Blessed Feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland – 26 August – Also known as• Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Czarna Madonna, Hodegetria, Imago thaumaturga Beatae Virginis Mariae Immaculatae Conceptae, Matka Boska Czestochowska, One Who Shows the Way. Our Lady of Czestochowa is a revered icon of the Virgin Mary housed at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland. Several Pontiffs have recognised the venerated icon, beginning with Pope Clement XI who issued a Canonical Coronation to the image on 8 September 1717 via the Vatican Chapter. Patron of Poland.
According to tradition, the icon of Jasna Góra (Bright Mountain) was painted by Luke the Evangelist on a tabletop built by Jesus himself and the icon was discovered by St Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine and collector of Christian relics in the Holy Land. The icon was then enshrined in the imperial city of Constantinople, according to the legend, where it remained for the next 500 years.
In 803, the painting is said to have been given as a wedding gift from the Byzantine emperor to a Greek princess, who married a Ruthenian nobleman. The image was then placed in the royal palace at Belz, where it remained for nearly 600 years.
History first combines with tradition upon the icon’s arrival in Poland in 1382 with a Polish army fleeing the Tartars, who had struck it with an arrow.
Legend has it that during the looting of Belz, a mysterious cloud enveloped the chapel containing the image. A monastery was founded in Częstochowa to enshrine the icon in 1386 and soon King Jagiello built a cathedral around the chapel containing the icon.
However, the image soon came under attack once again. In 1430, Hussites (pre-Reformation reformers) attacked the monastery, slashed the Virgin’s face with a sword, and left it desecrated in a puddle of blood and mud.
It is said that when the monks pulled the icon from the mud, a miraculous fountain appeared, which they used to clean the painting. The icon was repainted in Krakow, but both the arrow mark and the gashes from the sword were left and remain clearly visible today.
The miracle for which the Black Madonna of Częstochowa is most famous occurred in 1655, when Swedish troops were about to invade Częstochowa. A group of Polish soldiers prayed fervently before the icon for deliverance and the enemy retreated. In 1656, King John Casimir declared Our Lady of Częstochowa “Queen of Poland” and made the city the spiritual capital of the nation.
The Virgin again came to the aid of her people in 1920, when the Soviet Russian Red Army gathered on the banks of the Vistula River, preparing to attack Warsaw. The citizens and soldiers fervently prayed to Our Lady of Częstochowa and on September 15, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, she appeared in the clouds above Warsaw. The Russians were defeated in a series of battles later dubbed the “Miracle at the Vistula.”
During Nazi occupation, Hitler prohibited pilgrimages to Jasna Góra but many still secretly made the journey. In 1945, after Poland was liberated, half a million pilgrims journeyed to Czestochowa to express their gratitude. On September 8, 1946, 1.5 million people gathered at the shrine to rededicate the entire nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. During the Cold War, Jasna Góra was a centre of anti-Communist resistance. Czestochowa is regarded as the most popular shrine in Poland, with many Polish Catholics making a pilgrimage there every year. A pilgrimage has left Warsaw every August 6 since 1711 for the nine-day, 140-mile trek. Elderly pilgrims recall stealing through the dark countryside at great personal risk during the German Nazi occupation. Pope John Paul II secretly visited as a student pilgrim during World War II. He was a fervent devotee of the Virgin Mary and of her icon at Czestochowa. As pope, he made pilgrimages to pray before the Black Madonna in 1979, 1983, 1991 and 1997. In 1991, he held his Sixth World Youth Day at Czestochowa, which was attended by 350,000 young people from across Europe.
The four-foot-high painting displays a traditional composition well known in the icons of Eastern Christians. 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-lis robes.