The Madonna in the Moon

The Madonna in the Moon Moon photograph 1873

The Madonna in the Moon Moon photograph 1873

Since today is the anniversary of the first installment of “The Great Moon Hoax of 1835,” which regaled the moon-struck readers of The New York Sun  with Sir John Herschel’s telescopic discoveries of bat-winged humanoids and unicorns inhabiting the lunar landscape, it would be sheer lunacy not to look at some other unusual moon-images.

One does not always need a telescope to see figures in the moon.  As an experiment Astronomer Camille Flammarion asked a number of notable Frenchmen what they saw when they looked up at night.

He has received some odd replies. M. Saint-Saens can see the outlines of a kangaroo; M. Aquillino Barba, a suppliant Madonna; M. Zamboni, a man’s head kissing a woman’s head; M. Dragon, anything he pleases; M. Deseilligny, only shapeless spots; M.A. Pierot, a man with outstretched arms; M. de Balaseny, Cain bearing aloft on a pitchfork the bleeding body of Abel, and M. Quenisset, the trunk and legs of a man. Each person addressed was asked to furnish a little sketch of his fancied picture, and the drawings thus obtained have been formed into an album and presented to the Astronomical Society of France. In the reign of Charles II our own savants, according to Butler, all saw the same thing in the moon—namely, an elephant, and even then it as only because there was a mouse in their telescope. French scientific men of the present day have more imagination. New Haven [CT] Register 15 June 1900: p. 6

Most sky-gazing cultures have traditions about faces or figures in the moon: the proverbial Man, a hare, two children carrying water, a thief laden with cabbages or sticks. I note that only one of Flammarion’s observers saw a Madonna; Samoans islanders perceive a mother and child. And a miniature painter from Boston, a woman of keen, albeit sentimental vision, had a startling night-sky revelation in 1904 of the Madonna of Seven Moons.


Have you seen the Madonna of the Moon? We have all heard of the man in the moon, but how many have heard of the woman in the moon? Yes, there is a woman in the moon: the best sort of a woman known—the mother. The woman in the moon, or, rather, the Madonna of the Moon, can be seen any time the moon is full-orbed. There are in all seven different pictures of the mother and child. January and July are favoured months, each having a Madonna of its own; but the other months are not as fortunate, each one having to share its Madonna with some other month in the year.



By studying the pictures so as to get the outline in mind, the Madonna and child can be plainly seen with the naked eye when the moon is full-orbed, although, of course, with the aid of a field or opera glass it is much easier to see. Once the outline of the mother and child is found, the man in the moon is lost and it is impossible to again locate him. At least this has been the experience of all who have once found the outline of the Madonna and child in the full orbed planet. [sic]

February and December madonna in the moon

In 1904 Mrs. M. Diehl, miniature artist, of Boston, was visiting friends in Yonkers, N.Y., and one night while seated on the porch of the cottage in Warburton avenue watching the full-orbed moon as it floated in the sky above the palisades across the Hudson, all at once the outline of the Madonna and the child caught her eye. She called her friends’ attention to her discovery, and at once began to make a sketch of the mother and the child.

March and November Madonna in the Moon

It fascinated her, and night after night she watched the mother and child in the moon. The month was August, and when the full of the moon in September came around she noticed that the picture had changed. From month to month she watched and sketched for nearly two years, until she discovered that there were seven different Madonna pictures in the moon.

April and October Madonna in the Moon

The subject of the picture itself is a beautiful one—one about which poets and painters never grow tired. It is mother’s love, and shows the mother in the act of pressing a kiss to the lips of her child.

May and September Madonna in the Moon

The moon turns from right to left, reaching the farthest to the right in January and the farthest to the left in July. January and July are each favorited with Madonna to itself. There is a distinct Madonna for January, and when February rolls around we find a different pictures of the mother and child in the face of the moon. So it keeps on. The moon turns to the right, and we have a different Madonna each moth until the end of the July, when the planet reaches the farthest to the left. Then the moon begins to turn back and we have for the month of August the same Madonna and a child in the moon as we saw in June. In September the May Madonna and child appears. October and April are the same. November and March are the same, and likewise February and December. Then we get back to January again, which has a Madonna of its own.

June and August Madonna in the Moon

When the moon is full orbed the picture can be seen with the naked eye, but with the aid of a field or opera glass it is seen much better. The shadows in the upper right hand part of the moon represented the hair and the lighter parts of the face of the mother. The left hand side is occupied by the head of the infant, formed almost wholly by shadows, only the face being light. Little white spots immediately below the mother’s chin represent the infant’s hands.

The cloudy effect above the infant’s head looks very much like a halo. This halo is much more intensified in some of the moon pictures than in the others, and it was not until Mrs. Diehl saw the halo over the child’s head that she determined to name her pictures “The Madonna in the Moon.” Along the upper edge of the moon and extending back of the mother’s head is seen a rim of delicate green which serves to bring out more distinctly the outlines of the moon pictures. For nearly two years Mrs. Diehl studied and painted the pictures in the moon until it was ascertained that there were seven different positions as reproduced herewith.

