The Feast of Our Lady of Częstochowa (Poland)

The miraculous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa located at the Monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, Poland.

The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, which is displayed in an altar in the Chapel of the Black Madonna. The icon shows a serious Mary holding the infant Jesus on her left arm and gesturing towards him with her right hand. The Virgin's gaze is intense — pilgrims are moved by the way she seems to look right at them.

The Virgin's robe and mantle are decorated with lilies, the symbol of the Hungarian royal family. The infant Jesus is dressed in a red tunic and holds a Bible in his left hand and makes a gesture of blessing with his right. The Virgin and Child are dressed in bejeweled velvet robes and gold crowns for special occasions.

The image has been placed in a gold frame decorated with hundreds of precious jewels, and stands on an altar of ebony and silver donated by the Grand Chancellor George Ossolinski in 1650.

The altar with the icon is separated from the rest of the Chapel of the Black Madonna with a floor-to-ceiling iron screen. The large Gothic chapel includes five other altars, the most notable of which is the Altar of the Crucifix, to the right of the icon. Its cross dates from 1400. The walls of the chapel are full of ex-votos left by grateful pilgrims.

The history of the Miraculous Icon

According to tradition, the icon of Jasna Gora 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 Czestochowa 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 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 Czestochowa is most famous occurred in 1655, when Swedish troops were about to invade Czestochowa. 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 Czestochowa "Queen of Poland" and made the city the spiritual capital of the nation.

Pope Clement XI officially recognized the miraculous nature of the image in 1717. Pope Pius X offered the crown to the images of the Black Madonna and in 1925 Pope Pius XI designated May 3 a feast day in her honor.

Pilgrimages

Every year in Poland many pilgrimages head for Czestochowa for the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. There has been a tradition since 1711 when pilgrims set out from Warsaw to Czestochowa to thank Our Lady for her protection from the plague.

Every day, from early in the morning to late in the evening, a stready stream of pilgrims approaches the shrine of Czestochowa via the tree-lined main avenue. The groups leave a few hundred feet in between them, so as not to disturb the others as they pray the rosary and sing hymns. Young men carry batteries and speakers to lead the singing.

The pilgrimage to Czestochowa are Marian feast days, especially the Feast of the Assumption on August 15. On this day, up to 500,000 people crowd the city. Since 1711, a pilgrimage has left Warsaw and 32 other towns and walked in procession to Czestochowa for up to 21 days.

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 Czestochowa, 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 Gora, 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.

Four other national pilgrimage days bring throngs of visitors: the Feast of Mary, Queen of Poland (May 3); the Feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa (August 26); the Feast of the Nativity of Mary (September 8); and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8).

What to see at Jasna Gora Monastery

Attached to the Chapel of the Black Madonna is the baroque basilica, named the Church of the Holy Cross and Nativity of Mary. Rebuilt between 1692 and 1695, it has three aisles and ceilings decorated with accounts of the miracles of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The main altar was designed by the Italian artist Giacomo Antonio Buzzini between 1725 and 1728.

The monastery's treasury is a rich storehouse of votive offerings given to the Black Madonna over the centuries, from the 14th century to the present. Gifts range from swords and scepters to rosaries made of dried bread in concentration camps.

Kings, queens and popes have donated a vast array of precious objects, such as King Michael Korybut Wisniowiecki and the Archduchess Eleanor of Austria on the occasion of their wedding in Jasna Góra in 1670.

Around the perimeter of the basilica, where the moat once was, are the 14 Stations of the Cross represented by bronze statues sculpted by Pius Welonski in 1913. Nearly every pilgrim group prays at the Stations of the Cross; some move from one station to the next on their knees.

The large baroque monastery of Jasna Gora dominates a hilltop in Czestochowa and is always bustling with pilgrims and worshippers. As pilgrims approach the monastery, the most striking sight is the 106-meter bell tower, reconstructed in 1906 (the bottom part dates from 1714).

Pilgrimage and new Knights in Poland
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The Monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, Poland

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The Monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, Poland

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The Avenue of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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The Miraculous Iconof Our Lady of Czestochowa

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The Miraculous Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa

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The chapel at Jasna Gora in Czestochowa

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The chapel at Jasna Gora in Czestochowa with Miraculous Image

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The Way of the Cross