La Moreneta (Catalan for the little, dark-skinned one) – has been venerated at Montserrat since the ninth century. Legend has it that while tending their flocks at night, the shepherds overheard singing and saw mysterious lights. Upon investigation they found the statue of the black Madonna in a cave (now known as ‘Santa Grotto’ – the holy cave). Unable to move the statue by any means, the local holy men erected a small church around her. Montserrat, home of La Moreneta, is one of the supposed candidates for the ‘grail castle’, the other being Montsegur, and is where Wagner was insured to compose his Parsifal and Saint Ignatius hung up his sword ( see Lachrymae for a description of Saint Ignatius’s vision and the founding of the Jesuit Order). She is also known as “Rosa d’abril – dusky rose, due to the hymn dedicated to her called Virolai which starts with “Rosa d’abril, Morena de la serra…” (April rose, dusky lady of the mountain chain…)
The black Madonna’s origins have been traced to the symbolism of Isis and Horus, with the Christian church borrowing iconography from much more ancient forms of ‘goddess’ worship and assimilating them into their creed. Cybele, Ishtar, Astarte, Hecate, and Diana were all portrayed at one time as being dark-skinned, often taking on the persona of the dark part of the psyche, that which men fear, that which goes unnamed in the night. In her role of the ‘dark mother’ she constitutes the first rule of magic ‘As above, so below” or even the esoteric saying, ‘Lux im Tenebris’, a light that shines in the darkness. There cannot be lightness without the dark, a symbiotic relationship in the basest of terms. Historian Andrew Harvey puts it this way, “The Black Madonna is the transcendent Kali-mother, the black womb of light out of which all the worlds are always arising and into which they fall, the presence behind all things, the darkness of love and loving unknowing…He continues, “She calls us to that darkness which is a mystery itself. She encourages us to be at home there, in the presence of a deep, black, unsolvable mystery. The blackness of divine mystery, that mystery celebrated by great Aphophatic mystics, such as the Dionysian Areopagite, who see the divine as forever unknowable, mysterious, beyond all our concepts, hidden from all our senses in a light so dazzling it registers on the as darkness”
Even cloaked in a shroud of Catholicism, her power, and the influence that she exerts over the domain of shadows, is undeniable.
She may be best described in a poem written about Isis;
“I am nature, the universal Mother, mistress over all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are. My nod governs the shining heights of heaven, the wholesome sea-breezes, the lamentable silences of the world below. The primeval Phyrgians call me Pessinuntica, or Cybele, Mother of the gods; the Althenians, sprung from their own soil, call me Cecropian Artemis; for the islanders of Cypress I am Paphian Aphrodite; for the archers of Crete I am Dictynna, for the trilingual Sicilians, Stygian Persephone, and for the Elusinians, their Ancient Mother of Corn, Demeter.
Some know me as Juno, some as Bellona of the Battles; others as Hecate, others again as Rhamnusia, Nemisis, but both races of Aethiopians, whose land the morning Sun first shines upon, and the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning and worship me with ceremonies proper to my god-head call me by my true name…Isis.”