What Race Was Jesus Mother Mary

What race was Jesus? ‘Color of the Cross’ puts a different face on the debate.

For many, the image of Jesus is that of a white man with wavy blond hair and blue eyes – kind of like Jeffrey Hunter in 1961’s “King of Kings.” But a new film, “Color of the Cross,” shows the Christian savior as a black man. By casting himself in the lead role, writer and director Jean-Claude La Marre is challenging a view of Jesus that’s dominated since the Middle Ages and adding to a growing body of Hollywood films with Christian themes, including Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Da Vinci Code.” It also highlights a long-simmering debate in churches and universities across the country.

La Marre has had supporting roles in movies including Spike Lee’s 1992 “Malcolm X” and last year directed “Brothers in Arms” starring David Carradine.

Although race is not overtly cited as a reason for Jesus’ slaying, in one scene Mary asks, “Do you think they’re doing this because he’s black?” La Marre said the issue of skin color is particularly meaningful in the United States, given its tortured history regarding race.

“When a black man tells you he’s the son of God, it freaks people out.” By the early Middle Ages, images of Jesus had developed common themes – a forked beard, light-colored eyes, hazel or blond hair, and smooth facial features – and were used in countless artistic renderings by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

  1. “It’s this extremely muscular, blue-eyed, blond-haired figure,” said Loewe.
  2. But in America, he’s traditionally been seen as a white man in most churches and homes, until recently.
  3. “I thought dealing with Christ’s crucifixion would be a good story,” La Marre said.
  4. Despite passages in the Book of Revelation referring to Jesus with woolly hair and bronze-colored skin, he’s usually depicted as having white skin, flowing hair and European facial features.

Cecil Murray, a black minister in Los Angeles and a professor of religion at the University of Southern California, is credited as a producer for his work as a consultant on “Color of the Cross.” He said the history of the biblical region shows figures such as Jesus and Moses had black or Middle Eastern features.

  • You can hide chocolate in the midst of chocolate.
  • He dismisses the argument that what’s important is the New Testament savior’s message and not his skin color.
  • If they want to make him pecan-skinned, fine.
  • “If our icon of religion – the founder of the Christian faith – looked like us, then we can’t be as bad as we’ve been depicted.” At St.
  • St.
  • Paul Gawlowski, said that when children in the church hear that Jesus may have been black it has a profound affect on their sense of self.
  • “It gives them liberty.

“He picked the Hebrew people, who had a history of oppression and slavery, so it’s entirely likely that if Christ came back today, at least in America, he’d be African American, perhaps someone of Latino heritage.” CatholicUniversity’sLoewe said having a literal interpretation of Jesus’ image will have an effect on how people perceive themselves and others, with potentially negative side effects: “If he’s one of us, that means he’s not one you,” said Loewe.

  • La Marre said he encountered skeptical studio chiefs when he originally tried to pitch the movie, with some saying the project had no chance unless it featured an actor like Denzel Washington or Don Cheadle in the lead role.
  • “What was difficult was finding anyone who was willing to put money into the film.
  • La Marre ultimately financed the movie’s $2.5 million production cost by mortgaging two houses he owned, one in Beverly Hills and the other in Miami’s South Beach.
  • La Marre then sold the film to Fox, which released “The Passion of the Christ” on video.
  • In September, Fox Filmed Entertainment announced plans to produce up to a dozen Christian-themed films a year.

“I think Fox realized this would make good sense,” said La Marre, who thinks people are hungry for these kinds of stories. “I think the world is becoming more of a spiritual place, for good and bad, and people are looking for any bit of salvation they can get their hands on.”

“Race, Ethnicity, and Hope in a Hebraic Jesus” by Joshua Canada

What do we think of when we think about Jesus’ race? What does it mean to have pictures of a White Jesus, an Asian Jesus, or any other kind of Jesus? Most of the time, we don’t give much thought to how we portray Jesus, but it may be necessary that we do so with greater intention in the future. The most popular representation of Jesus throughout history has been that of a white, western European-looking man. One example is Arthur Maxwell’s “The Bible Story,” and another is the Hanna-Barbera video series “The Greatest Adventure Stories from the Bible.” Both of these works are instances of how mainstream Evangelical Christianity has portrayed Jesus white.

