Last Friday, Barbara and I travelled to Chartres cathedral, only an hour out of Paris by train. That morning, we had continued our “MA” pose practice, in which we hold, for 7 minutes, a pose/gesture based on figures of the ancient mother:
That day, our pose was “invocation,” or “adoration.” This MA stands straight, her arms raised mid-way at her side in a “W,” with her palms open, radiating out from her body. Her eyes are most often open, gazing outwards/inwards in trance. My experience of this pose began with the feeling of being a solid pillar, holding a tree-like strength that connects the earth with sky. I felt a sense of peace-of-being, standing in my own strength/authority, as I greet and acknowledge the world, from within my own body. Gazing towards, and feeling the presence of green tree-life in the park, listening to bird song, I felt how the human-being is also a source of blessing. A reminder that there is no hierarchy between human / earthly non-human /spirit allies, we all contribute to webs of life.
Arriving into the town of Chartres, and then walking up to the cathedral, I was excited to share the Black Madonnas there with Barbara. Though we also planned to walk the labyrinth of Chartres, I felt a sense of hurried anticipation to see “Her.” Just as I did on my first visit there, three years ago:
Black Madonnas are found all over France, and have a particular calling for those devoted to the ancient Earth-mother in her various forms. They are often carved in wood, or their faces painted black. The Church denies any significance to this skin tone. Shrines of Black Madonnas are often place-based, being located on sites of significance for the local population (now or in the past). Chartres is a place of ancient pilgrimage. The cathedral itself is almost 1000 years old. Like many European cathedrals, it was built over an ancient locale of pre-Christian worship, said to be of the Druids or Celtic peoples who worshipped an Earth-mother there. There is a well in its crypt, from a spring water source. The energy of the place is very strong, with birth-like undertones in its double-goddess placement of above- and below- ground Black Madonnas: Notre Dame de Pilier, and Notre Dame de Sous-Terre. These Madonnas, in tree and cave-like (crypt) placements, hold an axis mundi of Marian/mother-earth devotion for the whole cathedral site. As above, so below.
The cathedral is going through a restoration, to clean and restore its surfaces. Some art historians are questioning the tactics of this. A few of the huge columns are now painted over with colours. New whitened surfaces shift how interiors and the famous stained-glass windows are perceived, in the glory of the vaulted spaces.
One other ‘restoration’ left me in shock. I had no idea, but as we rounded the bend and into the chapel of Notre Dame de Pilier, there SHE was, but I had to take a second look. She and her child had been painted white, with red-rouge cheeks, and red lips to boot. I couldn’t fully take in what I was seeing. It seems the renovations of Chartres include a white-washing of its famous Black Madonna, with a full make-over. Later, via internet, I read of some outcry this has caused, but it seems a permanent change.
Even in this shock of seeing her whitened, I decided to continue with my devotions. I was given strength by watching a group of pilgrims from India, who had arrived with me in the (not-Black) Madonna chapel. A whole family of various ages, they held their candles in prayer, and took turns kneeling at her pillar, touching her base. Witnessing this adoration, I felt rooted in Mother-devotion. I too sat at her feet, kneeling on the adoration stool. I briefly held the “invocation” pose towards her. My hands radiating to her icon, the energy was so immediately strong that it swirled in a whirlwind around my body. I swayed with this, and could not hold my (or any) centre. I moved to the pew and sat down, giving thanks for being here again, and sort-of let my mind empty.
Later, Barbara and I spent the warm, sunny afternoon outside, circumambulating the cathedral, enjoying its various exterior views and sculptures. Near the back, a beautiful garden of flowers was in full spring bloom. I took up the “invocation” pose again, holding my arms and hands under a beautiful, arching wrought-iron gate. We then sat for a long time on one of the blocks of stone that sit around the cathedral’s perimeter, gazing on the many stories in stone.