"The ten attributes of Atzilus [the Source] are inward illuminations that are clothed in their appropriate vessels [...]; the first of these is chochma, nullity; bestowal is according to the degrees of nullity; loss of selfness is the vessel fit for the domicile of His holiness."
-- from the Kuntres Uma'ayon, by Rabbi Sholom Dov-Ber (1860-1920)
If in all tones and shades this shade I feel,
Come from the black cathedrals of Castille
Climbing these flat black stones of Catalonia,
To thy most merciful face of night I kneel.
The Black Virgin
by G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
A Secret of Saint-Sulpice
The building of the Église de St-Sulpice commenced in 1645 on the site of an older and smaller church on the precincts of the Abbey of St-Germain in Paris. The earlier church had been constructed in the twelfth or thirteenth century to serve the peasants who toiled on the abbey's lands, and it is widely assumed that it had been dedicated to the Black Virgin. What is less clear is whether that earlier edifice had been established on the ruins of an older temple -- on dedicated to Isis; and to confuse matters further, there had been a statue of Isis in the neighboring church of St-Germain that had been removed or destroyed by church authorities only in the fifteenth or sixteenth century.
("Paris" may in fact be a contraction of "Par-isis" - meaning, "by" or "near" Isis - in other words, as an expression referring to a place by some prominent landmark there. So argues Robert Bauvels, the Egyptologist (some of his reasoning is here). The earliest inhabitants were known as the "Parisii," which sounds like an evolution of Par Isis, and when the coat of arms of the city of Paris was commissioned to be redesigned in the early 19th C. by Napoleon, the new version depicted a boat upon which sat the goddess Isis enthroned, unmistakable because of her hieroglyphic symbol, which is also a throne. Isis on the prow of the boat is a direct reference to the Egyptian conception of the solar barque which encircles the globe and spans the divide between darkness and light.)
Imposing in size - it is the largest church in Paris after the Notre Dame - Saint-Sulpice is known for its long construction period (over two centuries) which resulted, among other things, in its two mismatched towers. It is also famous for one of the largest organs in Europe; for the Saint-Sulpice Meridian, paralleling the Paris Zero Meridian, embedded in brass in its floor (referred to as "the Rose Line" in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code); and for being the home of the last frescoes of the great Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix. Other artworks and architectural curiosities give the entire building and its setting a unique air.
A great mystery is believed to be associated with Saint-Sulpice and the neighboring church of St-Germain, necropolis of the Merovingian kings - and the two continue to attract the attention of students of alchemy, Christian mysticism and the occult sciences. Part of the historical reason is that Saint-Sulpice, named for St-Sulpicius, the 6th C. Archbishop of Bourges, was and still is a center for worship of the Black Virgin. A mysterious and popular form identified with Virgin Mary, the Black Virgin is represented by statues and figures in many churches in Europe and elsewhere. The provenance and meaning are hotly debated by scholars and worshippers. The "reductive position" is that there are no intentional black madonnas -- only panels that have darkened over time, because of candle soot, dirt, or because paints have lost their opaque pigmentation and the dark substrate of a wood panel etc. is showing through.
Unfortunately, these reductive explanations don't cover all exemplars because some versions are obviously rendered dark by intention, from the very beginning; so we are left with a flawed story. On the other hand it does not help that some interpreters have reached into the implausible, such as explaining the tears (?) on the cheek of the Virgin of Czestochowa (inset panel, right) as an attempt to depict the Eye of Horus. We believe there is an occult connection between Black Madonnas and Egyptian goddesses, but it does not have to be contrived .... And there is something else that deepens the enigma: the thread of Templar legends, the mystery of Rennes-le-Château - and the so-called "alternative history of Jesus" and the dispute over the identity of Mary Magdalen.
