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Our Lady of Czestochowa Queen of the Kingdom of Poland.

Three hundred and fifty years ago, in 1655, the Swedish army invaded Poland and captured her major cities. The army of almost 4,000 soldiers reached the walls of Jasna Gora (Hill of Lights) in the western part of the city of Czestochowa and demanded of the Prior of the Monastery its immediate surrender. Following is a short history of the monastery and its celebrated icon, the Black Madonna. Through the dedication of the Polish people and the Pauline monks, and the support of the papacy, this holy sanctuary is preserved as a major Marian pilgrimage site.

The beginning

The order of St. Paul the First Hermit (or Pauline Fathers) was established in accordance with hermitage rules in Hungary in the 13th century. The order's founder, Blessed Eusebius of Gran, united all the hermits inhabiting the area of present Hungary and the former Yugoslavia into one community modeled on the Rule of St. Augustine.

In 1382, these Pauline monks made their way to Czestochowa, Poland, where they were given a hill of limestone 293 metres (944 feet) high, with a small church. In it, they placed their precious treasure--the miraculous painting of the Mother of God, or, as it is popularly known, the Black Madonna.

Under siege

On April 14, 1430, a band of Hussites raided the monastery and robbed it of its precious artifacts. They broke into the Chapel of the Virgin, tore the image from the altar and slashed the face of the Madonna with their swords. They then threw the painting on the ground, breaking the icon into three parts.

After this sacrilegious robbery, the monks had the icon repaired and returned to its place in Our Lady's Chapel. But the restoration of the image was not successful, so the restorers scraped away the ancient image and painted a completely new one. They marked with a pen the slashes that the robbers had made with their swords on the face of the image. The fame of the shrine and its holy icon continued to spread. The original Gothic chapel became too small to accommodate the many pilgrims, so a new church was built.

Then in 1655, the Swedish army invaded Poland and the cities of Warsaw, Poznan and Krakow soon fell. On November 18, the army reached Jasna Gora and demanded the sanctuary's immediate surrender. The Prior of the monastery called on 170 Polish soldiers, 20 noblemen and 70 friars to protect Our Lady's shrine. Together they withstood the siege for 40 days and ultimately were victorious.

In a united effort, the entire country rose up against the profanation of Our Lady's sanctuary and drove out the Swedish invaders. King John Casimir, in a solemn vow in Lvov Cathedral, put himself and his country, Poland, under the protection of the Mother of God, proclaiming her the Patroness and Queen of the Kingdom of Poland. The pilgrims continued to come.

In 1716, Pope Clement XI signed the Act of Incoronation and the image was crowned on September 8, 1717 in the presence of about 200,000 faithful. In 1909, the pearl vestment and two gold crowns which had been papal gifts were stolen from the icon. When Pope Pius X heard about the theft, he offered two new crowns and the new incoronation, as splendid as the one in 1717, took place on May 22, 1910.


In May 1936, over 20,000 university students, among them Karol Wojtyla, arrived and solemnly pledged to build a new Poland, with the help of the Virgin.

During the Nazi occupation of 1939-1945, part of the monastery was taken over by German troops and they prohibited organized pilgrimages to Jasna Gora. But the pilgrims kept coming, often in the middle of the night, to pray to their Patroness and Queen.

On August 26, 1956, a million pilgrims gathered at Jasna Gora to pray for the release of their cardinal Stefan Wyszinski, Primate of Poland, who had been in a communist prison since 1953. On October 28, he was freed.

Pope John Paul

As student, seminarian, priest and bishop, John Paul had made many pilgrimages to Jasna Gora. In 1979, he made his first visit as Pope. His first words were: "Mary's will is being fulfilled. Here I am! I have arrived and I recall an old song--'We, servants of Mary, carry out the orders of Christ.'"

He remained three days at Jasna Gora. In his Act of Consecration, the Pope dedicated the Universal Church, Poland, all the people and himself to Our Lady of Jasna Gora saying: "Mother! I am all yours and all that is mine is yours." He also presented to the monastery the Papal Golden Rose, which constitutes one of the highest papal distinctions bestowed in Christianity. The rose was placed on the altar of the chapel housing the Black Madonna. Pope Paul VI had tried to bestow the Papal Rose on Jasna Gora in 1966, but was prevented from doing so when the communist authorities denied him entry to the country.

