the earth and the cosmos.

Many thanks to the Hormel Family and the Environmental Studies Department of Naropa University for supporting this research.


[i][i] Note that the tourist literature is a simplified version of the more detailed information available on Le Puy, but is nonetheless representative of the sense of the story that the ordinary visitor encounters.

[ii] The work of Begg, Bonvin, and Bayard stand out in this regard.

[iii] Noel, Graveline, The Treasures of Romanesque Auvergne (Beaumont, France: Editions Debaisieux, 2008).

[iv] Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin. (Wilmette, Illinois: Chiron Publications, 2006), 11.

[v] Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin. (Wilmette, Illinois: Chiron Publications, 2006) and Jacques Bonvin,Vierges Noires (Paris: Dervy, 1988), 28.

[vi] Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin.

[vii] Ibid, 13.

[viii] Ibid, 130.

[ix] I encourage readers who find this material questionable or challenging to read the whole of Ean Begg and Jacques Bovin’s books.  The evidence on the early goddess sites and, in some cases the statues, is definitive and I simply build on this in my research.

[x] “Another etymology stresses the importance of the syllable “is”, a pre-Celtic word for a holy place where there is as subterranean current of water or telluric energy called a wouivre, which creates special conditions favorable for the divinity of initiatory purposes.  This sacred syllable may account for the suffix -is or -es to be found in the name of many French towns”. Paris, or Par-Isis, would thus mean “grove” or “barque” of Isis” (Ean Begg, 2006: 64).

[xi] Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, 49.

[xii] Ibid, 139.

[xiii] Romanesque art refers to the art of Western Europe from approximately 1000 AD to the rise of the Gothic style in the 13th century, or later, depending on the region.

[xiv] Bonvin, Vierges Noires, 17.

[xv] Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, 3.

[xvi] Jean-Pierre Bayard, Deesses Meres et Vierges Noire ( Monaco: Editions du Rochier, 2001)


[xviii] Bonvin, Vierges Noires, 18-19.

[xix] Ibid, 39.

[xx] My colleagues Elyn Aviva and Gary White and I found a trend in the Catalonia area on both sides of the Spanish and French border of whitening Black Virgins, or restoring them to the “original” wood as on Olot.

[xxi] Bonvin, Vierges Noires, 40.

[xxii] Ibid, 56

[xxiii] The Three Marys (or Maries) refers to the three biblical Marys that came to the sepulcher of Jesus in the Gospels and are companions of Mary, the mother of Jesus. All four gospels include a mention of the incident, but only Mark (16:1) identifies all three. In the verse, the three are: Mary, Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James & John often considered the same woman as Salome (disciple).

[xxiv] Bonvin, Vierges Noires, 85.

[xxv] He was also the pope who declared Mary Magdalene to be a prostitute. Pope Gregory the Great made a speech in 591 A.D. where he seemed to combine the actions of three women mentioned in the New Testament and also identified an unnamed woman as Mary Magdalene. He stated that she was a prostitute. This erroneous view was not corrected until 1969 when the Vatican issued a quiet retraction.

[xxvi] Theirry Wirth. Les Vierges Noires (Paris: Oxus 2009).

[xxvii] Jean-Pierre Bayard, Deesses Meres et Vierges Noire, 27.

[xxviii] Bonvin, Vierges Noires, 75.

[xxix] Nigel Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes (Thames and Hudson 1996).

[xxx] Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst.  The Sun and the Serpent (Cornwall, England: Pendragon Press, 1989).  Also recent anthropological work at Chaco Canyon in the United States is revealing larger landscape alignments.

[xxxi] Bonvin, Vierges Noires, 167.

[xxxii] Olot  the capital of the comarca of Garrotxa, in the province of Girona, Catalonia, Spain is situated in the Olot Volcanic Field (an area with many inactive volcanoes), lying within the protected area of the Natural Park of the Volcanic Area of the Garrotxa. The urban area itself includes two volcanic craters.

[xxxiii] These techniques are described at length in a forthcoming book Sensing Earth Energies An Introduction to the Ancient and Modern Science of Living in Harmony with the Earth, by Dominique Susani and Anne Z. Parker..…

[xxxiv] My measurements are preliminary and will need to be rechecked with entirely independent mapping.

[xxxv] Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst.  The Sun and the Serpent.

[xxxvi] Black Virgins removed from their sites and placed in museums have generally lost all relationship with their placement on earth energies. In the case of one important Black Virgin in Paris that had been moved from a convent that had to be abandoned to the Convent of Picpus in 1806, I discovered that, although she had been taken out of the original powerful place of her original placement, she had been placed on a fault line in the much more low key setting of her new church.

[xxxvii] Jean-Pierre Bayard, Deesses Meres et Vierges Noire, 161.

[xxxviii]        Ibid, 156-7.

[xxxix] Ibid, 211.



Bayard, Jean-Pierre, Deesses Meres et Vierges Noires. Monaco: Editions du Rochier, 2001.

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