Stella Maris – and home
3 September 2005
While driving to Calais I realised that the journey – pilgrimage? – should start as it began – with a visit to one of the Madonnas who rule the waves on the French side of the Channel. Boulogne has a black madonna, so I set off early and found the church on top of a hill, as is so often the case.
Unfortunately, a funeral was about to begin and although I could see the dark virgin at the side of the main altar, there was no way I was going to be insensitive enough to start taking photographs. I noticed there was a crypt, but that wasn’t open until 2pm so it looked as though that was that.
Then I saw a sign to “the sanctuary” and followed it, curiously. In a large, round space there seemed to be madonnas everywhere. Copies of Walsingham and Canterbury (although Walsingham seemed to have been whitened). Madonnas receiving their churches and basilicas from worshippers. Frescos in appalling condition showing every possible scene from the life of Mary the Virgin.
And there, over the altar, was the image of Mary in her boat. This was obviously a copy, and whitened, but here was Stella Maris, the Goddess of the Sea (who arrived in Boulogne, according to the tale, as a crowned statue, holding her baby, in a rudderless boat, as she so often does. They’ve added the angels but I think we get the picture. So the journey ends as it started … for now.