Here is also where we run into a heretical undercurrent. Contemporary researchers allege that, indeed, in her ultimate identity the Christian Black Virgin -- often placed in the crypts of great churches -- is not in fact Mary the mother of Jesus, but that she is a representation of Mary Magdalen. This stunning theory further proposes that the child that a black madonna holds (in cases where it is a mother and child statue) is not the infant Jesus, but the offspring of Jesus, begotten with the Magdalen. This dark Magdalen is not only a reference to the historical person but she is esoterically symbolic of the cosmic prima materia, the root of creation and the stuff from which being was shaped, whose gender is feminine because creation involves conceiving and hosting: knitting together discrete elements on a template of cosmic design, nurturing and birthing. Her blackness refers to the mystery of this process, the unknown whence rises the loving embrace of the divine feminine and which together constitute the essence of the Black Virgin in all her instances. Black is the color of nullity. She is the mercy of those who are out of every other; all colors sink into black, as do all souls into love without end. Coincidentally, knitting together what was discrete, making it whole and birthing were the essential canonical functions of Isis in Egyptian religion.
But the challenge to the identity of the historical Magdalen remains central. It seems that on the level of the evidence - as opposed to conjecture, circumstantial factors and the simple sensationalism of the proposal - this version of the Magdalen is not proved nor can she be dismissed. In the Gnostic Gospels, which were excluded from the New Testament by the early church fathers, the Magdalen certainly has a stature and importance that is radically distinct from everything we have traditionally been told. In the Nag Hammadi texts, discovered in Egypt in 1945 and of undoubted authenticity, the Magdalen is referred to as the "companion" of Jesus - an ambiguous term which might equally indicate that she was his mystical companion (the sufis for instance speak of "friends of God" in this sense), or it might be a delicate way of saying that she was Jesus's beloved, in a romantic sense, or even his wife. Margaret Starbird, who wrote the indispensable The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, referring to a much-commented episode in the New Testament, bases much of her analysis on the use of the word "companion," characterizing the relationship of the Magdalene to Jesus in the Gospel of Phillip.
DNA of Christ-Mind?
If there is any substance to allegations about there being actual physical descendants of Jesus among us, then the Saint-Sulpice Meridian, also known as "The Rose Line," may be seen to refer, not only to initiation into the mystery of Gnostic consciousness as always thought, but also to the bloodline of the heirs of the Christ - a a literal genetic thread connected to the mystical source of dominion in heaven and earth.
Of course a line of the "heirs" of Jesus does not need to be physical and literal (as the best-selling Holy Blood, Holy Grail would also allege), but it can in fact represent the spiritual heirs of Christ. The fact that this latter theory is less sensational than the idea of literal blood-descendants of Jesus and the Magdalen walking among us, does not make it any less likely to be the case. As the Rabbi Dov-Ber, the fifth of the Rebbes of the Lubavitcher line presented in the Kuntres Uma-ayon (strange as it may seem to mix a discussion of the genetics of Jesus with Judaic perspectives -- and not so strange after all...), it is wisdom or "nullity" first of all ("chochma") that attracts the divine emanation, helping sort people out according to their station.
Incidentally it was reported that a Black Virgin was found in one of the subterranean rooms of the Paris Observatory -- built in 1667 precisely on the line of the Paris Meridian under the direction of Colbert, Louis XIV's Finance Minister. La Vierge Noire is associated with the unconscious; with our deepest knowledge of the divine, with fertility - and hence with supreme humility and receptivity which constitute a spiritual meridian. Humility is one of the "open secrets" spoken of by sufis. If Magdalen is the Christian version of the Egyptian goddess Isis, whose energy informs Saint-Sulpice, brings about the flowering of the natural world, and whose unconditional love assured the resurrection of the god Osiris, then the occultists' notion of Saint-Sulpice as a huge broadcasting station of the divine feminine vibration, becomes more understandable.
And this thread -- the layering of histories, with a supposedly pagan layer beneath the Christian one; the light and dark, the complete and the incomplete, the visible and the invisible -- is possibly the occult "clasp," the shared set of electrons, between Saint-Sulpice / St-Germain des Prés, and Orkney Springs / Basye. The Cathedral Shrine, with its missing walls and roof, which are imagined by the worshipper as made of light, is a fitting symbol of this relationship and the creative flow between the two.