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In researching the origins of the ‘Our Lady of Montserrat’ statue, it was found in the literature that the original statue dates back to 50 AD, having been carved by St. Luke while he lived in Jerusalem. Through unexplained events, the statue moved from Jerusalem to Egypt, almost mirroring the escape of the Holy Family to safety as they fled persecution from King Herod’s troops. In 718AD, to escape destruction by the Moorish invaders, the statue was taken to Barcelona where it disappeared from sight until 880AD.
On that fateful date, Shepherds “watching their flocks at night” saw lights and heard singing on a mountainside in Catalonia on successive Saturday nights and on investigation found the statue enthroned on a ledge in a cave. Attempts to take the statue in Procession to the Cathedral failed, since, as they proceeded, the Statue became heavier and heavier. This was interpreted as a sign that they should leave it at a nearby Abbey. During the 9th Century, the Abbey was expanded to four (4) Chapels and during the 11th century, a Monastery was founded on the mountains of Montserrat close to the Abbey.
In 1592 the original shrine was expanded into a Basilica and consecrated to Our Lady of Montserrat. A strong tradition of pilgrimages developed around Our Lady of Montserrat and the Shrine built to receive the statue. The statue is affectionately called “La Moreneta” and is 37 inches high. The statue shows the Baby is seated on his Mother’s lap, blessing with his right hand, holding a small fir cone in the left. Our Lady holds a globe, symbolising the world, in her right hand, her left hand protectively hovering around the shoulder of the Holy Baby. In 1881, Pope Leo XIII crowned Our Lady of Montserrat.
Our Lady of Montserrat Church in Tortuga is well known for its interesting architecture, the panoramic and breathtaking view of the Gulf of Paria and most of all, for the wooden figure of the Black Virgin. The original statue brought by the Capuchin Missionaries was not a copy of the original statue found in the Basilica of Our Lady in Montserrat in Spain. Instead, it is an image built by a Spanish saint maker in the Spanish Colonial Art Style. Two statues were sent to Trinidad, the first being the original statue placed in Tortuga by the Archdiocese of Port- of-Spain. The second statue was placed in ‘safe keeping’ and has not been found to date. No one knows the exact date when the statue was brought to Tortuga.
WHY IS THE MADONNA BLACK?
One of the most common questions about the Black Madonna is why she is black. The dark colour of the Virgin’s face is the reason why locals have nicknamed her ‘La Moreneta’ (“the little black lady”). Contrary to popular belief, she is not black due to a portrayal of a Black African Madonna. The blackness also does not come from a dark color in the wood or from earlier coverings in the paint. It is known from historical descriptions of the Madonna that she has simply darkened over time.