La Dépêche du Midi
2 October 2007

by Thierry Dupuy

Limoux: the Black Virgin decapitated

First, the facts. The famous Black Madonna of the church of Notre Dame de Marceille was decapitated on Sunday night. Her mantle was also stolen.

The burglary occurred during Sunday night at the Basilica of Notre Dame de Marceille in Limoux. The mantle and head of the Virgin of Marceille were removed. Only the baby Jesus whom the Black Madonna cradles in her left arm was left intact. According to initial enquiries, no other object was stolen from the Basilica that night.

Electricians from the firm of Robert gave the alarm yesterday morning while arriving at the building-site, where restorations are taking place. ‘I arrived a short time after that, at around 9 a.m.’, said André Fenet, a member of the association entrusted with looking after the building on the Route de Pieusse. ‘When the electricians came back to the basilica they saw that the electricity had blown during the night. When I saw the Virgin in this state I was very shocked’.

However André Fenet recalls that he left the church of Notre Dame de Marceille locked up as usual when he left there on Sunday at 7 p.m.: ‘I did my usual inspection round before closing the main door. I couldn't see anyone inside. The thieves would have to have hidden in the choir to do what they did during the night. The alarm on the protective grill surrounding the Virgin has not been working for some time now. It was an easy job to break through it’.

The gendarmerie in Limoux arrived very rapidly at the crime-scene, accompanied by a CSI to search for the tiniest clues, but so far no evidence has been found to suggest how or by whom the crime was committed.

Bishop to say Mass there on Friday

When it was stolen once before, in the 1980s, the Black Virgin was recovered just one month later from an antique-dealer in Lille. Were new orders issued to steal it? Is the gang of criminals involved the same one which has been hiding the treasure of Perpignan Cathedral and which vandalised the church in Leucate?

Known since the Middle Ages, the Limoux statuette, just 55 centimetres in height and carved from a hard black wood, does however have special religious value. An object of devotion for ages, legend also claims that it has miraculous powers. According to the belief, ‘whoever sees the statue smiling at him or her is sure to obtain the grace he or she desires’.

Monsignor Planet, the Bishop of Carcassonne, says he is outraged by this ‘profanation of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Marceille.’ On Friday, at 6 p.m., he will visit the basilica of Notre Dame de Marceille to say Mass.

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