Saint of the Day – 18 July – Our Lady of Good Deliverance, also known as the “Black Madonna of Paris.” The statue dates from the 14th century, replacing an 11th-century version. It is 150 centimeters (59 in) tall, and made from painted limestone. The Virgin wears a white veil and dark blue mantle ornamented with fleur-de-lis over a red robe.
France, known as “the Eldest Daughter of the Church” is a country rooted in Catholicism, where her love of the faith is depicted in it’s magnificent Cathedrals, literature, sacred music, artistic works of paintings, frescoes and sculptures. Prayer books contain Illuminations penned in gold leaf and plant colours and the very air holds the fragrance of religion. In France, Marian devotion runs deep in the hearts of the faithful. One of the first recorded apparitions of our Lady was at Le-Puy, France in the year 70. A Shrine at LePuy was erected and has drawn many saints and faithful throughout the centuries.
Today in France, there is still a distinct dedication to Our Lady of Good Deliverance. This devotion refers to a classic fourteenth century gothic statue of the Virgin holding the Child Jesus, both coal black in colour.
A Confraternity in honour of Our Lady of Good Deliverance was established in 1533 by a Priest , Fr Jean-Jacques Olier SS (1608 – 1657) (Founder of the Sulpicians – Congregation of the Holy Spirit). Fr Jean-Jacques was “greatly pious, devoted to Our Lady with strong affection, in the service of the Queen of Angels.” The Confraternity numbered thousands of members, which included aristocratic and common members alike, including the King and Queen of France, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. The society was dedicated to honour God and his “very dignified Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary to keep a singular devotion alive in all real Christian men and women.” The group organised processions and aided prisoners, paying their debts when possible. Our Lady of Good Deliverance was invoked in all needs, tragedies and sufferings, spiritual and temporal.
Our Lady of Good Deliverance used to stand in the Church Saint-Etienne-des-Grès in the Latin Quarter but that Church was destroyed during the Revolution and all its content sold.
Madame de Carignan, a pious rich lady bought the Statue and venerated her in her private home until she was arrested during the Reign of Terror (a period of 11 months following the Revolution, which cost 20-40,000 people their lives.) In jail she used to pray to Our Lady of Good Deliverance with others who had been arrested for their faith, in particular the Sisters of St Thomas. When all of them survived and were freed in 1806, Madame gave the Black Virgin to the Sisters. The statue is still located in the Chapel of the Congregation of the Sisters of St Thomas of Villeneuve in Neuilly-sur-Seine, see below. The Sisters of St Thomas pray every day in the chapel on behalf of families, the sick, religious vocations, those who have entrusted themselves to the Virgin, and peace in the world.
Our Lady of Good Deliverance was invoked as a helper in all kinds of calamities and suffering, whether of a spiritual or material nature. She was also called upon as the Victorious One in the fight against the Huguenots and other heretics.
The great Saints of Paris, most notably St Vincent de Paul and St Francis de Sales prayed before her.
The de Sales family were members of the minor nobility and staunch Catholics but young St Francis de Sales fell victim to the religious turmoil of his age. The question of predestination, the hottest point of contention between Catholic and Calvinist theologians, tormented him while he was a student in Paris. In his distress over the uncertain fate of his soul he cried out to God, “Whatever happens, Lord, may I at least love you in this life if I cannot love you in eternity.” At the age of 18, while studying at the Jesuit run Collège de Clermont at the University of Paris, according to the book The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, by Jean-Pierre Camus:
“…The evil spirit was permitted by God to insinuate into his mind the terrible idea that he was one of the number of the damned. This delusion took such possession of his soul, that he lost his appetite, was unable to sleep and day-by-day grew more wasted and languid. His tutor and director, noticing how his health was affected and how pale, listless and joyless he had become, often questioned him as to the cause of his dejection and evident suffering but his tormentor, who had filled his mind with this delusion, being what is called a dumb devil, the poor youth could give no explanation.
For one whole month he suffered this mental torture, this agony of soul. He had lost all the sweetness of divine love but not, happily, his fidelity to it. He looked back with happy tears to the happy time when he was, as it were, inebriated with that sweetness, nor did any ray of hope illumine the darkness of that night of despair. In late December, at last, led by a divine inspiration, he entered a Church to pray that this agony might pass. On his knees before the Statue of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Good Deliverance, he implored the assistance of the Mother of Mercy with tears and sighs and the most fervent devotion.”
According to De Sales’ Selected Letters, the “torment of despair came to a sudden end” as he knelt in prayer before the statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance at the church of Saint-Étienne-des-Grès, Paris, saying the Memorare. Francis credited the Blessed Virgin with “saving him from falling into despair or heresy” thereafter, he “recited the Memorare day after day” and she “did not leave him unaided.”
Not long after this event another Priest with great love for Our Mother, who ministered to the poor and to prisoners in Paris, especially those condemned to death, spread the fame of this prayer. He was Fr Claude Bernard (23 December 1588 – 23 March 1641). Known as “Le Pauvre Prêtre” “The Poor Priest,” he is primarily remembered as the populariser of the Memorare, over 200,000 copies of which he distributed by leaflets printed in various languages.
Notable pilgrims to Our Lady of Good Deliverance—some before the Revolution, some after—have included Fr Claude Bernard, Fr Jean-Jacques Olier, St John Bosco, Blessed Prosper Guéranger and St Madeleine Sophie Barat RSCJ (1779 – 1865).
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known,
that anyone who fled to thy protection,
implored thy help, or sought thy intercession,
was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence,
I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother.
To thee do I come,
before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions
but in thy mercy hear and answer me.