White Madonna (Virgen blanca)

– Answered by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Q: What about White Madonnas?

A: The title "White Madonna" is a translation from the Spanish "Virgen blanca" (white virgin). In English "White Madonna" does not refer to an established title. In Spain, however, the title "Virgen blanca" is well known and used in at least forty different locations. In some locations the title has been assimilated with that of Our Lady of the Snows, and for some, more specifically, with Mary Major in Rome. For others, in this case for Toledo, origin and meaning of the title are different. The Virgin blanca of Toledo has dark features (see her face). Why is it called "blanca", white Madonna?

The darkened features of the Black Madonna is a popular iconographic feature in the Eastern Churches. It points to the Christian truth of our Lady as the "Mother of the Light," a popular theme in the prayers, Akathists, Canons and Offices of the East. For example, the Magnificat is opened with the words from the Priest, "Let us exalt the Mother of Light."

From this iconographers deduced that Mary, as our Lady of Light, has dark skin, for anything that is placed up against the sun (Christ Is our Light and Sun) turns dark. This is the theme of Our Lady of Czestochowa and other icons and statues in the West.

Virgen Blanca Cathedral of Toledo, Spain

The Templars brought with them the devotion to the Black Madonna from Ethiopia. The colors of their order was black and red symbolizing light and sacrifice. They even wore a double black and red cord around their necks that represented this and their flag also had black, white and red colors. For them, the Black Madonna also reminded them of the Queen of Sheba and her son Menelik, the first Emperor of Ethiopia when they were the guards of the Ark of the Covenant under Emperor St. Lalibela who developed the stone cross Churches of Lasta Province. But the Templars were devoted to the Mother of God specifically under her titles of "Our Lady of Light" and "Ark of the Covenant." For this reason, which is quite in keeping with the Eastern Church's theology and iconography, the Templar Madonnas were Black.

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