Czestochowa, the Heartbeat of Poland
For anyone who has ever stepped foot into a Polish Catholic parish church, a Polish-owned business or Polish home, the image of the Virgin Mary of Czestochowa, (pronounced chesta-hova in English) is most likely a familiar sight. Along with the Polish Eagle, the Virgin Mary of Czestochowa, sometimes referred to as the Black Madonna due to the dark complexion of the Virgin Mary of the image, is one of the most closely identified symbols of Poland, and easily the most revered Christian icon amongst Polish people.
The origins of the Virgin Mary of Czestochowa
The story of the Virgin Mary of Czestochowa begins not in Poland, but in the Holy Land. As one of the 70 images of the Virgin Mary created by the Apostle Luke, it is one of the most sacred relics of all Christianity. Painted from a cedar-wood board originally part of a table used by the Holy Family in Nazareth, it was brought to Constantinople by St. Helena on her famed pilgrimage in 326, and in turn was brought to Russia, then southern Poland, where it was interred in the monastery of Jasna Gora, Czestochowa, where it has remained for centuries. The icon itself is considered to be called one of the Hodegetria icons, a Greek term for “The One Who Shows the Way” in reference to the image of the poise of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child. While the icon may have had been partially repainted in subsequent centuries and now has a bejeweled cover over it, the icon is considered to be a direct connection between the origins of Christianity and the living Church in Poland today.
A slash on the Cheek
A slash in the cheek of the Virgin Mary is attributed to a miraculous incident in which anti-Catholic militants looting the monastery attempted to take the icon away. After the horses pulling the cart refused to budge, apparently unwilling to transport the icon, one of the plunderers slashed at the image of the face of the Virgin Mary three times before falling to the ground and succumbing to an agonizing death. The icon was eventually restored to its rightful place in the monastery and has remained there since.
A Place of Pilgrimage
A visit to Czestochowa is a visit to a pilgrimage complex. While always a popular place of pilgrimage, the Polish Pope John Paul II’s declaration that the monastery was “the heartbeat of our nation.” The impressive primary church where the icon is housed has a nearly continuous rotation of masses being served by visiting priests, where the icon is affixed above the altar. Pilgrims can venerate the image by traversing in a horseshoe-shaped pattern, walking on their knees behind the altar and kissing relics implanted within the wall of the sanctuary. An adjacent chapel, significantly larger than the chapel where the icon is kept, is impressively decorated, while adjacent hallways are decorated with mementos given as offerings from pilgrims who have been healed from illnesses and injury or have gone through some other extraordinary event.
While May is officially the month of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland, an annual pilgrimage from Warsaw has been conducted on foot every August 6th for over three hundred years. In addition, August 26th is dedicated as a special day to the veneration of Our Lady of Czestochowa, and serves as both an offering for hopes of a bountiful autumn harvest and perpetual thanks for the protection of Poland and its people by the ever-blessed Virgin Mary.
To visit Czestochowa and other sights in Poland, contact Tony at Tony@goodshepherdtravel.com.