Gothic Cathedrals: A Guide to the History, Places, Art, and Symbolism (2015)



Places to Visit: a short guide to some major Black Madonna sites

Due to the increase of interest by modern visitors about Black Madonnas, I have selected a few of the key Black Madonna pilgrimage sites in Western European countries—France, Spain, Italy, etc.—where the shrines have a Black Madonna as a focus and are easily accessible for travellers today. Many of these are in or near a Gothic cathedral.

There are many Black Madonna sites in other areas all over the world; below are a few that you may wish to incorporate as part of a future spiritual journey or holiday to western European cities and villages.

For more information and an international Gazetteer of hundreds of Black Madonna-related sites all around the world, I recommend Jungian analyst Ean Begg's seminal book, The Cult of the Black Virgin.


Brussels—the Chapel of St Catherine has an image of St Mary Magdalene and other saints; also, a Black Madonna.

Hal/Halle—image of St Mary Magdalene in the Church of St Martin; also a well-known Black Madonna shrine;

Tournai—Chapel of St Mary Magdalene in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame; a Black Madonna; Tournai was also the capital of the Franks


Willesden (London)—the Black Virgin of Willesden can be seen at the Church of Our Lady; a limewood statue.

Walsingham—England's National Shrine of Our Lady, with both Anglican and Catholic shrines of the BVM


Aix-en-Provence—in the Cathedral Saint-Sauveur d'Aix, a seated Virgin hewn from stone, said to be a 1521 copy of the celebrated Vierge Noire de Notre-Dame-de-la-Seds which disappeared in the 16th century.

Chartres—the Mary Magdalene stained glass window; also two Black Virgins; a magnificent Gothic cathedral with many important features: Notre Dame du Pilier (Our Lady of the Pillar) is in the nave, an early 16th century image replacing the still-earlier 13th century gilt statue of pear tree wood. Notre Dame de Sous-Terre (Our Lady Under-the-Earth) in the crypt, replaced in 1856 by the present natural wood statue; the original that was destroyed during the Revolution was made of ebony.

Limoux—in sanctuary known since 1011, Notre-Dame de Marceille, is an 11th/12th century black hard wood statue, the closest Black Madonna to Rennes-le-Chateau. This site also has a beautiful stained glass window of Mary Magdalene, in addition to a statue of St Vincent de Paul.

Laon—Black Madonna in side chapel in the cathedral; Laon also has an interesting Templar chapel and adjacent museum with archaeological artifacts; early Merovingian site and later, the Carolingian capital of France;

Le Puy-en-Velay—In Monastere Sainte Claire, Notre Dame du Puy, a cedar statue said to have been made by Jeremiah and was brought to Le Puy by St. Louis, and later burned during the French Revolution. It was replaced with a copy by a local artist at the end of the 18th century of gilded wood. Small replica of original in vestry.

Marseilles—Black Virgin (Notre Dame de la Confession) in crypt of Abbey of St Victor; 2 Feb. Candlemas celebration to commemorate the Provencal legends of the arrival of St Mary Magdalene, Lazarus and Martha, etc, with green candles. (see also Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer re: black St Sara.)

Meymac—Notre Dame de Meymac, a 12th century statue of wood with very black faces and hands, pink fingernails, red lips, white and black eyes. This Black Madonna has gold sabots and a turban, very large hands, and wears a red cloak and green dress.

Orleans—Black Virgin, Notre Dame des Miracles, de la Recouvrance or St Mary the Egyptian. A 16th century stone statue, replacing the ancient wooden Black Madonna that was brought to Orleans in the 5–6th century by Syrian merchants and later burned by Protestants in 1562. Orleans also has strong connections with the famed St Joan of Arc (‘Maid of Orleans’), the Knights Templar and other spiritual and esoteric groups, and, since at least the 11th century, it has also been a major Mary Magdalene pilgrimage site.

Paris—(Seine). Black Madonna, Notre-Dame de Paix, 16th century, wood, in Church of Nuns of the Sacred Heart. (35 rue de Picpus). A fascinating history; see Ean Begg's The Cult of the Black Virgin for details.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer—at the church, see images of the Three Marys (including St. Mary Magdalene), as this is is the alleged landing spot of an early Christian entourage according to legends. The dark statue of St Sara the Egyptian, who, it is said, gave birth to the cult of the Black Virgins in the area, is also at this site and is also venerated by the gypsies. The annual gypsy pilgrimage festival is celebrated here with the statue of St. Sara processed and then dipped into the sea. St-Maries is also an important stage on the road to Compostela.


Altotting -- Black Madonna (‘Our Lady of Altotting’); also an old Roman crossroads site; Christianized by St. Rupert in 7th century.


Loreto—Ancona; the Holy House of Mary; original statue was accidentally destroyed by fire and was replaced by a new standing figure in 1921

Oropa—St Mary Magdalene stained glass window; Black Virgin (La Madonna Di Oropa), and one historically important to the House of Savoy.

Venice—Basilica of San Marco, side chapel, a Black Virgin icon; also, the alleged head of St John the Baptist


The Virgin of Czestochowa (Jasna Cora monastery), a Black Madonna painting, and also the national shrine of Poland.


Barcelona—View one of the finest collections of Black Virgins anywhere in the world at the Museu Nacional d'Arte de Catalunya (MNAC), the national museum of Catalan visual art. Features Romanesque, Cothic and Modern period art. Highly recommended.

Girona—Girona Cathedral; in the cathedral Treasury Museum, off to the left-hand side along the cathedral, there are some black madonnas in their collection as well as a number of other important artefacts and relics;

Montserrat—Royal Basilica with its famous 12th century Romanesque Black Virgin (La Moreneta) at the Montserrat Monastery.


Einsiedeln—at the Abbey church of the Benedictine monastery here, Our Lady of the Hermits, a major Black Madonna shrine, and also the national shrine of Switzerland.

Balearic Islands (Mallorca)

Cathedral of Lluc (NW of island), and Palma Museum, both have Black Madonnas and other interesting artifacts.

Canary Islands

Candelaria, Tenerife - is patroness of the Canaries; a major Black Madonna shrine


Gozo—Ghajnsielem Cathedral, just off Mgarr harbour, has a Black Madonna, and, in 2007, for the first time, the community here celebrate their liturgical feast of Our Lady of Loreto. The statue was purchased in Rome in 1924.