Unfortunately, we make Jesus into a representation of ourselves.

As a Hebraic Jew, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but his earthly mother, Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph, were both from the northern portions of Galilee, where they had come to live with their relatives.

In current day and age, the closest equivalent would be Middle Eastern Arabs or Middle Eastern ethnic Jews, who are both from the Middle East.

He would have most likely exhibited Jewish characteristics such as a prominent nose and jaw and dark hair, but he would also have exhibited characteristics and blood from a variety of ethnic and cultural lines (consider the inclusion of Ruth (a Moabite), Rahab (a Canaanite), and others in Jesus’ genealogy, for example).

  • He was also somewhat short (as compared to us) and, on the whole, he appeared to be a fairly ordinary looking guy.
  • When we build in our own image, what is the motivation behind it?
  • To mainstream and legitimize our own race, ethnicity, and/or heritage, we must first normalize and validate that of others.
  • Although it is not a pleasant reality, a white Jesus normalizes Christianity as a “white man’s religion,” which is a positive development.
  • Native-Americans/First Nationers, Black Americans, and Asian-Americans have all battled with the prospect of becoming Christians, in part because it implied that they would have to follow a “white man” in order to be accepted.
  • However, this is not a “black and white problem.” It is a Christian matter, after all.
  • We had Aryan representations, which helped to drive Nazi Germany.

We have European representations of the Crusades that inspired them.

The Color of Christ, a book by Ed Bloom, examines the actual Jesus as well as the images that have been manufactured and used in the United States’ racial history.

For example, the artistic image of Jesus as an African-American slave conveys far more than the fact that Jesus is black — in fact, it conveys no such message at all.

The portrayal of Jesus as an Italian immigrant might allude to Jesus’ extraterrestrial isolation from his own land in this realm.

The art of Jesus should be recognized.

It is important to know what Jesus looks like, but is it necessary?

The cultural background of Jesus, as well as his physical appearance, had an influence on his social surroundings.

That implies that he was handled as if he were a Jew.

We wish we didn’t see a difference, but that is not the case in reality.

Pretending that my race hasn’t influenced both my perspective of my own place in the world and the way the world responds to me is absurd.

There are many different types of people that identify as European-American: Kenyan, Black Jamaican, Chinese-American, and so on and so forth.

As a result of his “Jewishness,” Jesus was linked to the rest of humanity: to those who had suffered, who had reigned, who had been in God’s favor, and who had felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.

What’s the big deal?

That is a difficult question to answer.

However, here are some straightforward thoughts.

Black Jesus relating with liberation from American slavery equates with Jesus liberating us from the slavery of sin) 4- Recognize how wrong images associated with power (e.g., the KKK, Nazi Germany) distort the Gospel and cause others to be hindered by them.

See also:  What Happened To Jesus

Seeing Jesus as a Jew frees us from the clutches of political authority.

The degree of comprehension required if “salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22) must be recognized.

It was Jesus who introduced a multi-cultural extension to the scope of where and with whom God would be working.

In many respects, this is self-evident.

Yes, there are prophetic allusions to the coming of Christ, and reading the Old Testament provides us with a wide grasp of God’s character.

God, on the other hand, has designated a specific people group to operate through.

We read the Old Testament with them and feel a sense of belonging, in part because we, too, are God’s people, based on their ethnicity and history. “Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God,” we declare to Jesus, the Christ, in the same way that Ruth spoke to Naomi.

