"She is a dark/scared girl in dusty djellabah and veil,/with dirty feet."
Tall, blonde and lissome? That is not how Our Lady of Lourdes looked!
|Picture: The Daily Telegraph|
Our Lady as portrayed by poet Lynn Roberts
I like the realism of this type of portrayal; it shows beauty, honesty and a certain level of basic human goodness. I much prefer this sort of treatment over the conventional blonde haired virgin so beloved of the western world. Those who commission the creation of statues and those who carry them out seem oblivious to the fact that Mary was a Jewish peasant girl; dark hair, sallow skin and slightly more obvious features than we are used to seeing on our "English Rose" version. I recall the story of how, once Lourdes began to develop as a place of pilgrimage, the church placed a statue of Our Lady in the niche at the Grotto, exactly where she had appeared. This statue caused St Bernadette some angst as, according to her (and she should know), it bore no relation to the vision she had seen. When Our Lady appeared at Lourdes she appeared as a Pyrenean lass, short and stocky but outstandingly beautiful. Let's face it, the niche is only around five feet or less in height, there is no way that the conventional Virgin could have fitted into it. The present statue is, I guess, about four feet in height.
I also like the fact that, wherever you go in the world, Our Lady is featured as a native of the particular country you may be in. In Japan, Our Lady of Akita is most definitely Japanese, the same applies in China and I am sure that Africa is well endowed with genuine Black Madonnas. But here in Europe and, indeed in the USA, Canada and Australia/New Zealand, we are only familiar with Mary's "European" features and I long for an image that I can more easily relate to. What, I wonder, caused Renaissance artists to portray her as a blonde? Was it a form of racism, a reaction against the Jewish race? If so it was very short sighted; I find a Jewish maiden concept utterly charming and we in the Western world should now be mature enough to cope with such things. Perhaps we could see more statues and carvings that are true to the original or, at the very least, our interpretation of how that very young and scared maid from Nazareth must have looked.
Lynn Roberts is a very gifted artist and also has a range of botanical illustrations in her portfolio. I hope that she receives some commissions from the Catholic Church in the future, we need to bring some integrity into the contemporary art within our churches.