Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Black Madonna of Częstochowa

Miraculous Icon of our Lady of Czestochowa:


The legend says that after Jesus' crucifixion, when the Virgin Mary moved to St. John's home, she took with her some personal articles, among them a table made by our Redeemer in St. Joseph's workshop. The story continues and says that when the pious women of Jerusalem asked St. Luke to do a painting of the Mother of God, he used this table to paint the image. The image remained in Jerusalem for a time, until the Romans began to destroy the city.

Divine providence guided the image to Constantinople, where it was carefully protected by the Christians there. By 802, the image appeared in White Russia. During a war in the middle of the fourteenth century, the image was struck by an enemy arrow. Prince Wladyslaw, in order to prevent the destruction of the image, decided to transport it to the land of his birth. While traveling through Poland, with the image in a horse drawn carriage, the horses refused to go any further when they reached the town of Czestachowa.

The prince went up to the chapel on top of the hill Jasna Gora to pray, since he saw the horses' refusal to go on as a divine message. In a dream, Our Lady appeared to him, and told him she wanted the image to be venerated there in Czestochowa. This was in the year 1382.

The prince ordered the building a a bigger and more elaborate Church, along with a monastery. Pilgrims began traveling from all over to venerate the image. She has been in Czestochowa since this time, and has become a national treasure of the Polish people, who venerate her as the Queen of Poland. The present Basilica in which the image resides was built in 1902.


The painting of the Virgin belongs to the type of icons designated as Odigitria (a word of Greek origin meaning "The one who shows and guides along the way”). This wood painting measures 122.2 cm by 82.2 cm by 3.5 cm and represents the bust of the Virgin who carries Jesus in her arms. The face of the Virgin stands out in that whoever looks at the painting is found immersed in Mary’s gaze: the pilgrim looks at Mary who looks back.

The Child also faces the pilgrim but with a fixed look. Both faces have serious and pensive expressions, giving the painting an emotional tone. Two parallel scratches crossed by a third mark the Virgin’s right cheek. Her neck shows six other scratches, two of which are visible, whereas the other four can barely be seen.

In the image, Jesus wears a scarlet tunic and rests on His Mother’s right arm as a makeshift throne in order to be seated. The Child’s left arm holds a book, and the right arm is raised as if he was giving his blessing. The Virgin’s hand rests on his chest, points to the Child, and appears to tell us: “Pay attention to my Child Jesus.”

The Virgin’s dress and mantle are adorned with the flower of lis, a symbol of the royal family of Hungary. The brightness of their apparel contrasts with the dark colors of their faces. A star with six vertices is depicted on Mary’s forehead. Both the Virgin and Jesus have golden halos. Given the dark color of the face and hands of Our Lady, the image has been fondly called “the Black Virgin,” a phrase which reminds us of the Song of Songs, “I am dark-skinned but beautiful.”

Her darkness can be attributed to many reasons, one being the poor conditions of the places where she has been hidden to safeguard her. In addition, numerous candles have been lit before her, causing her to be constantly amidst smoke. As well, she most likely has been touched by a multitude of people.

In the image, the wounds on her face were caused by some bandits who tried to steal the image in 1430. The wound on her throat was caused by the Tartars who besieged the castle of Belz; one of the enemy’s arrows went through the Chapel’s window and hit the icon. The two cuts on the cheek of the Virgin, along with the harm previously caused by the spear through her throat, always reappear despite the repeated attempts to restore the image.


Throughout the history of the icon, our Blessed Mother has manifested her powerful intercession in the midst of many dangers. One of the most well-known occurred on September 14th, 1920 when the Russian army set up camp near the Vistula River, where they were preparing to invade the city of Warsaw. As a result, the people turned to the Virgin Mary. The next day on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Russian army withdrew its troops after an image of the Virgin appeared in a cloud over the city. The Polish refer to this victory as The Miracle of Vistula.