Was Jesus Black Or White? How One Church Leader Just Changed The Debate

Was Jesus of Nazareth, one of the most important characters in human history, a member of a race other than the Jewish race? There is no way to know for certain, but recent statements made by the leader of the Church of England indicate that it is past time to reconsider whether or not Jesus should be shown as a white male. When asked about the way the western church presents Jesus’ race in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby responded affirmatively.

“Of course it does,” Welby responded, stressing that Jesus was already depicted in a variety of ways other than as a white guy in various areas around the Anglican church.

As many different representations of Jesus as there are cultures, languages, and understandings, you will see a Fijian Jesus.” This comes at a time when a national discussion over institutional racism is raging in both the United States and the United Kingdom, with questions of race and class taking center stage.

Getty Images’ image of Jesus Jesus’s color and ethnicity have long been a source of contention — since the beginning of the spread of Christianity, the manner in which the faith’s primary figure has been depicted has been a source of both historical and aesthetic conflict.

“Jesus of Nazareth likely had a darker complexion than we imagine, similar to the olive skin common among Middle Easterners today,” wrote social psychologist and theologian Christena Cleveland in Christianity Today in 2016.

The Eurocentric image of Jesus, according to many opponents, has been utilized to propagate white supremacy and reinforce racist tropes that deify whiteness while denigrating Black people.

Recent days have seen a deterioration of the dispute about the race of Jesus, with political activist Shaun King igniting controversy when he tweeted on Monday that “the monuments of the white European they believe is Jesus should also come down.” “They are a manifestation of white supremacy,” he asserted.

It’s true that King expressed himself in a much more nuanced manner regarding the image of Jesus in other places, but it was his early Tweets that grabbed the public’s attention and turned the discussion into a political tempest.

Perhaps, by engaging the discourse concerning Jesus’ race, the Archbishop of Canterbury recognizes that the subject should be explored through the lens of religion rather than politics, and that delicacy rather than flame-throwing should be demanded.

In actuality, even the world’s most brilliant minds will never be able to determine whether Jesus was of African or European descent.

by starting a conversation about how the representation of Jesus can be more inclusive to those seeking faith and fortitude, the Archbishop of Canterbury is expressing his hope that the conversation about Jesus can shift from a fight about what should be torn down to more of a discussion about what can be constructed.

In such case, it would be worthwhile to place confidence in Jesus, regardless of his physical appearance.


Known as St. Mary or the Virgin Mary, she has been honored in the Christian church since the apostolic age and has been a popular topic in Western art, music, and literature from the beginning of the Christian era. She is the mother of Jesus. Mary is well-known through scriptural allusions, which, nevertheless, are insufficient to create a comprehensive biography of her life and times. Through the names that have been given to Mary throughout the history of Christiancommunities—guarantee of the Incarnation, virgin mother, secondEve, mother of God, eternally virgin and immaculate, and assumed intoheaven—we may trace the evolution of the concept of Mary.

Her humility and adherence to God’s word, as recorded in the New Testament, have elevated her to the status of a model for Christians of all eras.

The other name for the artwork refers to the fact that it was once housed at a monastery of the Poor Clares order in Poligny, Burgundy, France.

The Rogers Fund was established by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1933.

Biblical references

The story of the Annunciation, which reports that she was living in Nazarethand was betrothed to Joseph(Luke 1:26 ff.), is the first and last time that Mary is mentioned in the Bible, and the last time she is mentioned (Acts of the Apostles 1:14), she is included in the company of those who devoted themselves to prayer after Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Acts of the Apostles 1:14). According to the Gospels, she occurs in the following incidents: Among the events recorded are the Annunciation, the visit with Elizabeth, her kinswoman and the mother of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus (Luke 1:39 ff.), the birth of Jesus and his presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:1 ff.), the visit to Jerusalem by the Magi and the flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:1 ff.), the marriage at Cana in Galilee, although her name is not mentioned (Mark 2:1 ff) (John 19:26 ff.).

No matter how closely one considers these incidents to be accurate historical descriptions, they do not add up to a cohesive portrayal of Mary.

