Since I wrote about Częstochowa earlier in the week, it seemed appropriate to complete it with a Foto Friday of the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa* (the Black Madonna), which is the main reason so many people, pilgrims and tourists alike, flock to the city.
As always, I like to give you a brief overview of the history if it’s relevant, and it really is in this instance. This ancient painting has a long, interesting, albeit sketchy, history that is shrouded in mystery and legends.
A Very Brief History
As legend has it, this picture of the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus was painted by either St Luke or St John, both of whom wrote a Gospel. Years later, St Helen stumbled across it somehow, and gave it to her son who built a shrine for it in Constantinople. There was a battle at some point, but the enemy fled. It is thought be due to this painting which was hanging on one of Constantinople’s city walls at the time.
After that, the legend is a bit sketchy, but it seems the painting changed ownership a few times. It either ended up in Hungary or Ukraine, or perhaps it moved from Hungary to Ukraine. Either way, in the 14th century, Prince Ladislaus acquired the painting somehow, and that’s how it ended up in Częstochowa in the care of the Pauline monks.
During a siege in the 15th century, the Hussites tried to steal the painting, but failed. If you look closely at the face of Our Lady, you will see two cuts on her right cheek. These were caused during this battle. As legend has it, after damaging the painting, the swordsman fell to the floor and died.
Much later, in the 17th century, against all the odds, the monks managed to defend the painting for 40 days when Swedish forces attacked.
Having been credited with saving the day on more than one occasion, The Icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa was declared as the Queen and Protector of Poland.
In 1920, the Russian Army were poised on the banks of the Vistula River, ready to attack Warsaw. During this time, the citizens and soldiers reportedly prayed to Our Lady of Częstochowa, and a vision of Our Lady appeared in the clouds above Warsaw. Following that, the Russians were defeated in what later became known as the “Miracle at the Vistula.”
Częstochowa has long been a place of pilgrimage. Even though it was prohibited, people secretly made the long, perilous journey to Jasna Góra during the Second World War. As a student, the late Pope John Paul II was one of these.
One last thing to mention, which has been briefly touched on by others is the colour of the two figures in the painting. It’s difficult to ascertain if the dark colour of the Virgin Mary and Jesus was original. I’ve read differing accounts, but most seem to agree that it’s due to the age of the painting, the fact that it had to be hidden for long periods of time and transported from place to place, and soot from so much exposure to candlelight. Having said that, it has been restored and retouched over the years.
The Icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa continues to be an important place of pilgrimage for many, and has been credited with numerous miracles over the years. The biggest event of the year is the feast day of Our Lady of Częstochowa, which is celebrated on August 26. Being there at that time of year must be amazing, albeit a little crowded.
If you want to see the Icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa up close, you can. You can join a queue of people in an area that is sectioned off to the left of the chapel. As you enter the shrine, you are expected to fall to your knees as a sign of respect, and make your way around the painting on your knees. Believe me, it’s hard on the knees, but a once in a lifetime experience. That’s why the composition and quality of the above photo isn’t as good as it could be. At the time, I was moving around the Icon, on my knees, with a long queue of people behind me. It was the best I could do under the circumstances.
There are regular masses you can attend in the chapel should you wish to. Jasna Gora is open from early in the morning until late at night, so there is plenty of opportunity to see this painting.
Have your say
If you have any further information you would like to add about this painting, please share it in the comment section below. Have you seen the Icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa, or is it on your list of things to see as it was for me?
*Please note: The spelling should be Częstochowa, but people tend to search for Czestochowa, which is why I have used that at times in this post.