The Black Madonna – Our Lady of Czestochowa

Visiting Czestochowa - Jasna Góra

For Catholics and Orthodox Christians, The Black Madonna at the Jasna Góra monastery in Czestochowa is a world-renowned pilgrimage. For Poles themselves, this is the centre of Polish Catholicism. This city in Southern Poland nestled on the Warta River, has earned its place on the map for the miraculous powers attributed to this outstanding painting. Indeed, Jasna Góra is listed as one of Poland’s historic monuments, elevating it beyond the realm of Catholicism alone, and now also recognising it for its cultural and historical significance.

Whilst Czestochowa is accessible in around 90 minutes from Krakow, this is a very full day trip, and really worthy of longer, and therefore you might consider staying nearby

What is The Black Madonna?

The painting which is the focal point for millions of pilgrims visiting Jasna Góra is known as The Black Madonna, or sometimes Our Lady of Czestochowa. In short it is a shrine to the Virgin Mary, but in reality is symbolises so much more.

Believed to have been painted by St Luke himself, the painting has been in Poland for over 600 years. There have been attempts to scientifically date the painting, however, it was badly damaged and restored in the 1400s which has posed immense problems. It has received various Canonical Coronations, most recently on 26th August 2005 by Pope John Paul II.

The Black Madonna is a gilded painting of the Mother of God with the Christ Child in her arms standing proud at around 4ft in height. Numerous miracles have been attributed to the painting: Amongst others, the painting is believed to have saved the Jasna Góra monastery during a siege in the 17th Century, in the time of ‘The Deluge’, a Swedish invasion.

 

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Visiting The Black Madonna at Jasna Gora

Whilst a visit to see The Black Madonna herself is of course the focal point of many, both pilgrims and tourists, who visit Jasna Góra, there is so much more within the monastery complex to amaze, humble, and impress the visitor. To enjoy Jasna Góra, you will need to be part of a guided tour, and tours can be provided in different languages. This is a busy site, bubbling with excitement, but once within the Basilica and in front of the painting itself, decorum and silence is paramount.

 

Visiting Jasna Góra will usually take in the following sites:

  • The intimate Chapel housing the painting of The Black Madonna
  • The impressive Basilica of Jasna Góra
  • The Knights’ Hall
  • The Treasury: the oldest part of the museum displaying a wide range of offerings to the Virgin Mary such as silverware, liturgy items, and jewellery
  • The 600th Year Anniversary Museum: opened in 1982 and displaying a wealth of paintings, offerings and dresses.
  • The St Roch Bastion: built in 1624-39 with a plethora of 18th Century exhibits, as well as outside exhibitions to the Solidarity movement, and war memorials
  • The Arsenal: an art exhibition marking the Day of the Holy Cross Raising
  • The Tower of Jasna Góra: a 106m bell tower, the tallest in Poland, rebuilt in 1906 and housing four impressive clocks.

 

The visitor’s complex at Jasna Góra is open daily year round with the exception of some notable dates:

New Years’ Day

January 6th

Two days at Easter

Corpus Christi

Pentecost

All Saints’ Day

Independence Day (1th November)

24th-26th December

 

The History of Jasna Góra

The history of the Jasna Góra monastery, and the painting of The Black Madonna herself, has a complex and intriguing history.

The origins of the painting are believed to lie with Luke the Evangelist who is thought to have completed the painting on a table built by Jesus himself. The painting was then discovered by St Helen, whereupon it was moved to Constantinople – where it remained for around 500 years.

The Black Madonna was later given as a wedding gift to a Greek princess, who was marrying a Ruthenian nobleman. The painting stayed in its new home in a Royal Palace in Belz for a further 600 years.

It is then believed that the painting arrived in Poland in 1382 carried by a Polish army, who at the time were escaping the Tartars. Legend holds that during this raid on Belz, an eerie and powerful cloud surrounded the chapel where the painting was held, the first of many miracles attributed to the painting.

In 1386 a monastery was founded in Czestochowa to home the miraculous icon. King Jagiello built a Basilica to form the central home. It wasn’t long however, until once again the painting was back under attack.

In 1430, Hussites raided the monastery and this caused rise to another miracle. In the attack, the Madonna’s face was slashed with a sword. The painting was said to be surrounded by not only mud from the raid, but also blood from the wound. When monks attempted to retrieve the painting, legend holds that a beautiful fountain appeared which they could use to clean the painting. Whilst the icon was repainted, the slashes remain visible even now.

The most infamous miracle is probably that which occurred in 1655. This was the occasion that a Swedish army attempted to invade the city of Czestochowa. Both monks and Polish soldiers prayed in the aura of the painting to be saved, and despite the Swedish army being notably dominant in size, they did in fact retreat.

King John Casimir elevated Czestochowa to the spiritual capital of the country in 1656 when he named The Black Madonna, the ‘Queen of Poland’.

Moving in to more modern history, the icon was again said to come to the assistance of the Poles when a Russian army was attempting to attack Warsaw. This time, belief holds that on 15th September 1920, the Virgin Mary appeared in the clouds above Warsaw following prayers to the icon in Czestochowa. This saw the Russian’s defeated, and has been called the ‘Miracle at the Vistula’.

During World War II, when Poland was occupied by the Nazis, pilgrimages to Jasna Góra were prohibited. Following liberation in 1945, a staggering half a million pilgrimages took place.

Polish, John Paul II made several pilgrimages to pray at the icon of The Black Madonna including holding a World Youth Day there in 1991.

Tourist or Pilgrim

Whether you’re a tourist fascinated by legend, myth, history and art, or whether you’re a devoted pilgrim on the path of prayer, you will find a welcoming and spiritual feel at Czestochowa, and particularly within the Jasna Góra. You cannot fail but be humbled by the icon that is The Black Madonna, or be moved by this religious heart of Poland.

 

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