However, since the beginning of Christian history, the concepts that these images represent have served as a starting point for discussion and devotion on the Virgin Mary.

As a result, a historical study of that evolution also serves as an introduction to the current condition of Christian theology regarding Mary to a significant degree.

Dogmatic titles

The phrase “born of woman” in Galatians 4:4, which was written before any of the Gospels, is perhaps the oldest mention to Mary in Christian literature. As analogies in the Bible such as Job 14:1 and Matthew 11:11 reveal, the term is a Hebraic manner of referring about a person’s fundamental humanity. The phrase “born of woman” was intended to assert that Jesus was a genuine man, in opposition to the attempt—later seen in various systems of gnosticism, an early 2nd-century dualistic religion—to deny that he had lived a fully human life; in fact, some gnostics believe that he passed through the body of Mary in the same way that light passes through a window.

As a result, the term designated Mary as the indication or promise that the Son of God had indeed been born in the form of a human being.

Some academics have even asserted that the key connotation of the term “born of the Virgin Mary” in theApostles’ Creed was the church’s insistence on Jesus’ genuine manhood, which they believe was the primary meaning of the phrase.

Any other obligations that have been entrusted to her in devotion and indogma take precedence over her mothering responsibilities.

In most cases, those who support the virgin birth contend that the possibility of real humanity was made possible when the Virgin Mary accepted her commission as a guarantee of the Incarnation (Luke 1:38): “Let it be with me according to your word.” Although the titleco-redemptrix has come to denote a more active role by Mary in the redemption of humankind, the precise nature of this participation is still a source of debate among Catholic theologians.

This is the origin of the titleco-redemptrix, which indicates some participation with Christ in the redemption of humankind and has been assigned to Mary in Roman Catholic theology.

Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus are shown in a stained glass window.

See also:  How To Connect With Jesus

Both accounts make a point of asserting that Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary without the intervention of any human being (Matthew 1:18 f.; Luke 1:34 f.), but the numerous textual variants in Matthew 1:16, some of which contain the words “Joseph begat Jesus,” have led some scholars to question whether such an assertion was part of Matthew’s original account.

Although it is not mentioned by the Apostle Paul, TheGospel According to Markbegins with Jesus as an adult, and TheGospel According to John, which begins with his prehistorical existence, makes no mention of the virgin birth, unless the variant of John 1:13 that reads “.who was born” rather than “.who were born” is used to support the virgin birth.

The disputes about Mary’s virginity have dominated postbiblical Christian writing, with the majority of the literature devoted to her being written after her death.

When it comes to understanding Jesus Christ and his life and work in the New Testament, one of the most common interpretations is the drawing of parallels between him andAdam: “because as all died in Adam, so all will be brought alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians15:22).

Whatever your opinion on whether or not the tale of The Annunciation in the first chapter of The Gospel is true, According to Luke, this was originally intended to illustrate a comparable comparison between Eve and Mary, but it quickly became a focus of Christian thought.

Irenaeus elaborated on the parallel between Eve, who had disobeyed the word of God while she was a virgin, and Mary, who had obeyed it while she was also a virgin: for Adam had to be restored in Christ in order for mortality to be absorbed in immortality, and Eve in Mary in order for a virgin, who had become the advocate of a virgin, should undo and destroy virgin Irenaeus did not discuss the matter; he appears to have taken the comparison for granted, which may imply that it was not his own creation but rather a product of tradition, for which he held a high level of regard.

According to whatever interpretation one chooses, the parallel ascribes to Mary and her obedience a significant role in the redemption of the human race: all died in Adam, but Eve had participated in the sin that brought about their deaths; all were saved in Christ, but Mary had participated in the life that made this possible.

During the 4th century, the title appears to have arose in devotional usage, most likely in Alexandria, and appears to have been drawn as a logical deduction from the doctrine of Christ’s full deity, which had been established as a dogma during that time period, and those who defended that dogma were also those who made the deduction.

