Everything you always wanted to know about Poland’s Black Madonna
Did you know that Our Lady of Czestochowa has sisters? Or that she has been under arrest? Or that she has received the Nobel Prize?
If you asked any Pole in the street who Our Lady of Czestochowa is, they would reply without hesitation that she is the Queen of the Polish Nation, our Beloved Mother and Lady of Miracles, while the Jasna Góra Shrine is Poland’s spiritual capital. Do Poles know anything else about this unique place, though? Personally, I have only recently looked into the history of the Jasna Góra Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the coronation of the image. This is what I have been able to find out!
How many dresses does Our Lady of Czestochowa have?
As befits a true lady, the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa has a number of dress-like coverings. Her wardrobe, or rather the treasury of the Jasna Góra Shrine, contains fashionably minimalist yet premium-quality “gowns.”
There are 11 of these dresses, each with its own unique history, each for a different special occasion. Among them we can find the Dress of Entrustment, made of from about 9 kilograms of amber and inlaid with a thousand diamonds, a dress made of seeds, or a Commander’s Gown – a votive offering of the Polish generals of the Second Republic, composed of a number of distinctions and orders. There is also the best-known Millennium Dress with a blue embroidery, featuring the motif of lilies.
A true hermitage we have made them!
While Jasna Góra with its thousands of pilgrims hardly brings to mind an image of a hermitage, the Pauline monks who reside in the monastery are a religious order deriving from the eremite movement. John Paul II made a joke about it at the end of the Sixth World Youth Day; he quipped when addressing the world’s youth:
Do you know what the fathers and brothers in the white habits who occupy the Jasna Góra Shrine are called? They are called the Paulines, sons of St. Paul the first hermit. They are the sons of St. Paul the hermit and they are hermits themselves – atrue hermitage we have made them!
At Mother’s home!
When it was announced that the Sixth World Youth Day would take place in Czestochowa in August 1991, a debate started about the venue of the event. The initial potential places were the meadow on the western side of the shrine or a former military airfield in Rudniki …
John Paul II decided that the youth would meet in the square right in front of the shrine, the venue of numerous historical events, including acts of entrustment to Our Lady. As the Pontiff observed, “It will be tight, but cozy … as Mother’s home!”
As a result, young people from the entire world were very close to Mother’s heart. As the participants of the meeting recall, there had never been so many people in the shrine; some even climbed the nearby trees.
The Nobel Prize for the Virgin Mary
The history of leaving gifts of thanksgiving in return for the graces obtained in the shrine harks back to the 15th century. The gifts continue to be hung on the walls of the chapel hosting the miraculous image. They are moreover gathered in the Jasna Góra treasury, which offers an intriguing Polish history lesson.
The treasury houses numerous liturgical vestments and vessels, including a monstrance offered by King Sigismund the Elder of Poland, precious artworks, jewellery of various ages, including a rosary of Queen Bona. There are also such everyday items as a gold cup and clock donated by King John III Sobieski, a pen of the writer Henryk Sienkiewicz and the medal of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Lech Wałęsa.
Other gifts are valuable not because of their material worth, but due to their history. For example, concentration camp survivors have brought to Our Lady rosaries made of bread and a crown of thorns made of barbed wire.
Of special significance are the votive offerings of the supreme pontiffs: a monstrance from John XXIII, a chalice from Paul VI, a gold rose from John Paul II, and a blood-stained stole worn by the Polish pope at the time of his assassination attempt.
A woman on the road, under arrest at that
While Jasna Góra has for decades been the destination of numerous pilgrimages reaching it from the entire world, we tend to forget that Our Lady of Czestochowa herself has for many years been travelling the width and length of Poland. It all began on August 26, 1957, the time of the so-called “sacred kiss,” or the moment when the copy (designed to be taken on pilgrimage to parishes, for reverence by people who could not travel to Jasna Gora) was touched to the original miraculous image.
Then, for 23 years copy visited all Polish parishes, although some of them were reached only by the painting’s frame. Absurd as it sounds, on September 4, 1966 the traveling icon of Our Lady was “arrested” by the then-communist regime, and was detained until 1972. In May 1985, another stage of the visitation took place and has continued until today.
Did you know that the Black Madonna has sisters?
Our Lady of Czestochowa is not the only Black Madonna. Worldwide, we have a few other images of the Blessed Virgin Mary with dark features. One of the more popular ones is the La Moreneta, or the little dark-skinned one, Our Lady of Montserrat, Catalonia. Some say that thanks to the similarity of the two images, the Catalans were called by the other residents of the Iberian Peninsula los polacos – or the Poles.
Other famous Black Madonnas include Our Lady of Einsiedeln, in Switzerland, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is known in Mexico as La Morenita.
People cured of their illnesses, conversions, the grace of becoming a parent or even being raised from the dead make up a long list of miracles that have taken place through the intercession of Our Lady of Jasna Góra. Fortunately, the Pauline monks have kept track of all the miraculous events since 1402.
Many come with medical records or witness testimonies. The most spectacular miracle took place in the early 16th century, when a mother and two of her children were raised from the dead in front of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa. This is borne witness to by a painting displayed in the section of the shrine connecting the Basilica and the Chapel of the Miraculous Image.
The rich shrine archives contain as many as 30 testimonies of people being raised from the dead through the intercession of the Lady of Czestochowa. All of these events took place centuries ago. Does this mean that our ancestors were people of greater faith?