From, “The Future has an Ancient Heart”

By: Professor Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum

(2005 – Berkeley University, California)


“In early…heretical interpretations of Christianity, the French, particularly in the South, looked to ‘other’ Marys. They considered Mary Magdalene…an apostle. Male apostles did not believe her, the Church denigrated her… French legends recount that Magdalene came to the south of France where she…lived in a cave, near…La Labadous…”


“Some of the ‘other Marys’ in this region suggest that people identified the mother of Jesus with the Black Madonna of Saintes Maries de la Mer. This Black Madonna on the Mediterranean coastwho recalls the Black Mother of Africa points toinclusive womanbeliefs subversive to the Christian Canon. Stories and rituals connect this Black Madonna with Sara of Hebrew scriptures, with Kali, fierce Hindu woman divinity of India, and the beloved Black Maria of Gypsies of the world.”


“Radical cultural beliefs are evident in heretical legends that French peasants, for two millennia, have transmitted about Mary Magdalene, who is today the national saint of France…”


“The ‘Gospel of Mary Magdalene’ (not recognized in the official Catholic Canon) also emphasizes a belief implicit in African ritualsĀ selfknowledge is necessary for transformation. A major belief of contemporary feminist and nonviolence movements is that self-knowledge is necessary for transformation of self… self knowledge includes an understanding of the genetic origin of everyone in Africa and an accurate knowledge of the history of the world… knowledge that may be necessary for transformation of one’s society, and world transformation. Or, nonviolent revolution.”

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The Black woman…of Africa, and her manifestations along African migration paths throughout the world, may be central to the contemporary cultural revolution. In this context, Magdalene stories may be considered a heretical challenge to the canon that has denigrated the redhaired woman who anointed Jesus. Her task, a woman taking the Mother’s values to the people, was implicitly remembered by Dacia Maraini, major cultural and political feminist of Italy in the 1970s, who founded an experimental theater that enacted feminist issues in the streets. Recalling the woman apostle, Dacia called this theatre, La Maddalena.”

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“In beliefs of submerged cultures, people regard the Holy Family as human. In my childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, Sicilian/Americans bypassed the church Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, looking to Mary and her son and celebrating St. Joseph (the earthly father) at the Spring Equinox, with a table of food for the poor. My brother Louis remembered that men, in moments of deep emotion, would invoke the Madonna, exclaiming, ‘Madonn!’ Women, when overtaken by awe, fear, or gratitude, would call on the older African beautiful mother, ‘Bedda Matri!'”


“…memory of the beautiful Black African Mother implies nonviolent revolution. In 1789 in France, revolutionaries wore the Phrygian cap of followers of the Anatolian dark mother and raised the banner, ‘Liberte,’ ‘Egalite’, ‘Fraternite.’ The woman symbol who personified this first great revolution of our time was named Marianne – for Mary…mother of Jesus, and Anne, hisgrandmotherwhose veneration in Brittany recalls the Anu of Africa. The French revolutionary triad is compatible with values of the African Mother, except that justice by guillotine negates the Mother’s value of compassion/healing and ‘Fraternite’ leaves out women.”


“The unfulfilled aims of the French Revolution are remembered today…in the contemporary Feminist movement in France…honoring prehistoric women…who preceded the male divinities of the World’s dominant religions. Scores of Black Madonnas in France remind us of our African origins and the values of our African dark Mother…remembering ancient values in our work for the future.”