For several years, Wabi-Ware has been making handmade, custom cards in collaboration with Sagrada Sacred Arts. These cards feature Black Madonnas from around the world, and this month Sagrada is showcasing these Wabi-Ware custom cards and handmade books in their store in Oakland, CA. while also hosting events to honor Black History Month.
With increasing requests by customers at Sagrada for accessible images of the Black Madonna, we began, a few years ago, to collaborate on a blessing to accompany various cards and now an altar book/folio with various images of different Black Madonnas.
One of the exciting aspects of being asked to make custom cards is that I get to learn about subjects I know little about. As a researcher and an avid reader for most of my life, I have loved learning about the various Black Madonnas, which are quite common, with a reported 450-500 in Europe. While some of the most familiar images are from shrines and icons in Eastern Europe, many others, I have learned, are also found in northern Africa, southern Europe, as well as North and South America and Cuba. One of the most familiar images of a Black Madonna is the Lady of Czestochowa, revered in Poland and the Ukraine. This image is easily recognized because of the two slash scars on her right cheek, part of special legends of miracles associated with this Black Madonna.
In Colorado, we are very familiar with Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose image appears on flags, car decals, jackets, candles and many other items. This special image represents an indigenous Madonna, now called the Goddess of the Americas; and cards featuring her image are one of the most popular of our “Black Madonna custom cards” in California and in a local shop, Bella Frida, in Louisville, CO.
Even though these Black Madonnas are centuries old, they still have relevance today and two have recently been in international news: Just this month, Pope Francis realized his aspiration to visit the shrine of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. He also held Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Before coming to Mexico, Pope Francis visited Cuba, where a landmark meeting occurred. There, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Pope signed a declaration calling for peace; and Pope Francis was given a small replica of another Black Madonna, Our Lady of Kazan, a stunning icon and the subject of political intrigue between the Russian Church and the Vatican two decades ago.
Our Lady of Kazan, also called the protectress of Russia, dates to the 1500’s, and had been stolen from Kazan. Like many Black Madonnas, various stories and legends exist about where images were hidden and stored for safekeeping for centuries. An apparent copy of the Black Madonna of Kazan was given in 1993 to Pope John Paul II, who venerated this image that was installed in his study. A decade later, he arranged for it to be returned to the Russian Orthodox Church, although the Pope was not allowed to deliver it in person. Thus, not until this month has such a meeting between a Russian Church leader and a Pope ever taken place.
After reading stories of miracles and legends associated with various Black Madonnas, I sometimes incorporate meaningful elements in the custom cards. For example, the Black Madonna della Vena (Mother of the Vein) is associated with the miraculous appearance of water. The “Black Madonna custom card” (below) incorporates that concept.
At Sagrada Sacred Arts and Wabi-Ware Custom Cards, we acknowledge and honor the works of all artists. We have decorated images of various Black Madonnas that appear to be in the public domain. We urge readers to notify us of other exciting, accessible images to showcase varied cultures and traditions.