Friday, 26 August 2011

The Black Madonna

Today is the Feast of the famous Black Madonna of Czestochowa in Poland.

The origins of the icon and the date of its painting are hotly contested by scholars. The difficulty lies in the fact that the original image was painted over, after being badly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430. To this very day, the slashes on the face of the Virgin Mary are still visible.  Medieval restorers unfamiliar with the encaustic method found that the paints they applied to the damaged areas "simply sloughed off the image" according to the medieval chronicler Risinius, and their solution was to erase the original image and to repaint it on the original panel, which was believed to be holy because of its legendary origin as a table top from the home of the Holy Family. The painting displays a traditional composition well known in the icons of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Virgin Mary is shown as the "Hodegetria" ("One Who Shows the Way"). In it the Virgin directs attention away from herself, gesturing with her right hand toward Jesus as the source of salvation. In turn, the child extends his right hand toward the viewer in blessing while holding a book of gospels in his left hand. The icon shows the Madonna in fleur de lys robes.

Saint Luke the Evangelist, according to tradition, is believed to be the original artist of this painting in which Mary is depicted holding the Christ Child. This sacred picture was first brought from Jerusalem through Constantinople and was given to the Princess of Ruthenia. It was brought to Poland in 1382 through the efforts of Ladislaus of Opole who discovered it in a castle at Belz. However more recent Ukrainian sources state that it was taken by LadisÅ‚aus from the Castle of Belz, when the town was incorporated into the Polish kingdom and that earlier in its history it was brought to Belz with much ceremony and honors by Knyaz Lev I of Galicia .To ensure its protection, Ladislaus  invited the Monks of Saint Paul the First Hermit from Hungary to be its guardians.   The golden fleur-de-lis painted on the Virgin's blue veil parallel the French royal coat of arms and the most likely explanation for their presence is that icon had been present in Hungary during the reign of either Charles I of Hungary and/or Louis the Great, the Hungarian kings of the Anjou dynasty, who probably had the fleur-de-lis of their family's coat of arms painted on the icon. This would suggest that the icon was probably originally brought to Jasna Gora by the Pauline monks from their founding monastery in Hungary.

The foundation of the Monastery and Shrine in Czestochowa began with a small wooden church. Subsequent development (1632-48) led to the construction of the present basilica and defensive wall which surrounds the buildings. Under the heroic leadership of the Prior of the Monastery, Father Augustine Kordecki, the Shrine withstood the attacks of the Swedes during their Invasion of 1655. This great victory proved to be a tremendous boost to the morale of the entire Polish nation.
As a result, King Jan Casimir, in 1656, made a solemn vow proclaiming the Mother of God to be the “Queen of the Polish Crown” and the Shrine of Jasna Gora to be the “Mount of Victory” and a spiritual capital for Poland.

During the years of Poland’s partition at the hands of the Russian, Prussian (later German) and Austro-Hungarian empires (1772-1918) the Shrine at Jasna Gora became a vital centre of Polish national consciousness. The image at Czestochowa was a lighthouse of hope during the years of hardship.
Following the restoration of Polish independence in 1918, pilgrimages to the Shrine grew in number and size. As World War II ended, a nation devastated by the scourges of war drew new strength and courage from the Shrine to rebuild and recover from the war. Today the Shrine of Czestochowa in Poland attracts millions of worshipers and tourists who come to honor the miraculous image of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Holy Mary, pray for all who honour you and your Son and help us to follow him, whoever and where ever we may be.


  1. Amen to that prayer. Millions of people find that their personal faith is enriched by Mary our Mother of the church, I am happy to be counted in that number. I truly believe she helps those who believe in her Son.
    As a point of interest there is a small Sanctuary in Mellieha,Malta wherein is one of the very earliest depictions of Our Lady, still preserved despite historical attacks. I can spend hours there whenever I visit. Worth checking out on the internet - there she protects her Son and points the way to Him.

  2. I missed that on my Malta trip a few years ago - whish i'd known about it.