from the Preface
One underlying enigma encountered during my quest--perhaps the strangest one of all--was the ever-recurring image of the Black Madonna. This archetypal feminine image keeps appearing in dreams, in art, in history, and in nearly four hundred shrines around the world, about half of which are located in the southern part of France, in the very region where the legends of Mary Magdalene's life and ministry proliferated. Almost without exception, these dark images are understood to be the mother of Jesus, holding the Divine Child on her lap.
In 1978, when pictures of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the Black Madonna for whom Pope John Paul II has such special devotion, were published worldwide, I was taken aback. She did not match my stereotyped image of the beautiful madonna based on my study of medieval religious art. I had not the vaguest inkling of the multifaceted symbolism of the dark lady--why she was black, why she seemed distraught, or why her icon bore ugly scars across her right cheek. It has taken years for her story to unfold, bringing with it an understanding of her significance in my own life and in the Christian paradigm.
In 1997 it was widely reported that Pope John Paul II was strongly considering naming Virgin Mary, the Blessed Mother, the "Co-Redemptrix" with Christ, a possibility that engendered strong opposition from many quarters, Roman Catholics have been instructed, through the centuries, to believe without question that everything we were taught in catechism class was the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The traditional understanding of the Catholic Church has been that the Virgin Mary's acceptance of her role was a prerequisite for the incarnation of Jesus: Her willingness to be the mother Jesus preceded his role as Savior. She was the human "gate" or "portal"--the conduit--for the incarnation of Christ, but never his equal. Prominent theologians were reportedly united in opposing the pope's stating this new doctrine ex cathedra, citing the dearth of scriptural support for this exalted interpretation of Mary's role and the expressed dismay of the ecumenical community.
Tradition has long honored the mother of Jesus for her human role, always falling short of naming her an equal partner of Christ. But in the canonical Gospels of the Christian faith, it was not the mother of Jesus who was his intimate counterpart, nor is it she who is prominent in the suppressed Gnostic traditions rediscovered in 1945 in the Coptic library at Nag Hammadi. These significant books were concealed in jars in the Egyptian desert by a Gnostic sect in about A.D. 400 in the wake of persecutions by the official Christian Church of the Roman Empire. They were held in the dark bosom of the earth until after the end of the Second World War, when they were accidentally discovered by a Bedouin peasant.
In these suppressed Gnostic texts, it is not the Blessed Mother who is named as the constant companion and consort of Christ. It is Mary Magdalene who is called his koinonos, a Greek word bearing conjugal connotations. In the early days of the church, it was this "other Mary" who was his beloved. Perhaps we need now to address fairly the question of true partnership: Who was the "first lady" among the early Christians? And what ever happened to her version of the story?
It is time to determine whether another--earlier!--alternative to the Christian saga might resonate with truth and inspiration, opening our minds and hearts anew to the ongoing Word of God that seeks a dwelling place within us. This "reclaimed" version would include the neglected and forgotten feminine, setting us free at last from long centuries of male-oriented traditions and the stifling hegemony of male celibate priests for whom the highest virtue has long been proven to be obediance rather than love. The perceived misogyny of Christianity was not indigenous to the Church in its infancy and was never the teaching of Jesus. My intent is to restore the paradigm of sacred partnership that was once at the very heart of the Christian message.
Perhaps this story of my quest for the layers of truth and meaning of the Holy Grail will help others to embrace the conclusion I have found inevitable: that the sacred union of Jesus and his Bride once formed the cornerstone of Christianity. It was this cornerstone--the blueprint of Sacred Marriage--that the later builders rejected, causing a disastrous flaw in Christian doctrine that has warped Western civilization for nearly two millennia. In reclaiming the lost Bride--the Goddess in the Gospels--we will restore a precious piece of our own psyches: the sacred feminine too long denied.