The Three Black Madonnas of the Basque Country

In the north of Spain lies a mysterious Basque country with its language Euskera, which has no relation to any other language in the world. The people of that region are descendants of the oldest indigenous population of Europe. Some researchers claim they were related to Etruscans and Cretans. The main deity of this ancient folk was Mari – the mother goddess. Because it is such an old matriarchal culture, it is not surprising that the region has not less than three Black Madonnas! After all, they do tend to appear in places of ancient goddess worship, especially the chthonic goddess. In this connection I recommend reading the following article dedicated to the pivotal role of witchcraft in Basque culture:

An old legend speaks of seven black virgins, who left the hermitage of San Sebastián de Ataun to settle in other hermitages in Gipuzkoa (a region of the Basque Country with the capital in San Sebastian). Four of these Virgins are no longer in the area but three of them are to be found in churches along Camino del Norte, which is the coastal way of St James leading from Irun to Santiago de Compostela.

In Irun we encounter the first Virgin called the Juncal – Lady of the reeds. She was found by the river and placed at the main altar of the city’s basilica. I suspect her image has been whitened but she used to be black originally. My original impression upon seeing her – without any previous knowledge – was a feeling of surprise that she is not black. The image is Romanesque and Spanish sources confirm her original blackness. You can view more images here:


The second Black Virgin is to be found in the vicinity of Hondarribia in the Sanctuary of Guadalupe. Her altar is flanked by two ships.  Here is more information about her:

Her sanctuary is located on a steep hill overlooking the city. The chapel is dark, the only source of light being the Black Madonna herself. It is indeed a supernatural apparition. At the back of the chapel there is an image of the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe.


The third Black Madonna is a patroness of San Sebastian. She is to be found in Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro (St Mary of the Choir). It is a tiny figure placed in the centre of an elaborate altar. Her robes are silver. It is said that previously there was a primitive church there, dedicated to the Virgin Beltza (Black Virgin), located at the foot of Mount Urgull, which is a hill that overlooks the city.

San Sebastian

All the photos were taken by me. On the symbolism of the Black Madonna, please check numerous other previous posts on my blog (use the search function).

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4 Responses to The Three Black Madonnas of the Basque Country

  1. Dixie L Gladstone says:

    When you said this: ” Her sanctuary is located on a steep hill overlooking the city. The chapel is dark, the only source of light being the Black Madonna herself. It is indeed a supernatural apparition. ” Do you mean to say there is no light coming through the top of the church or anywhere else in the church on the Virgin and Child? That she alone lights this space? Please let me know — I often pass your articles on to others and I would like to know that so that I don’t misrepresent the miracle? thank you and thank you for these images of Mary, exquisite!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Dixie, well, I was speaking metaphorically but the chapel is dark indeed with no daylight coming in. The statue is artificially lit of course but I had this impression of her luminosity. The portrait of the Mexican Lady of Guadalupe in the back is very dark and hardly visible. Only candlelight illuminates it a little. It is indeed a wonderful place. Thank you very much for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree that the first one looks like it should be black. Everything else is so dark, she looks out of place. Not in an ethereal, glowing way either.
    Thank you for sharing these beautiful images and all the links for more information. I didn’t know about the Black Madonnas until you started sharing them. I didn’t grow up with any religion so I’ve explored here and there and created my own mish-mash of mostly Eastern and indigenous.
    It’s always fascinating how the Catholic Church changed old customs and rebranded them to fit into their teachings.

    Liked by 2 people

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