Scholars continue to debate whether the Black Madonnas of France are depictions of the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene. The image above was taken in Rocamadour of a copy of the famous Vierge Noire that was places in the side chapel of the pilgrim church. I found it fascinating to see how the statue was placed in something that looks very much like a rudderless boat- one of the key elements of the legends of Magdalene in France.
For centuries, this statue (like so many Black Madonnas) has been associated with the theme of liberation. One legend claims that church authorities did not approve of the statue's veneration: they tried to chain it up, locked in a vault, only to discover the next day that the chains had been broken and the statue was found exactly where it had been before. Pilgrims would travel hundreds of miles by foot to pray for liberation from illness, grief or fear, and former prisoners of war would sojourn to place wreaths of gratitude after release from their own captivity. During the Middle Ages, many soldiers reported miraculous releases from prison when they prayed to Mary Magdalene: one carried their broken chains to lay at the feet of her tomb in Vezelay.
To read more about Black Madonnas and Mary Magdalene, see Ean Begg's book Cult of the Black Virgin. You can find more stories and a fantastic collection of images of this archetypal figure and a guide of where to find them at Ella Rozett's generously detailed website, http://www.interfaithmary.net/pages/indexblackmadonnas.htm