The miracles attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Czestochowa are numerous and spectacular, including resurrections. Princess Anna Wisniowiecka in 1613 was boating and fell into a raging river in the midst of a storm. She cried out to Our Lady of Czestochowa to save her, and Our Lady appeared and helped her safely to shore.

At the end of the seventeenth century, there were a series of deadly epidemics that swept their way through Europe, including Poland. However, the city of Czestochowa was never touched by any. The Pauline fathers prepared for them, but they never came. These are just a few of the many miracles attributed to the icon and the intercession of Our Lady. The record of all the miracles attributed to this icon are kept by the Pauline fathers in Czestochowa.

Hat Tip: Da Mihi Animas

Click here for Padre Steve's poignant post, regarding "his ninth anniversary" of ordination....Congratulations Father Steve, your friendship and spiritual guidance means the world to me! God Bless you.

The Black Madonna:

The Black Madonna was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist; and it was while painting the picture, Mary told him about the life of Jesus, which he later incorporated into his gospel. The next time we hear of the painting is in 326 A.D. when St. Helen found it in Jerusalem and gave it to her son and had a shrine built for it in Constantinople. During a battle, the picture was placed on the walls of the city, and the enemy army fled. Our Lady saved the city from destruction.

The picture was owned by many other people until 1382 when invading Tartars attacked a Prince Ladislaus' fortress, where the painting was located. A Tartar's arrow lodged into through the throat of the Madonna. The Prince transferred the painting to a church in Czestochowa, Poland.

In 1430, the church was invaded and a looter struck the painting two times with his sword, but before he could strike it another time, he fell to the ground in agony and pain, and died. The sword cuts and the arrow wound are still visible on the painting. The miracles worked by Our Lady of Czestochowa seem to occur mainly on a public scale. During her stay in Constantinople, she is reported to have frightened the besieging Saracens away from the city. Similarly, in 1655 a small group of Polish defenders was able to drive off a much larger army of Swedish invaders from the sanctuary. The following year, the Holy Virgin was acclaimed Queen of Poland by King Casimir.

When the Russians were at Warsaw's gates in 1920, thousands of people walked from Warsaw to Czestochowa to ask the Madonna for help. The Poles defeated the Russians at a battle along the Wisla (or Vistula) River. Today, every school child knows the victory as "The Miracle on the Wisla." During World War II under German occupation, the faithful made pilgrimages as a show of defiance. That spirit deepened during the atheistic years of Soviet-enforced communism. Government attempts to stop the pilgrimages failed.

In the early 1980s, Walesa didn't drape himself in the Polish flag when he was leading the outlawed Solidarity movement; he placed an Our Lady of Czestochowa lapel pin on his jacket. Poles knew it to be a subversive message. Pope John Paul II, a native son of Poland, prayed before the Madonna during his historic visit in 1979, several months after his election to the Chair of Peter. The Pope made another visit to Our Lady of Czestochowa in 1983 and again in 1991.

Why is She Black?

There have been reports for centuries of miraculous events such as spontaneous healings occurring to those who made a pilgrimage to the portrait. It is known as the 'Black Madonna" because of the soot residue that discolors the painting. The soot is the result of centuries of votive lights and candles burning in front of the painting. With the decline of communism in Poland, pilgrimages to the Black Madonna have increased dramatically.
Website for the US National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa can be found here.

Tribute to the Queen of Poland here.

Polish Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa at the Vatican Grottoes here.

More regarding today's feast day here.

A 1979 sermon delivered by Pope John Paul II apropos the Queen of Poland here.


tuleesh said...

Where is the stained glass located?

In Mary's Image said...

Beautiful Carlos, thank you!

Padre Steve said...

Wonderful post Carlos! Thanks also for the kind words! God bless you!

Carlos Echevarria said...

Tuleesh, in Poland at the Czestochowa least that is what is stated.

Carlos Echevarria said...

Claudia, I am really glad you enjoyed it, I thought of you when I was posting this...

Carlos Echevarria said...

Padre Steve....have a great weekend and thank you for the support, you're the best!

midnight rider said...

The Black Madonna has always fascinated me. Great post, my friend.