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Our Lady of Czestochowa

Fr. Scott A. Haynes



The miraculous image of Our Lady in Czestochowa, Poland, is believed to have been created by the Apostle St. John sometime after the Crucifixion of Our Lord. This image of the Virgin Mother holding the Christ Child remained in the Holy Land until St. Helena took the image to Constantinople. There her son, the Emperor Constantine, erected a church for its enthronement, to be a place of pilgrimage and prayer.


During the siege by the Saracens, the people carried the icon in a procession around the city to ask for Mary's intercession. By some mysterious force, the infidels were filled with fear and fled. Later, an evil emperor planned to burn the image, but his wife, Irene, saved it and hid it from harm. The image was in that city for 500 years, until it became part of some dowries, eventually being taken to White Russia to a region that later became Poland.


When the icon became the possession of the Polish prince, St. Ladislaus, in the 15th century, it was installed in his castle. Tartar invaders besieged the castle, and an enemy arrow pierced Our Lady's image, inflicting a scar. Interestingly, repeated attempts to fix the image, artistically have all failed. According to tradition, St. Ladislaus was determined to save the image from repeated invasions, so he went to his birthplace, Opala, stopping for rest in Czestochowa; the image was brought nearby to Jasna Gora ["bright hill"] and placed in a small wooden church named for the Assumption. The following morning, after the picture was carefully placed in the wagon, the horses refused to move.


The ceiling of the Shrine of Our Lady in Czestochowa at Jasna Gora.


St. Ladislaus understood this to be a sign from Heaven that the image should stay in Czestochowa; thus, he replaced the painting in the Church of the Assumption, August 26, 1382, a day still observed as the Feast Day of the painting. The Saint wished to have the holiest of men guard the painting, so he assigned the church and the monastery to the Pauline Fathers, who have devoutly protected the image for the last six centuries.


Having survived two attacks upon it, Our Lady's image was next imperiled by the Hussites, followers of the heretic John Hus of Prague. Hus had been influenced by another heretic, John Wyclif, and became infected with his errors. Hus was tried and condemned at the Council of Constance in 1415. The Hussites successfully stormed the Pauline monastery in 1430, plundering the sanctuary. Among the items stolen was the icon of Jesus and Mary. After putting it in their wagon, the Hussites went a short distance but then the horses refused to go any further. Recalling the former incident that was so similar, the heretics threw the portrait down to the ground, and one of the plunderers drew his sword and slashed the image twice, causing two deep gashes; while attempting a third gash, he was overcome with a writhing agony and died. While Christ allowed Himself to be struck cruelly and even crucified, He would not permit His own Mother to suffer such an attack without consequence.



The two slashes on the cheek of the Blessed Virgin, together with the one on the throat have always reappeared after artistic attempts to fix them. The portrait again faced danger in 1655 by a Swedish horde of 12,000, which confronted the 300 men guarding the image. The band of 300 routed the 12,000 and the following year, the Holy Virgin was acclaimed Queen of Poland.


On September 14, 1920, when the Russian army assembled at the River Vistula, in preparation for invading Warsaw, the Polish people prayed to Our Lady. the next day was the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The Russians quickly withdrew after the image appeared in the clouds over Warsaw. In Polish history, this is known as the Miracle of Vistula.


During the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II, Hitler commanded all religious pilgrimages stopped. In a demonstration of love for Our Lady and their confidence in her protection, a half million Poles went to the sanctuary in defiance of Hitler's orders. Following the liberation of Poland in 1945, a million and a half people expressed their gratitude to the Madonna by praying before this miraculous image.


Twenty-eight years after the Russian's first attempt at capturing the city, they successfully took control of Warsaw and the entire nation in 1948. That year more than 800,000 brave Poles made a pilgrimage to the sanctuary at Czestochowa on the Feast of the Assumption, one of the three Feast days of the image; the pilgrims had to pass by the Communist soldiers who patrolled the streets.


Today, the Polish people continue to honor their beloved portrait of the Madonna and Child, especially on August 26, the day reserved by St. Ladislaus. Because of the dark pigment on Our Lady's face and hands, the image is affectionately called the "Black Madonna," most beautifully prefigured in the Bible, in the Canticle of Canticles, Nigra sum sed formosa ("I am black but comely"). [1]


The miracles attributed to Our Lady of Czestochowa are many and most spectacular. The original accounts of them, some of them cures, are archived by the Pauline Fathers at Jasna Gora. The walls of the church at Jasna Gora are lined with crutches and braces and sorts of things that were left by pilgrims over the centuries after Our Lady granted the miracle of healing.


Papal recognition of the miraculous image was made by Pope Clement XI in 1717. The crown given to the image was used in the first official coronation of the painting, which was stolen in 1909. Pope Pius X replaced it with a gold one encrusted with jewels to express his love for Our Blessed Lady.


PRAYER OF CONSECRATION TO OUR LADY OF CZESTOCHOWA

Holy Mother of Czestochowa, Thou art full of grace, goodness and mercy. I consecrate to Thee all my thoughts, words and actions—my soul and body. I beseech Thy blessings and especially prayers for my salvation.
Today, I consecrate myself to Thee, Good Mother, totally—with body and soul amid joy and sufferings to obtain for myself and others Thy blessings on this earth and eternal life in Heaven. Amen.

Imprimatur: Cardinal O' Boyle, Washington, DC


Notes:

[1] The pigmentation is ascribed primarily to age and the need to keep it hidden for long periods of time in places where the only light was from candles, which colored the painting with smoke.

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