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.

Peace.

(photo by El Esposo)

11 comments:

Ananda said...

Wonderful story. I found the Virgin de Regla in Regla,Cuba located across the Bay in Havana in 2004. It was magical for me. Thank you for sharing!

chipiona said...

Nice story. Too bad you didn't make it up to see her rooms right behind her in the alter. It's really something to come back and see some day. There you will see all of the hundreds of offerings given to her by people requesting her help.

JBH said...

I think this is a great story...you'll have to add it to the second "Kinky Gazpacho":-)

Actually, as you were telling the story, I kept thinking, "perhaps she's black because it's a shore town - and she spent a lot of time in the sun"??? I thought it was funny how the man told the story about spending so much time underground (she would have been white as a ghost, no?).

So fascinating!

ieishah said...

i was hanging out with my 3rd grade teacher the other day (ironically, she was my first spanish teacher!), now she's a sociology professor at CUNY. i told her my serb was vacationing with family in montenegro right now. she's like, 'montenegro? why do they call it that?' i was like, 'well, venetian explorers gave it that name because the forests were really dense and dark.' she gave me a look like, 'please. you need to look into that. i sense some blackness in that history.' and i thought about you.

Sustenance Scout said...

Love this post; makes me think of Secret Life of Bees. So glad I stopped by!

Anonymous said...

chitlins are often eaten by my (white) southern relatives. I always just thought of it as southern food...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous here again...

From wiki...
In colonial times, hogs were slaughtered in December. During slavery, in order to maximize profits, slave owners commonly fed their slaves in the cheapest manner possible. At hog butchering time, the preferred cuts of meat were reserved for the master's use, with the remains, such as fatback, snouts, ears, neck bones, feet, and intestines given to the slaves for their consumption.[2] Wealthier individuals considered pig innards (offal) as inedible and sometimes had them buried as garbage, but enterprising slaves would unearth them under cover of darkness and salvage them for the cook pot.

This explains it. My family comes from poor servant stock. All I know is that chitlins were my grandpa's favorite dish. :o) I actually never knew that it was spelled chitterlings until researching the history just now. I've never even heard it said like that!!! Chitlins, Chicken Gizzards, and Collards with fried cornbread. Now we are talking about a meal at my grandma's house!!! Thanks for the interesting read. The socio-economic vs skin color is an interesting one...

And my word verification word is "duPigg". Oh how fitting!!! Enjoy what remains of your time in Spain.

Naima said...

I think you are reading too much into it. There are plenty instances of a black person or black culture being praised while the general black population is looked down on and disrespected, like they are two seperate things. Ex. Do the Right Thing when the racist Pizza guy tells Mookie how various famous black folks aren't ni66ers

Juan Carlos said...

Hiya - a bit late, however...

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (which was located in Algeria, Africa), was trying to convert his fellow Africans to Christianity and created a black Virgin.

The image eventually made it to Chipiona, Spain.

LT said...

JuanC,
Thanks for the info! I'm going to look into this some more.

Iván said...

Amazing post!
You are right about the importance of Mary in many churches here. Spain has a long story of Mariolatry (adoration of Mary), which I, as an "independent christian" am not very happy with. But it's the catholic tradition. I think in many cases that virgins are black because of the material, that gets darker with time, but anyway, as you say, people love their black virgins adamantly. NO signs of any racism there, lol. It's like when spanish children is asked who's their favourite Rey Mago, and most of kids say "Baltasar". I think the most famous of the black virgins is la Moreneta, in Barcelona. The catalans adore and worship her, hehe.