Friday, August 14, 2009
So The Virgin is Black...
Meltingpot readers, I found the Virgen de Regla in Chipiona. Yesterday we drove to the lovely town of Chipiona, about 30 km away from el esposo's parents' home. As I mentioned before, Chipiona is considered an "undiscovered gem" for foreign tourists, but is full of Spaniards enjoying the miles of clean, calm Atlantic beaches and walkable boardwalk dotted with restaurants and cafes. Of course I couldn't help but chuckle at the restaurant that was offering both "paella y menudo." For the uninitiated, menudo is Spanish for pig intestines, or as we Black people call them, chitlins. Winning combination, right? Almost as good as Kinky Gazpacho.
And speaking of Black people, the reason we traveled to Chipiona was to find the Virgen de Regla, a very popular Virgin, known for healing and protecting ships. On September 8th she is brought out of the church and paraded around the city in a grand parade/festival. All of this we learned on the internet, but we wanted to see her in the "flesh" because we wanted to find out how and why the patron saint of this beach town is Black.
It wasn't hard to find the church on the Avenida Sevilla where the Virgin lives. The church is like the focal point of the town, situated right at the end of the beach. In fact, some people were coming in to the church still brushing off sand and dripping sea water. The church, as expected, was a gorgeous display of Catholic-ness with the altar dedicated completely to the Virgen de Regla, not Jesus. Jesus was up there, but in miniature form, under the Virgin. I was surprised by this. And the Virgin was beautiful. But I wanted to know why she looked more like me and less like the throngs of Spaniards pouring in to the church to get a look at her.
Luckily there was a nice man sitting in the back of the church who seemed to be there for the sole purpose of answering questions for tourists like me. I asked him some warm up questions, like what the Virgin was famous for, and he reiterated the healing and protector of ships information. He told some fantastic stories of people who claimed they were healed from horrible diseases, shipwrecks and the like by the Virgin. In a burst of inspiration, he ran in the back and brought out a bottle of holy water "from the Virgin" for me. He admitted with a smile that it was just tap water, but the tap came from the church so if I drank it with a healthy dose of faith, it might heal whatever ails me. So I'm going to keep that water, just in case.
But back to the Black thing. So, finally I asked him, why the Virgin was Black and he just shrugged as if that wasn't such a big deal. He said nobody knows for sure why she is Black. Some say that the figure was carved out of dark wood and that's why she's black. Some say, because she was hidden in a well for hundreds of years (hidden from the invading Moors by the Augustine monks) she darkened up during those years underground. It wasn't like the guy didn't really care, it was more like it didn't really matter. The people of Chipiona recognize that their Virgin is Black, but that doesn't change how much they love and worship her. In fact, he told me, there are a lot of Black Virgins in Spain and nobody considers them second-class Virgins or God forbid, discriminates against them.
Isn't that interesting Meltingpot Readers? Maybe I'm making too much out of finding Virgins that look like me. But maybe I'm not? Once again I cannot wrap my mind around a people who worship Black Virgins, but still dress up like Mammy for Carnaval. What do you think? Do White people worship Black virgins in the United States? Why or why not?
In the meantime, I still think it is fascinating to find out more about the Black Virgins in Spain. El esposo found this great websitethat lists all the Black Virgins in Spain, and gives some fascinating information about them, including which Virgins started out White but became Black. Those that started out Black and became White and everything in between. Sorry, it's in Spanish, but there's probably a way to translate the page. Enjoy.
(photo by El Esposo)