John Paul was back at Jasna Gora in 1983 and again in 1987 where he proclaimed, "Mary, Queen of Poland, I am with you, I remember, I am on alert."

As Pope John Paul lay dying earlier this year, he sent a letter to the Prior General of the monks of St. Paul at Jasna Gora, recalling all that the Blessed Virgin had done for Poland over the past 350 years in the defence of the monastery and the country. He entrusted to her maternal protection the Church in Poland and prayed for Poland's future. He enclosed two gold crowns as a gift for the icon of the Black Madonna.

The Icon

There are two stories about the icon, one the traditional story, that we would very much like to believe. The other story is considered the authentic one.

The traditional story is that the image of the Virgin was painted by St. Luke on a tabletop where the Holy Family ate their meals. St. Luke was said to have made two copies, one now residing in Bologna, Italy; the other, in the possession of the Pauline monks, was said to have traveled from Jerusalem, to Constantinople, and then to Czestochowa.

However, scientific research has concluded that the icon is of Byzantine origin dating back to the period between the 6th and 9th centuries. This hasn't, however, prevented pilgrims from travelling to the Monastery of Jasna Gora in large numbers over the past six centuries and leaving behind unusually precious votive offerings.

The Sanctuary Complex

The Jasna Gora sanctuary is situated in a plain atop the limestone hill. Its belltower dominates the city of Czestochowa below, with a public park extending from the sanctuary complex down the valley to the city, forming a natural barrier to preserve the prayerful atmosphere of Jasna Gora. The complex--monastery, basilica which houses the chapel of the Black Madonna, museum and other buildings for the monks--was built over five centuries, but is architecturally compact and pleasing.

The Chapel of the Black Madonna

As you enter the basilica, the chapel of the Black Madonna, to the left of the main altar, is made of ebony and adorned with silver sculptures. The painting, or icon, over the tabernacle, is covered by a silver screen, dating from 1673, when the icon is not on display. The screen is lifted and lowered mechanically several times a day to the joyous sound of brass instruments. Formerly a musical group of monks played the music, but now it is provided digitally.

The sash that Pope John Paul was wearing when he was shot in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, was given to the Pauline monks and is hanging from the altar. The dark stain from the Pope's bleeding wound is clearly visible.

The chancel is separated from the church by a Gdansk black wrought iron grating. The Madonna and Child are adorned with jewels, so one does not see the original painting, except for background and the images' faces and hands. There are two jeweled robes presently used and interchanged occasionally. Dressing the painting of the Virgin and Child dates back to when the icon arrived at Jasna Gora. Originally precious jewels were nailed on to the painting. After the restoration of 1430, the painting's backdrop was covered in sheets of gold and silver and inlaid with crowns. The current custom of adorning the painting dates back to the second half of the 17th century. Seven robes currently exist, each with its own name; robes no longer used are on display in the museum.

A room nearby contains valuable artifacts left by pilgrims over the centuries; they include jeweled rosaries, chalices, ornately decorated rare books, tiaras, crowns studded with rubies and diamonds, etc.

Many of the pilgrims who approach the icon do so on their knees. They enter to the left side of the altar, move around the back of the altar, and re-emerge at the right side of the altar, on their knees and in prayer the entire time.

The Basilica

The Church of the Holy Cross and Nativity of Mary housing the Chapel of the Black Madonna has three aisles and is a fine example of Baroque art. Its pulpit is of sculptured wood; the main altar of marble, designed by Giacomo Antonio Buzzini is of beautiful Italian Baroque sculpture.

One side altar to the right is of black marble and is dedicated to St. Paul the First Hermit. A chapel to St. Anthony is found in the basilica's vestibule. There is a total of twelve altars and chapels in addition to the Chapel of the Black Madonna within the basilica.

Today, the pilgrims number in the millions making their way to Jasna Gora each year. In addition to being perhaps the most important site of Marian devotion by the Polish people, it is increasingly visited by pilgrims from all over the world. One sees a group of uniformed Polish schoolgirls beside a group of elderly Asian tourists, all paying homage to the Mother of God, all overcome by the haunting beauty of the icon and the prayerful solemnity of the basilica. Pope John Paul's words reverberated in this pilgrim's ear: "Here I am. I have arrived. Mother I am all yours and all that is mine is yours."

Janice Glover made a pilgrimage to Central Europe in October 2004; included was a visit to the Black Madonna of Jasna Gora.
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Author:Glover, Janice
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:4EXPO
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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