I don’t think that Mary was Black, but the Jews back then were just Middle Easterners. They didn’t have any Khazarian or European blood in them yet, as most Ashkenazim do nowadays. They probably looked something like the Mizrachi Jews do today. If you’ve ever met any Mizrachis, they are fairly dark people. They look sort of like Arabs.
I always found the Catholic religion quite impressive – not because of any real understanding of it but because of what I could see of it. And what I could see of it was quite mysterious and maybe a bit awe-inspiring, for someone used to the kind of plain religious services I grew up with. Unintelligible prayers. Incense. Sumptuous robes. Ornate crucifixes. I’m not Catholic, but even I kind of like watching the moment they announce a new Pope. Smoke and bells. Nothing like that at my old church!
Gregorian chants are something I actually enjoy listening to, but it’s the kind of thing that would have been creepy to me as a child. And nothing could have prepared me for the first time I saw images of the Nazarenos during a Holy Week celebration. Wait a minute, I thought. This looks awfully similar to some other regalia I’ve seen…
But something especially fascinating to me is the mystery of the Black Madonnas. Most people know about the Black Madonna – images of Mary in which she is shown with dark or sometimes black skin. Since these Black Madonnas are the creation of Europeans, there is speculation and dispute about their origin and significance.
These paintings and statues of Mary date from the 11th or 12th century and were produced throughout the medieval period. And while they have dark skin, they are recognizably European, Typically, those trying to explain this phenomenon state that the wood was naturally dark, in the case of some statues, or that the darkness was a result of color changes in paint over time.
So why did the skin tones alone change color over time?
The darkness is also attributed to candle soot, from the countless prayers offered to the Madonnas over the centuries. Again, though, why did the candle soot only affect the skin tones?
It is often stated that sometimes these Madonnas were cleaned for various reasons but then intentionally re-darkened to placate the faithful. This is one explanation as to why these European-looking Madonnas have black skin.
Besides the explanations attributed to physical factors, there are those that suggest that the darkness of the Madonnas is inspired by Scripture, particularly a portion of the Song of Songs: “I am black but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem…” Others suggest that the Black Madonna is a throwback to earlier depictions of earth goddesses, some of whom had been depicted as black, as they represented fertile soil.
Could it be that the color black represents the Primordial Darkness that gave birth to Light, or the archetypal Feminine? Some feminists think so.
In the view of some Afrocentrists, the Madonna is Black because she is based on the Egyptian goddess Isis, who had to have been Black because the ancient Egyptians were Black. To them, one of the most revered Christian symbols is yet another instance of Whites stealing and trying to pass off Black creativity as their own.
No one knows definitively why Europeans created Black Madonnas. To some of us, it almost doesn’t matter. They portray a powerful and venerated Blackness, and there is a lot to like about that.