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Ardennes & Champagne

14 August 2005

Black Madonna at WalcourtLong drive from Leiden to Rheims, made somewhat longer by managing to miss the Brussels ring road, so drove through the city – still, Sunday morning, wasn’t too bad. Direction signs were useless again but I headed due south – the sun helped – and soon found the way again.

Was rewarded on arrival at Walcourt – the Basilique de St Materne.

Isn’t she beautiful? I have an awful temptation, if I ever find myself alone with a Black Madonna again, to peep under her frock. If you can make out the small picture (left), she is most definitely dark of skin but the robe looks awkward, wrapped as it is around the infant Jesus. Isis said “My veil no-one has lifted” so I’m not sure if I dare …

I had the same reaction to this madonna as to the one in Dunkerque – breath caught, almost in tears. What I feel is recognition – but why and how?

Avioth, FranceI loved this place in Walcourt. My favourite thing, beside the Lady, was the vending machine for postcards and other souvenirs – the kind that you would normally buy Mars Bars and packets of crisps from – and the statue below left – does anyone know who she is? There was no indication on or near the statue. I was struck by the resemblance to Atargatis, the lovely goddess with a city on her head, in token that she (like Inanna) has the attributes of civilization in her gift.

Unknown Statue, Walcourt, BelgiumWalcourt is quite near the French border and it wasn’t long before I was in the Ardennes and heading for Avioth and another Basilique. This one was very popular with tourists, lots of people and a whole crocodile of nuns were in attendance. I was disappointed to see that this madonna has obviously been whitened, although if you look at the picture on the right closely there are signs of this.

Also, there are postcards on sale in the church (in a much more sophisticated vending machine) showing her as much darker, as well as a set with the paler features. Interestingly, this madonna didn’t have the usual effect on me.

Driving through the Ardennes I was aware of the landscape; rounded hills and rich farmland. I passed at least seven roadside shrines – every one was to the virgin. I wondered about Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden and wished I could spend more time here; there is something of the grail in this place; I can’t explain exactly. But this is so much the Lady’s country.