The Black Madonna


“O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost…come back again”

-Thomas Wolfe


My grandmother, was convinced…beyond any shadow of a doubt, that when she died, she was going directly into the arms of Jesus. She had worn through several rosaries in her meditative journey down the beaded length, and wore black…always…with good reason. She watched two children die in steerage on a boat coming to the “New World”. Despite this, she gave every inch of herself to what she called her loving God, in all the meanings that may have. She was kind, selfless, and died impoverished among sixty cats.

There is a resilience in us, that will drag us forward when we’ve had way more than enough. Call it angels, luck or old-fashioned obstinacy, the blood quickens to inch us up. The momentum of survival may carry through generations…and occasionally…becomes genetic.

I was raised Catholic…and although my attendance at mass has been nearly non-existent, I have the symbols of faith etched in my head…always…always. The religion, apart from the political arm in Rome, continues to fuel my art, but of all the saints and sinners that make covert appearances in my paintings, I am wild about Mary. Beautiful, coifed, and kind…she is the go-to-gal when I am down.

And hey! She listens.

I paint a lot of different things, following the broad whims of my compulsive interests, but when I paint the virgin (is it Mary Christ?), it is a labor of love. Catholicism is rich with symbols…but none has more universal significance than mother…and not just any mother, the blessed among women, freakin’ queen of the universe. This girl rocks. Appearing here, appearing there… although I don’t think she has been seen with many Republicans lately.

In the town of Czestochowa, Poland, resides a much abused painting of her; blackened from burning, oxidation, or miraculous tan, she has attained some renown over her dusky complexion. The representation of the mother of Christ is nearly always of a white, vaguely Italian, girl…never the swarthy skin of a middle-eastern woman. So, regardless of the cause of the pigmentation, this earthy, scarred, exotic Madonna has always stuck in my head.

One approach to the hilltop monastery of Jasna Gora is down a long, tree lined promenade, at the end of which is the baroque chapel of the Nativity of St. Mary. The icon is showcased in a sanctuary glittering with gold, and yet the most quietly brilliant thing in the room is that one small painting…a single deep bass note among the plethora of worldly excess.

Poland has been stretched like taffy, dragged by the east and dragged back by the west; kept in bondage to various masters. In the fourteenth century, it was the Hussites…who, having a sudden craving for kielbasa, decided to enforce the inflexible strictures of Jan Hus on their neighbors. During the ensuing mayhem, the little painting suffered intentional gashes and nicks, while at the same time catalyzing several miracles. She is the guardian of Poland…though her protection has not been without lapses. Busy elsewhere, I suppose. It makes one wonder at the limits of power even among the Gods.

The painter is unknown, although legend has it that it was painted by St. Luke, on a cypress tabletop from the home of the Holy family. My legend is that it was painted by a Gnostic monk in a stone cell, far from everyone…alone…in ecstatic bliss. He grew his own vegetables, including a common herb with salubrious attributes……..and this blessed gentleman was in love!!!

It was a reproduction of this Madonna, that sat in a frame by my Nana’s bed. This was her dark star.


“Ever notice how ‘What the hell.’ Is always the right answer?”

-Marilyn Monroe


~ by theoxherd on April 24, 2013.

4 Responses to “The Black Madonna”

  1. Beautiful writing!

  2. And the Christ-child is also swarthy, as he should be.

    Timeless painting, timeless story about your grandmother.

  3. beautiful post..thanks for sharing dear

  4. Thank you!

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