Last night I woke up with a headache. It was cold and I knew I had no painkillers in the house so there was no point in getting up. To take my mind off my sore head I began thinking up responses to this week’s Ligo Haibun challenge. I tried recalling railway journeys I have taken but nothing emerged – what popped into my head was a memory of watching a tiny train arrive at the little station at Monserrat in Spain. I dismissed this as irrelevant and tried again to recall rail journeys. Once again I saw that little train and a haibun evolved.
I had gone to Monserrat to see the Black Madonna there. I am not a Roman Catholic but had become interested in these Madonnas while reading about the Mother Goddess. I wanted to see one for myself but most are in out of the way places. When I discovered it was easy to visit the Black Madonna in the mountains outside Barcelona I decided that was the one I’d see. Internet sites warned the tiny railway line up the mountain was unsafe so I opted for a bus tour.
Mid 2012 I boarded the bus with other tourists from Australia, the US and Britain. Our English speaking tour guide was a young Spanish woman completely obsessed with the Black Madonnas of Europe. As we journeyed up the precarious mountain roads she gave a detailed history of these mysterious objects. Most were found hidden in caves during the 12th century. Their age and origins are obscure and they are stylistically very different from Catholic depictions of Mary. There is a some thought that they are representations of a much older Goddess, possible Ishtar/Inanna from the Middle East or the Celtic Goddess, Eostre -now as I write that, I realise these two names are so similar they no doubt refer to the same Goddess. (This ancient Goddess is a fertile goddess but she is much, much more – the ancient story The descent of Inanna is perhaps the world’s first teaching about spiritual initiation and the growth of wisdom).
Legend has it that when the Madonna was found in a cave in the Monserrat mountains the priests ordered workmen to carry her down to the cathedral in Barcelona. As the men tried to carry the statue away it grew so heavy they were forced to put it down. A monastery was built around the statue instead. These days it is a popular Catholic pilgrimage site. Hundreds of school kids and groups of older people arrive daily in buses or take the tiny railcar.
The monastery is up near the summit. It’s so high up the air felt rarefied and thin to me. Our tour guide was unconcerned by this and led us up to the Madonna at a cracking pace. When we entered the monastery complex we were met by a deafening wall of sound as workmen attacked the crumbling stone walls with jack hammers. The air was filled with choking dust. Coughing and spluttering I followed the guide into the church.
Once inside the building a deep silence prevailed. Hordes of people climbed up flight after flight of stairs in a zealous, purposeful manner. No one spoke. I had read that this church was a grail church and kept a lookout for some sign of this. I snapped this image as I passed. No one else appeared to notice it.
High up in the building we came to the Black Madonna mounted in a glass case. Pilgrims filed past and reached through a hole in the window to touch the stone ball she held. I did the same.
Once past the statue the energy of the crowd suddenly dissipated and people wandered off in all directions. There was some time before the bus was due to depart so I followed some Spanish ladies down to a chapel behind the statue. I sat there a while soaking up the sanctified and peaceful atmosphere as the ladies whispered their prayers. The peaceful feeling stayed with me on the bus back to Barcelona but once there other sights claimed my attention and life moved on.
Recalling all this last night I wondered why I was lying awake creating a haibun about Black Madonnas. Seeking understanding I went back to the stories associated with these objects. All of them were found hidden in caves and all are thought to be representations of the ancient Mother Goddess Ashtar, the Goddess that was first named in Sumeria (now Iraq) – forgotten treasures emerging from the shadows – there is a Jungian symbolism to this.