  1. Towards the end of the 4th century, the Theotokos had established herself in a number of different sectors of the church with great success.
  2. Nestorius’ arguments, along with other parts of his doctrine, were rejected by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
  3. When it reads “born of the Virgin Mary,” the Apostles’ Creed appears to be teaching at the very least thevirginitas in partu.
  4. With the rise of theasceticideal activity in the church, this concept of Mary as a model of the ever-virgin was given more credence.
  5. Old Testament texts used in favor of the doctrine by Church Fathers (such as Ezekiel 44:2 and Song of Solomon 4:12) were probably only convincing to those who already believed in it.
  6. The great theologian and bishop of northern Africa, St.
  7. 44.1 x 32 centimeters Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum is a must-see.
  8. Out of reverence for the Lord, I do not intend to raise a single question on the issue of sin.

It was, however, the distinction betweenoriginal sin(i.e., the sin that all people are born with) andactual sin(i.e., the sins that people commit during their lives), firmly established in Western theology by the same Augustine, that eventually compelled a further clarification of what the sinlessness of Mary meant.

  • But was she exempt from original sin as well?
  • St.
  • This position, however, was opposed by the doctrine of theImmaculate Conception, systematized byDuns Scotus, a 13th-century British Scholastic theologian, and finally defined as Roman Catholic dogma byPope Pius IXin 1854.
  • Luke; in the Benedictine monastery of Santa María de Montserrat, Catalonia, Spain.
  • When the Immaculate Conception waspromulgated, petitions began coming to the Vatican for a definition regarding theAssumptionof the Virgin into heaven, as this was believed by Roman Catholics and celebrated in the Feast of the Assumption.

No account of the place and circumstances of Mary’s death was universally accepted in the church (although paintings depicting her “dormition,” or “falling asleep,” in the ancient Ionian city ofEphesuswere quite common); no burial place was acknowledged (although there was a grave inJerusalemthat was said to be hers); and no miracles were credited torelicsof her body (although the physical remains of far lessersaintshad performed many) (although the physical remains of far lessersaintshad performed many).

Such arguments from silence, however, did notsufficeto establish a dogma, and, on the positive side, even the earliest doctrinal and liturgical testimony in support of the idea had appeared relatively late in history.


Is There Any Evidence for Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Being the “Black Madonna”? – Resources

What evidence is there to support the idea that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the so-called “Black Madonna”? I have a Bible with drawings, and it states that the majority of art representing Mary as a black woman was destroyed by Caucasian church officials.

Answer from Stephanie Anderson, EPM staff:

While Wikipedia is not usually a credible source of information, the following information regarding the Black Madonnas may be of assistance: Marie Durand-Lefebvre (1937), Emile Saillens (1945), and Jacques Huynen (1947) were among the first to do significant research into dark pictures in France (1972). It appears that Leonard Moss delivered the first important presentation in English on the origins and significance of the Black Madonnas at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on December 28, 1952, in which he was recognized for his work.

Dark brown or black Madonnas with physiognomy and skin pigmentation matching that of the indigenous population (from) A typical occurrence in art is for civilizations all over the world to show Jesus (and often Mary) in their artwork as appearing in the same way that their own people do.

Jesus’ heritage was Jewish, and as a guy from the Middle East, his complexion would have been a shade or two darker than the average European.

Randy had the following to say concerning Jesus’ appearance: Jesus, on the other hand, would have had dark complexion and would not have been described as “white.” A purebred Jew or Arab with sunbaked skin (including carpenters like Jesus who cut their own wood and spent more time working outside than inside) is often quite dark and unwhite in appearance (as opposed to a mixed-race Jew or Arab).

I pushed for Jesus to have a darker complexion when I was working with them.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Stephanie Anderson works as a communications and graphics professional at Eternal Perspective Ministries, where she has been since 2007.

