The Black Virgin of the cathedral of Santa María de la Almudena is a reproduction of the original statue that was lost in the Santa María church fire during the reign of Philip II. The current statue dates from the late sixteenth century, although it is believed that the head and hands of the Virgin, as well as the head of baby Jesus, may have belonged to the original statue.
Legend says that the statue of the Virgin was brought to Madrid in AD 38 by St Calocero, one of the twelve disciples of the apostle St James the Greater (Santiago el Major). Many years later, in 712, when the army of the Visigothic King Roderick was routed during the Battel of Guadalete and the Arabs, under the command of Tariq and Moussa, took the small city of Madrid, the Christian inhabitants of the city hid the statue of the Virgin in a cavity of the almudena, which is Spanish for “citadel”. With time, the Christians forgot about this hiding spot, until the day when the Virgin appeared before the Cid to ask him to retake Madrid.
In 1085, when the troops advanced towards the citadel, a portion of the wall fell away to reveal the miraculous Virgin, and it is at that very spot that the army entered and retook the city. Afterwards, King Alfonso VI of Castile, ordered the sculpture of the Virgin to be placed on the altar of Santa María de la Almudena church, thus transforming this mosque into a church. From the twelfth to the early fourteenth centuries, the Templers worshipped the Virgin here, which, in a way, contributed to the renown of the city’s patron saint.
During the Moorish domination, worship of the Virgin continued to be respected, as the Moors also venerated the Mother of God, in the person of Fatima, the fifth daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. They also respected Mary as the mother of the Prophet Isa, or Jesus. Thus, some authors interpret the word almudena as a synonym of the Virgin: “ala” which means alma (Hebrew for virgin); “mu”, which means woman; “dei” or God; “na” or natus, meaning born. The word therefore stands for : virgin and woman or Mother of God.
The Black Virgin is also a symbol of fertility on farming villages. In this sense, the world almudena could be a derivative of the Arab word almudín, meaning ‘deposit of wheat’, which referred to the wheat fields that surrounded the city and fed its inhabitants.
The fact that this Virgin was kept hidden for so long meant that she was a black occult goddess, which is symbolised by the moon found at her feet, as the moon is the other of creation whose phases determine the sowing and harvesting seasons.
So next time you are in Madrid, pay a visit to the cathedral of Santa María de la Almudena and see the Black Virgin who it is said is both a fertility symbol and the source of inspiration for the recapture of Madrid.
(Adapted from Secret Madrid by V. Muro)