|The Black Madonna of Tindari Sicily.|
On the northern coast of Sicily, along the Palermo - Messina highway, lies Tindari, a Greek settlement founded in the fourth century BC. Perched high in the mountains overlooking a beautiful harbor, is a sanctuary that houses a sacred statue of Sicily’s Black Madonna.
The origins of the Black Madonna of Tindari are unknown, but the statue is believed to be of Byzantine origin, likely smuggled out of Constantinople in the eighth and ninth centuries. Legend tells us that the ship it was carried on encountered a storm at sea and was forced to seek refuge in the port of Tindari. When the ship tried to set sail following the storm it could not be moved until the statue was removed and taken to shore. Miracles are attributed to the Black Madonna and to this day it holds a special place in the hearts of many Sicilians. The Latin words “nigro sum sed formosa” (black I am, but beautiful) are inscribed at her alter and the hauntingly beautiful face of the Madonna and her child Jesus are simply unforgettable.
|View of the bay at Tindari.|
The image of the black Madonna appears not only in art history but in depth psychology as well. The image is deeply mystical in nature and its symbolism is rooted in the psyche’s connectedness to the earth and to matter (also read as “mater” or “mother”).
These mysterious statues of the Virgin Mary, which are found throughout Europe, are not ethnically black, and many believe they are later representation of the goddesses Isis and Demeter whose cults were wide-spread in antiquity throughout the Mediterranean.
The image of the black Madonna also appears in the cinematic art of Italian film director Emanuele Crialese, whose deeply moving film Terraferma, was featured in this season’s line-up at the San Diego Italian Film Festival (here)
|Timnit T in the role of Sara.|
|Another view of the Black Madonna.|
The story takes place on the island of Linosa, part of the Pelagie islands of southwestern Sicily. Small and economically insignificant, these islands have been placed in the eye of an international storm in recent years, which has divided the European community. An Italian outpost in the heart of the Mediterranean--a mere 100 kilometers from Tunisia--Linosa and its neighbor Lampedusa, are the first waypoint for many illegal immigrants from Africa making their way north to Europe in search of a better life.
Terraferma, which means “dry land” is the story of a family struggling against the turmoil of a changing world, to uphold a culture and life that can no longer support them. The elderly Ernesto and his grandson Filippo, desperately defend their trade as fishermen, denying their own growing recognition that the sea can no longer support them. But the winds of change are undeniable. The island’s economic situation grows dimmer, as the dying fishing economy gives rise to mindless tourism that cares little for the island, but seeks only to exploit it.
|Donatella Finocchiara as Giulietta|
The character of Sara is a kind of shadow sister to the story’s main character, Giulietta, played by the Donatella Finocchiaro. Giulietta has lost everything to the sea—her husband a fisherman, was killed 3 years earlier and she despairs at ever being able to create a life for herself and her twenty-year old son Filippo. She dreams of leaving Linosa and migrating north to western Sicily where they can find work and begin to rebuild their lives.
|The Madonna of Trapani, the Great Mother archetype|
In contrast to Giulietta, the character of Sara embodies the Black Madonna, an archetypal image that Crialese, who is of Sicilian origin, would be familiar with. Sara’s haunting face and infinitely compassionate eyes have seen great suffering. Yet despite her anguish, her character is nurturing, gentle, forgiving; she is of the earth, rooted in her physical being like the Black Madonna of Tindari. Giulietta and Sara are mirror images of one another—one ascending toward the heavens, the other rooted in the earth and together, they bring healing to the world.
Crialese’s Black Madonna is archetypal because she transcends the personal hell of her life’s journey --not by giving up-- but by embracing life fully in all its sorrows and its joys. Sara symbolically jumps into the hell fire of life trying to save herself and her son, just as she literally jumps into the roiling waters of the Mediterranean without a life preserver, in an ultimate act of baptism and salvation. Crialese’s message is quintessentially Sicilian—to live is to embrace life fully with all its joys and sorrows.