Located in the Polish town of Częstochowa, Jasna Góra, founded in 1382 by Pauline monks who arrived in Poland at the request of Władysław, the Duke of Opole, is not only one of country’s places of pilgrimage, it is for many the religious capital of the country. Millions of people flock to the monastery each year to see the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, also known as Our Lady of Częstochowa, to which miraculous powers are attributed. Since 1711, every August 06th pilgrims leave Warsaw on a 230km (140mi) trek to Jasna Góra to pay homage to the Black Madonna. Pope John Paul II, secretly visited as a student pilgrim during WWII.
The Black Madonna
The icon is 1.2m (4ft) high and displays a traditional Eastern Christian composition of Mary, gesturing with her right hand towards Jesus, showing the viewer the source of salvation. The child, in turn, extends his right hand towards the viewer in blessing whilst holding the book of gospels in his left hand. This composition is traditionally referred to as “Hodegetria”, which translates to “the one who shows the way”.
The origins of the icon and the date of its composition are hotly debated amongst historians and theologians alike. Part of the problem is that the original image was painted over after being damaged by Hussites in the 1430. The wooden boards, backing the painting, were broken and the canvas slashed. According to chroniclers of the time, medieval restorers found that the paints they used damaged the painting even more leading them to erase the original image and repaint it on the original panel. As a result, many of the original features, the nose for example, were not repainted in their original form. Over the years several royal families have replaced the iron sheet crown with gold and jewels.
Our Lady of Częstochowa has been associated with Poland for more than 600 years. Its history prior to its arrival however is shrouded in legend and mystery. One of the most prominent is that the St. Luke painted it on a cedar table top from the house of the Holy Family which was made by Jesus himself. That same legend also claims that the painting was discovered in Jerusalem in 326, St. Helena, who brought it Constantinople and presented it to her son, Constantine the Great.
It is believed the icon travelled from Constantinople to Belz in the Ukraine where it fell into the possession of Władysław, the Duke of Opole. Popular story has it that, in August of 1384, Władysław was passing Częstochowa and his horse refused to go on. That evening, a dream advised him to leave the icon at Jasna Góra, which he did.
The Black Madonna is said to have saved the monastery on several occasions, most notably in the 17th century when an invasion of 4000 Swedes was held off for 40 days by 70 monks and 180 locals. This event led King John II Casimir Vasa to crown Our Lady of Częstochowa as “Queen and Protector of Poland”.
A must see for any visitor to Poland, not only for its religious importance, but it’s cultural and historical ones also.