The Shrine holds a replica of the Icon of the Black Madonna, which was blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1984 and then crowned in 2001 with crowns also blessed by the pope for the occasion. But what is the history of the original Icon?
The history of Christianity in Poland begins in the year 966 when Mieszko the First accepted Baptism, and the Polish people followed the example of their ruler. In the course of the thousand years that have followed, devotion to Mary the Mother of God has had a central part in the life of the people.
For almost six hundred of those years, this Marian devotion has been centred around the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, where the famous Icon of Our Lady has its home. The Shrine looks down on the present-day industrial city of Czestochowa, a city of some one hundred and sixty thousand persons, on the Warta River in South Central Poland, from a hill called Jasna Gora, the Mountain of Light, named after the white rock that forms it.
It is here that Mary is honoured today. She is honoured by more than a million pilgrims who visit the Shrine annually, and she is honoured by Polish people worldwide. They honour her as the Queen of Poland, and their continual presence at the Shrine in such large numbers has made Jasna Gora the most frequented Marian shrine for pilgrimages in central Europe.
The famous Icon of Our Lady came to Jasna Gora in 1382 after Ladislaus, Duke of Opole, had acquired it in Red Ruthenia, modern-day Western Ukraine, where he had seen it at the castle of Belz. What was the Icon’s origin before that is shrouded in mystery and speculation. Still, when the Prince took a liking to the Icon and wished to take it with him, it was already treated with great reverence and honoured as a priceless relic.
According to legend, the Icon was painted by St. Luke and brought from Jerusalem to Constantinople before going to Ruthenia. Research, however, suggests that the Icon is more probably of ninth-century Greek or Italian origin with thirteenth-century over paintings and is painted with some sort of colours and pigments on a wooden base. It is in the Byzantine tradition after the style of icons attributed to St. Luke and has since been richly ornamented in gold and jewels of great value. The Icon, which is generally covered with these ornaments, is darkened by smoke on the exposed parts of the face and hands and often receives the title of the Black Madonna.
The duke left the Icon at Jasna Gora in 1384 under the protection of the Pauline Fathers, whom he had brought there from Hungary. It was placed in the small wooden church already on the mountain, but so great was the flow of pilgrims to visit it that within thirty years, the church became too small, and the monastic Order of Pauline Fathers, who usually made little contact with the world was forced to adapt their own lifestyle.
Not long after the Icon was brought to Jasna Góra, it was sacrilegiously attacked and damaged during Holy Week of 1430 when thieves seized it from above the high altar and slashed it with swords. This act by foreign invaders saddened and shocked the people and was seen as an act of religious hatred as well as an attempt to stir up political trouble. The Icon was taken to Krakow, where it was carefully restored and repaired, but the marks left by the sword slashes could not be removed entirely, and they can still be seen on the right cheek of the Madonna. The Icon was returned to its Shrine, and at once, veneration increased rapidly. It declined around the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, but when the Counter Reformation later in that century emphasized the devotion to Our Lady, Jasna Gora returned it to its original splendour.
For more information, visit the page about the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
Shortly after the Icon’s restoration following the sacrilegious attack, construction of a vast new church began. This, in turn, was rebuilt as a basilica following heavy damage by fire in 1690. The chapel containing the Icon was enlarged in 1644 and remains like that today. Finally, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, a tower of one hundred and five metres was built onto the church, which now dominates the city skyline in Czestochowa. A monastery completes the site.
The holy Icon was crowned in the name of Pope Clement XI in 1717, and after the theft of the crowns in 1909, it received new crowns sent by Pope St. Pius X the following year. To mark the one-hundredth anniversary of this event, the Icon was crowned with a new set of crowns blessed by Pope Benedict XVI on March 3rd 2010.
Miraculous Interventions in History
The Icon is regarded as miraculous because of the many miracles attributed to prayers offered before it. Some of these have been associated with the victories in wars that have swept through Poland.
In 1655 when Swedish invaders moved through Poland, taking all in their path, they met their first defeat at Jasna Gora when they could not take possession of the mountain and its buildings and were forced to retreat.
In 1683 the defeat of the Turkish armies at Vienna saved Christianity in Europe. Their defeat was due to the intervention of the Polish military, whose King went into battle in the name of Our Lady of Czestochowa, at whose Shrine he prayed before setting out on his mission.
In 1920 Bolshevik invaders moved to Warsaw to take the whole country. However, while the enemy was in sight of its target, the people of Poland prayed fervently to their Queen and Mother, and on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, the enemy retreated.
Queen of Poland
Following the victory of 1655, Jan Casimir made a vow in the Cathedral of Lvov, putting his country under Our Lady’s protection and declaring her to be Queen of Poland.
