The History of the Black Madonna & Child at UDM
"With the pride that can only be developed and flow from a faith that withstands discouragement and frustration, we, the Special Projects students present the Statue of the Black Madonna and Child to the University of Detroit."
- Unveiling and Dedication Ceremony,
September 21, 1969
In the summer of 1968, the Special Projects students of the University of Detroit met and discussed the need for the University to become more relevant to black students. These discussions led to the decision by students that a symbolic representation of their presence would be a first step. Thus, the idea for a statue of the Black Madonna and Child was conceived. The Special Projects students raised funds, found a sculptor and went through the laborious mechanics that, of necessity, accompany such a project.
The Statue of the Black Madonna and Child stands today symbolic of the depth of the commitment, the relentlessness of the students' efforts and the determination to hold steadfast to their beliefs.
The Origin of the Black Madonna and Child
In the Fourth Century, the cathedral at Chartres, France was dedicated to the Black Madonna. Black Madonnas, however, may even precede this date. Numerous Madonnas have been created all over the world - Germany, Italy, France, Poland, Switzerland and Spain. Our Lady of Montserrat in Spain is perhaps the best known Black Madonna statue. Legend contends that this statue was carved by St. Luke in Jerusalem, taken to Barcelona, and hidden in a cave near Montserrat to be rediscovered in 880 A.D.
There are three distinct categories of Black Madonnas:
- Madonnas of dark brown or black skin pigmentation and physiognomy resembling the populace indigenous to the area;
- Madonnas that became black due to smoke damage, deterioration, oxidation, or other physical changes; and
- miracle-working Black Madonnas with black or dark brown pigmentation originating in regions inhabited by Caucasians.
The third category is significant; for physical deterioration, accident nor resemblance to the native population can logically explain their color or account for their discovery in areas populated by whites. These Black Madonnas were considered to be exceedingly powerful miracle workers and held in high esteem. They were worshipped for their power rather adored due to their grace.
An eighteen foot chancel mural of the Black Madonna, painted by Detroit artist Glanton Dowdell was unveiled and dedicated on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967, at the Shrine of the Black Madonna by the Reverend Albert Cleage. This mural became Detroit's first representation of the Black Madonna and Child.