Race, religion and the Black Madonna

This page contains an archive of information about the Black Madonna’s history in medieval Europe. Later on, her image is modified once more, and she goes on to play a variety of intriguing roles in the colonized Americas. But what information does she have to share with us today? What relevance may she have outside of her religious and spiritual beliefs? I feel that figures such as the Black Madonna may do a great deal for us. They have the potential to influence the way history is told. They may talk about all of the other histories that have been overlooked in favor of the Western, male-centric narratives that we have been so accustomed to hearing, and in which museums have historically been rooted as institutions of learning.

When this image was taken in 1939, it was expected that the appearance of instances of racially discriminatory language, such as this one, would be commonplace in museums.

These campaigns have played a critical role in persuading museums to begin the lengthy process of acknowledging and challenging the problematic aspects of their respective histories.

Conversations with visitors on a daily basis are an important component of this transformational process. Objects like the Black Madonna are excellent discussion starters since they are so striking.

The Virgin Mary: Beautiful and Black?

Sarah Randles contributes to our ongoing series on Race, Racism, and the Middle Ages, which is titled Part XXXVIII. All of the special series’ episodes may be found on this page. The Virgin Mary was of any ethnicity, and it made no difference to medieval Christians. This is a quote from Professor Rachel Fulton Brown, a medievalist at the University of Chicago, who writes on her blog. While we at The Public Medievalist prefer not to intervene too extensively in ongoing academic arguments, we will make an exception in this particular instance.

  • It looked as though Professor Fulton Brown was claiming that the Middle Ages could not be utilized to promote present white supremacism since medieval people were not racist.
  • However, with that intricacy, the answer is most definitely not a simple’no ‘.
  • A dark-skinned Virgin Mary is depicted in the center of the painting, according to Fulton Brown.
  • As a result, they are unable to be racist.
  • However, there is a more fundamental question.
  • And what does this say about how they view race in their society?
  • Stuart Whatling is the author of this piece.
See also:  How Did The Romans Come To Rule Israel Judea At The Time Of Jesus

But I can demonstrate why: the ‘close up’ photo of the Virgin’s face that Fulton Brown shared is derived from a Wikimedia photo shot by Hans Bernhard in 1964, and it was posted by Fulton Brown on his Facebook page.

This work was completed in 1964.


So this Virgin Mary at Chartres wasn’t particularly dark-skinned; she was simply filthy.

As Marian pointed out, a repair project was done in 1906, which replaced the previous glass—which was itself a restoration project of unknown age at the time!

Stuart Whatling’s photographs of the Cult of the Carts, the Miracles of the Virgin Window, and the Chartres Cathedral Additionally, Marian has pointed out that the Virgin’s face, in its current form, is not significantly darker than many of the other faces depicted in the medieval stained glass at Chartres Cathedral.

It is even possible to see people of different skin tones in scenes such as the “Miracles of the Virgin” window (which is thought to depict parishioners of Chartres pulling carts to assist in the rebuilding of the Cathedral), which includes people who are as dark as the Virgin’s face in the Belle Verrière, which was cleaned.

It appears that she would have been outstanding if she had existed, based on the color of her face in the many thirteenth-century windows at Chartres.

I’m not aware of any depictions of the Virgin Mary as having black complexion, whether in stained glass or in manuscript illuminations, wall paintings, or needlework, despite the identification of the Mary with the’nigra sed formosa’woman of the Song of Songs in Liturgy, but I’m sure there are some out there.

  • At the convent of Santa Maria de Montserrat in Spain, the statue of “La Moreneta” (the Virgin of Montserrat) may be found.
  • The image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
  • However, it is still up for question whether or not specific sculptures were supposed to be black in the first place, or whether or not they have become such through time (by either being painted or losing their paint).
  • The darkness of these statues and figures became an integral component of the reasons for and methods of devotion that they were employed.
  • So, since the Virgin Mary was not represented as having dark complexion, did this mean that she was depicted as Jewish?
  • When it comes to medieval Christian art, Jewish men are typically represented by theJudenhut (Jewish hat), occasionally by long beards, and commonly by anti-Semitic caricatures.
  • They were frequently shown in a fashion that did not distinguish them from Christian ladies, particularly by having skin tones that were very identical to Christian women.
  • Obviously, the Virgin Mary will not be represented in that manner in the film.
  • In most cases, they show Mary’sPresentation of the Virgin to the Temple, an event that occurs during her childhood (but only in the apocryphalProtoevangelium of James —which was, in essence, a forerunner to the New Testament).