“I, Jan Casimir, King of Poland, take thee as Queen and Patroness of my kingdom; I put my people and my army under thy protection”. This vow made by the king was accepted and ratified by both houses of parliament.
And so it is today that in all Polish churches and homes of Polish people scattered throughout the world, an Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa is to be found, and Our Lady is honoured as truly the Queen of the country and its people. She is Queen by vow, by an act of parliament and by honour.
For this reason, each parish in Poland gathers in strength once a year for a series of devotions in honour of Our Lady, and the various Dioceses make annual pilgrimages to the Shrine so that the people as a group can honour their Queen and Protectress.
Effects of the Devotion
One of the most significant effects of the devotion is the keeping together and unity of the nation. Whenever the country has been divided and partitioned, whenever it has changed from administration by one government to that of another, the Shrine of Our Lady at Jasna Gora has remained as a united and uniting place of devotion and a centre where people can come, crossing the frontiers made by man. As often as governments and armies have tried to divide the people, Jasna Gora has brought them together.
Another effect of the Shrine has been the gathering together and custody of much of the nation’s art treasures. The kings and princes who honoured the Shrine in its early years came bearing gifts; pilgrims, too, in their own way, have done likewise; artists’ skills are reflected in the decoration of the Shrine and its surroundings. The result is that Jasna Gora is not only a pilgrimage destination but also the custodian and protector of much of the country’s national heritage of art. It is indeed fortunate that two recent world wars, the Nazi occupation and, more recently, a Communist government, have left the Shrine and its treasures unscathed, thereby preserving this reminder of the skills and talents of the Polish people.
The Shrine today
The Shrine of Our Lady on Mount Jasna Gora demonstrates how devotion to Our Lady is part of the life of the Polish people. The Shrine houses the miraculous Icon before which the people pray. In their devotion to the Mother of God, they acknowledge their dependence on God and his place in their lives. In their prayers, they acknowledge Mary as their Mother and protector and the one who can most readily bring them to her Son. The con’s miraculous nature is found in God’s response to these prayers.
The invaders of Poland have long been aware that the strength of the Polish people lies in their faith expressed in their devotion to their Queen. As long as the hill of Jasna Gora at Czestochowa remains a pilgrimage shrine with the same large numbers of people coming to pray, that strength will remain.
More information on the Black Madonna, our Lady of Czestochowa.
Prayers to Our Lady of Czestochowa
Hymn to the Black Madonna
There’s a corner of a country
Which the pilgrims gladly seek
Where in glory hangs the portrait
Of a Queen slashed on the cheek.
She is grieving, She is caring,
She invites us, everyone:
“I’m your Mother, be my daughter,
be my son.”
Madonna, oh Black Madonna
I’m happy your child to be
Oh grant me, oh Black Madonna
That your arms may cradle me.
In your arms we find the refuge
And the warmth of your great love
In your arms we do find hope, joy
And the strength to go through life.
In your arms is found the Saviour
The Bread, The Truth and our Way,
In your arms is found the Peace
For which we search.
Madonna, oh Black Madonna
I’m happy your child to be
Oh grant me, oh Black Madonna
That your arms may cradle me.
A Prayer to Our Lady of Czestochowa
Holy Mother of Czestochowa, you are full of grace, goodness and mercy. I consecrate to you all my thoughts, words and actions – my soul and body. I beseech your blessings and especially prayers for my salvation. Today I consecrate myself to you, good Mother, totally – with body and soul amid joy and sufferings, to obtain for myself and others your blessings on this earth and eternal life in heaven. Amen
Our Lady of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland, pray for us.
Prayer to the Black Madonna
O Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, we believe in your triumphant assumption into heaven where the angels and saints acclaim you as Queen. We thank you for enabling us to have your Icon in our church, built in your honour for the greater glory of God. Through your Holy Icon, O Lady of Mercy, flow healing and wholeness in abundance to all who draw near to it in faith and love.
Our Lady of Mercy, we entrust ourselves, our loved ones and our country, Australia, to you. We promise to spread your glory by making you known under the title of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Mercy.
O Mother, intercede for us so that the fruits of the Coronation in 2001 will not be lost and that the seeds of grace will grow to the full measure of the holiness to which we are all called.
Queen of All Hearts, we turn to you for protection, listen to our prayers and help us in our needs. Do not cease to shine before the pilgrim people of God as a sign of sure hope and consolation. We entrust to you all troubled families, the innocent and unborn children, the elderly with no one to help them, and all who are alone and without hope. Guide and sustain us, O Virgin Mary, on our journey of faith so that we might always live as true sons and daughters of the Church and obtain for us the grace of eternal salvation. Enable all to meet Christ, the light of the world and its only Saviour, the Way, the Truth and the Life, who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever.