Accepted Paper:

"Black Madonna" versus "White Madonna": spiritual feminist pilgrimages in France and the changing significances attributed to dark Madonna statues  


Anna Fedele (CRIA, University Institute of Lisbon)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes the beliefs and ritual performances of pilgrims influenced by the feminist spirituality movement visiting Marian shrines in France. These pilgrims develop their own syncretic strategies in order to benefit from the “healing energy” stored in what they consider as “power places appropriated by the Church”.

Paper long abstract:

This paper analyses the ritual practices of pilgrims, who do not consider themselves as practicing Christians, visiting French shrines housing dark Madonna statues. Referring to observations of three organized pilgrimages, I will focus on these individuals' use of the statues identified as "Black Madonnas" and analyse the way they visit and perform syncretic rituals at Catholic shrines, while fiercely criticizing the Catholic religion.

"Black Madonnas" represent, for these pilgrims, "the dark side of the Feminine" and serve as a useful counterbalance to the "White and Immaculate" Virgin Mary they know from their childhood in Christian, mostly Catholic, families. The paper shows how the pilgrims' religious beliefs also form a political philosophy, explaining and denouncing the exploitation of the planet, as well as psychological and physical violence against women.

Panel W064
Interpreting religious diversity: conversion, syncretism and religious practice