Anciently the moon was an object of worship, and even as late as the seventeenth century she was supposed by the common people of England to exercise great influence over human affairs. Among other mere superstitions must be ranked the old and widespread belief that the changes of the moon influence the weather of the earth, bringing about fair or rainy, settled or stormy weather so that from the moon’s periods predictions as to the weather may be made. The only known weather influence is a slight but appreciable tendency to dispersion of clouds shortly after a full moon. Pittsburgh [PA] Weekly Gazette 4 February 1906: p. 40

As I am one of those people who have difficulty finding the kitten and the boot in those “Magic Pictures,” I see only trifling differences in the Madonna in the Moon images and, while I may wrong her, I am inclined to suspect that Mrs. Diehl’s first medium was china painting. These portraits suggest someone who was trying to convey a series of “ideal” emotions: “maternal love,” “ecstasy,” “fear,” or “sorrow,” rather like Emma Hamilton’s “Attitudes.”  But who am I to cavil at what the artist said she observed, and, mostly usefully in a fortean context, sketched? Two years is a long time to study the phases of a heavenly body; can we presume that her observations were accurate?

However, those rather sentimental figures by a miniature artist could not compare with the work of the great master, Raphael, as seen in 1913.


Strange Sight Puzzles All Who Have Seen It.

Did you see the counterpart of the Sistine Madonna in the moon? It was there last night and Saturday night and was plainly visible in Ottawa. This unusual feature of the moon was first noticed Friday night in Chicago.

The startling phenomenon was watched by several Ottawans who used field and opera glasses. After one located the features through a pair of glasses the general outline could be discerned with the naked eye. It was best seen shortly after the moon became visible and was somewhat dim after midnight.

The features of the face of the Sistine Madonna could be seen and the form of the infant Christ could be traced. The famous picture’s double appeared on the extreme right of the moon’s face and seemed to be comprised of a cloudy appearance over the moon. A similar formation in the upper left formed a back ground. Ottawa Herald. The Iola [KS] Register 23 July 1913: p. 4

The Madonna in the Moon The Sistine Madonna by Raphael, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

The Madonna in the Moon The Sistine Madonna by Raphael, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden



Several Photographs of the Lunar Counterpart of the Sistine Portrait Have Been Taken by Chicago Astronomer.

Chicago, July 19. A rare phenomenon of the moon, which occurs but once every fifty years, was visible in Chicago last night. It will continue for three nights.

With a pair of ordinary field glasses, or even good opera glasses, the image of the Christ child as held in the arms of the Sistine Madonna can be seen. The likeness is so vivid that the features, hair and eyes are easily distinguishable and stand out with the clearness of a photograph.

Col. F.H. Buzzacott, a member of the American Astronomical Society took several photographs of the curiosity last night.

“The phenomenon now visible has never been explained by astronomy,” he said last night. “It was first discovered by a member of the British Royal Astronomical Society and since that time has been seen only twice.” Kansas City [MO] Star 19 July 1913: p. 3

I’m not quite sure if the 1913 sighting that occurs “but once every fifty years” is the same as the Madonna of the Seven Moons. Does anyone know of the photographs taken by the fascinatingly-named Col. Buzzacott? (Chriswoodyard8 AT

But, really, these portraits of lunar luminaries pale in comparison with our last candidate.


How many people have recognised an amazing life-like figure of a French poodle in the moon?

Yet it is as plain as the proverbial pikestaff.

Clipped in the orthodox French fashion and sitting on its haunches, this extraordinary animal begins to come into view when the moon is quite young, and is gradually revealed until by “half moon” or a day or two past that phase, its figure is complete in every detail.

First to appear is the “bob” at the end of the tail. This “bob” is formed by a familiar dark spot on the upper right-hand part of the crescent moon, which astronomers call the Sea of Crises. It is a “bob” of imposing dimensions, for it is nearly as big as England and Scotland put together.

The poodle’s head comes next into the picture, and when the whole figure is unfolded it is seen to measure quite 1000 miles long, and another thousand miles across from the tip of the tail to the fore-paw.

The dark figure of the poodle is clearly silhouetted against a particularly bright part of the moon. Ohinemuri [NZ] Gazette, 25 May 1921: p. 1

An amusing spoof, no?  Yet here is an image of the Poodle in the Moon. Plain as a pike-staff….

There is a full moon rising on the 29th of August; if the weather cooperates (and I can stay awake) I hope to have a report for you on the August Madonna.  And if any of you see and/or photograph anything in the moon, particularly bat-winged entities, please do share. (chriswoodyard8 AT

Thanks to Kay Massingill who shared the Iola Register article which inspired this post.


Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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