Blonde virgins

... and the roots of Spanish Christmas.

Trebots @ Wednesday December 29th 2004 21:17

Last week I snapped a Scandinavian blonde Maria in Vilafranca del Penedès. Joan Amades (El pessebre (1959)) tells us that, in Catalan nativity scenes, the Mother of God was always represented by a young, very white girl with hyper-perfect features, and that her whiteness is both traditional and proverbial (“white as a Mother of God”). He then quotes the song, Baixeu pastor:

Descend, shepherds, from those hills
Descend in haste to adore the Infant.
When you see him inside the stable
Look at his face, like a diamond.
His mother is called Marieta
And is white, white as the sun.
She is very happy and very delicate
Married to an old man who is her counsel.

In another place Amades notes that "tradition has it that the sun came out at the instant of Jesus' arrival on earth" which, linked with the naming of Midnight Mass here (Misa del Gallo, Rooster Mass), makes it fairly easy to conjecture that our cockerel is announcing a Christianised version of a sun god, rising after the winter solstice.

Why, though, is Mary blonde? Because Visigoths looked back to a blonde übermother way back east, and the church was subsequently too busy with other things to give her a black rinse? Getting even vaguer, was Violant (follow-up) also blonde?

  • Ethnology (14)
  • Joan Amades (15) Joan Amades i Gelats (Catalan pronunciation: [ʒuˈan əˈmaðəz i ʒəˈɫats]) (Barcelona, 23 July 1890 - 17 January 1959), was an eminent Catalan ethnologist and folklorist. An autodidact, he worked at the historical archive of the city of Barcelona and at the Museum of Industry and Popular Arts of the same city.
  • Popular culture (13)
  • Shepherd (39)
Categories: God, the angels and the orders of the faithful

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  1. kalebeul » Interrogation of a French freemason by the Spanish Inquisition
    November 11th 2006 17:48

    [...] The office’s worries about celestial imagery are amusing given its own penchant for sun goddesses–check the wonderful Úbeda virgin in Barcelona’s church of Santa Anna sometime; I’ve also got various related posts. I don’t know if this paranoia helps explain the slow development of astronomy in Spain. [...]

  2. Trevor ap Simon
    February 25th 2008 18:45

    Some wild speculation: Maybe pigmentation attributed to Virgin has something to do with what's in the water. At various springs around Barcelona (eg Mare de Déu del Coll, Font Groga), sudden changes in water colour due to deposits in the soil were accounted for in quasi-religious folklore in terms of appearances of the Mother of God or other supernatural figures. So if you get high concentrations of iron appearing in the water, and iron is useful to you, you invent a red-headed goddess; if on the other hand hydrocarbons are coming thru and you know how to burn coal, you invent a black goddess. Apparent immediate problem: presence of black virgins in places where no geological reason for water to flow black, and no record of it having done so.

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