While it is true that Jewishness was rarely associated with darker skin in medieval Christian art, it is also likely that medieval Christian artists, particularly those in Northern and Western Europe, were familiar with Jewish people in their own communities who were not necessarily darker in complexion.

  • And, at the very least in the instance of the Virgin, there was no outward language of difference that could be used to imply that she was a Jew.
  • 1181, with a detail of the altarpiece.
  • Rosbach’s photograph is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
  • To learn more about this, visit the great seriesThe Image of the Black in Western Art or the popular Tumblr sitePeople of Color in European Art History.
  • But, if the Virgin Mary was identified with the ‘nigra sum sed formosa’ line, why didn’t medieval painters show her as a sub-Saharan African woman, as the text suggests?
  • Images of sub-Saharan African people were extremely rare in Western Europe throughout the twelfth century, when the Chartres windows were created.
  • While the text ‘nigra sum sed formosa’ was used in medieval liturgies to commemorate the Virgin Mary, it was also associated with the Queen of Sheba, who is depicted as having dark skin in some medieval works of art from the twelfth century onward.
  • Detail from Hans Vintler’s Die Pluemen der Tugent (Tirol 1411), Austrian Nationalbibliothek Cod.13567 fol.6r (Austrian Nationalbibliothek).
  • However, in some works, such as a late-twelfth-century window at Canterbury Cathedral, the Queen of Sheba is shown as having fair complexion.

According to this interpretation of the evidence, despite being familiar with the use in liturgy of the ‘nigra sum sed formosa’ text, which linked the Virgin Mary with the ‘black but beautiful’ woman of the Song of Songs, medieval artists actively chose to depict her with light skin—at least in the vast majority of Western European medieval images.

  1. Were medieval Christian painters purposefully whitewashing a lady whose skin they considered to be dark in order to reproduce her in their own image, or did they do it accidentally?
  2. However, this does not rule out the possibility that the practice of portraying Mary as a medieval European light-skinned woman was intended to erase any existing understanding of Mary as a person of color from the visual record in any way.
  3. Text from the Song of Songs, “nigra sum sed formosa,” was not always taken literally, as it was in some circles.
  4. More study is needed to ascertain if some of the black Madonna sculptures were engraved with text from the Song of Songs at the time of their construction or whether the inscriptions were added afterwards (perhaps to explain the colour that the statues had become over time).
  5. The black magus at the Nativity and St.
  6. However, as other writers to this series have pointed out in their writings, certain medieval European thinkers did associate darkness with the presence of evil.
  7. Not all medieval Europeans had the same beliefs as one another.

They may not have been racist in the contemporary sense, but the legacy of their images was centuries in which the Virgin and Christ were transformed into white people.

For Further Reading

According to Chantal Bouchon, “A Symbolic Window: Notre-Dame de Belle-Verrière,” in La Grâce d’une Cathédrale: Chartres, edited by Michel Pansard and others (Strassbourg: Nuée Bluee, 2013), 217–21. * Note from the editor: A large number of scholars believe that the original Latin translation of the ‘Nigra sum sed formosa’ text was actually a mistranslation from the original Hebrew, and that the text should have been translated more accurately (and less derogatorily) as ‘Nigra sum et formosa’, which means ‘I am black and beautiful,’ instead.

For further information on how one single word may alter the entire meaning of a sentence, read Kate Lowe’s article on the subject here.

Make sure you subscribehereto be the first to know when a new article from The Public Medievalist is live.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.