Friday, March 26, 2010

Back to the Black Virgens

A couple of days ago I received a comment on my post about the Virgen de Regla in Chipiona, Spain. A reader --trying to help me solve the mystery of why the Virgen in this small Spanish seaside town is Black -- wrote:

"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."

Aha! Makes perfect sense I thought, but I figured I'd do a little research on my own before I decided to take this new theory as fact. If you recall, I'd already discovered many theories for the Virgen's "questionable race" but none of them seemed believable. So I did what any intrepid reporter would do, I googled St. Augustine of Hippo. Turns out, St. Augustine led a fascinating life, and left volumes of works behind to document his beliefs, teachings, and life story. However, I could not find a single text of his titled, "The Story of How and Why I Created a Black Virgen." (sigh)

But, dear readers, there are other people out there in the blogosphere who agree with my commenter. People who seem to know the story of the Virgen de Regla's origins very well.

I found this tidbit of discussion on a the forum

"The origin of the devotion to the Virgen de la Regla can be traced back to St. Augustine. It was this great saint who hand-carved the first image of the Virgen de Regla and made her the patroness of the Rule of what is the present-day Order of St. Augustine. As a founder, St. Augustine made reglas or rules for the members of his Order to follow. He dedicated these reglas or rules to the Virgin, thus making her the Virgin of the Rule of St. Augustine.

Why is the image of the Virgen de la Regla dark? Contrary to what many people presume, the image of the Virgin is dark not simply because its original statue is made of wood but because its devotion developed in Africa. St. Augustine, who died in the year 430, was from Hippo in north Africa. Since the setting was Africa, the original image was probably made by St. Augustine to harmonize with the color of the people who would be its first devotees. Since most Africans were dark-skinned, a dark-skinned patroness would give them a sense of familiarity and closeness. It is because of its dusky color that both in Africa and in Spain the Virgen de la Regla is also known as La Virgen Morena (The Brown Virgin)
. "

I also found a more complex and detailed story which includes the same premise -- that the Virgen was purposefully created as a Black woman because the people of Hippo were dark --but that her arrival to Spanish shores included a dire escape, hundreds of years hidden underground, miracles and a fig tree. You can read that fascinating story here.

But the part about this Virgen's story that I blew my mind is what happened to her when her image and legend arrived in Cuba. (We go way Kinky Gazpacho here.) According to Salsa Havana author, Viviana Caballo, "Upon arrival in Cuba, La Virgen de Regla's legend grew even more extraordinary. She became part of the Santeria pantheon and merged with the powerful African deity Yemaya, the mother of all life."

Wow! Who knew the power of a Black Virgen? What still makes me scratch my head though is, how can people all over the world worship Black Virgens and yet discriminate against and hate Black women (and men) in real life? How do you reconcile those two feelings in your soul? Got answers? Let's hear them.


Enjoy Your Weekend.


ieishah said...

well... upon seeing the black virgin in montserrat (north catalunya) i was like, um... what? i met a black nun who told me that the monks told her it was because the virgin has been burned over time by votive candles. right. so i went in search and found the book, 'cult of the black virgin' by ean begg. he's got a whole other explanation, seeing as how many of the black virgins (and there are hundreds around the world) date way further back than colonialism... early 7th, 8th century europe... i'm gonna write an answer post, because it intrigued me so much, i have a little black virgin in my flat...

LT said...

Go for it. Let's shed some light on our Black Virgens. I collect them now. I can't wait to read what you discover.