On Wednesday, May 3, in the country of Poland, they will celebrate the Marian feast of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, commonly known as the Black Madonna and Our Lady of Czestochowa.
Jasna Gora, which means, “bright hill” is the name of the monastery in the central region of Southern Poland known as Czestochowa. The monastery, along with other rooms of sacred art, has in its collection the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Jasna Gora. It’s one of the most important pilgrimage sites in all of Europe, in comparison to Lourdes, Rome, Fatima, Santiago, and Guadalupe, drawing in nearly 5 million pilgrims from around the globe. Jasna Gora is the spiritual epicenter, the heart of Poland, and the country’s national shrine.
The genesis of the image, which has miracles surrounding it, is not completely known. However, according to some traditions within the Catholic Church, it is believed to be the portrait of Our Lady painted by St. Luke the Evangelist sometime after the Crucifixion of Our Lord.
It is believed that the image of Blessed Mother remained in the Holy Land for the early centuries of the Church, until St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine found the image in the 4th century. History and tradition tells us that Constantine sent his mother to Jerusalem to locate certain relics of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, after he legalized Christianity. The image was carried to the city of Constantinople where Emperor Constantine built a church for the sacred image.
At one point in the history of Constantinople, Saracen invaders attacked the city, however they became very frightened and fled after the people carried the picture around the city in procession. The image of the Blessed Mother remained in the city for nearly 500 years. Eventually, it became part of dowries and was taken to a region of Eastern Europe that became known as Poland.
While in Poland, the sacred image became the possession of St. Ladislaus, a Polish prince who reigned during the 15th century. As the image was kept in the castle, Tartar invaders attacked his castle and pierced the image with an arrow.
Determined to keep the image from being attacked any longer, St. Ladislaus decided to bring it to his birthplace. As his entourage stopped to rest in the town of Czestochowa, the sacred painting was placed in a small wooden church named for the Assumption of Mary nearby Jasna Gora. As St. Ladislaus was ready to set out the following morning, the horses that carried the image on a wagon refused to move. He took this as a sign from Heaven that the image of the Black Madonna was to remain in Czestochowa.
On August 26, 1382, he enthroned the image in the Church of the Assumption. St. Ladislaus wanted the image to be protected and guarded by the holiest of men. He asked the Pauline Fathers to take on this mission, now known as the aforementioned monastery. The monastery continues to protect the image to this day.
Although Our Lady’s image was attacked previously, more attacks would come upon it in the years ahead. Followers of the heretic priest, John Hus, attacked the Pauline monastery in 1430 and destroyed the sanctuary. The Hussites stole the image and placed it in a wagon, but as before, the horses refused to move. Getting frustrated because the horses would not move, they threw the painting on the ground. The image broke into three pieces.
One of the pillagers drew his sword and slashed the image twice causing two deep gashes. It is said that the image bled from these marks. While trying to cause a third slash, the man endured great anguish and suddenly died. The two slashes on the cheek of the Black Madonna and the mark from the arrow on the neck have always been depicted on the image. Artists have tried to repair the marks in the past, however, the marks just reappear.
In 1655, a band of 12,000 Swedes ventured to destroy the image. The 300 men who were protecting the image in the Jasna Gora Monastery battled the vandals and routed them out. The image itself is acclaimed to helping the men of the monastery rout out the invaders.
In 1656, the Holy Virgin was announced as the Queen and Protector of Poland.
In 1920, the Polish people prayed to Our Lady as the Russian army was about to invade Poland at the River Vistula. As the image appeared in the clouds, the Russians withdrew their attack. This is known as the Miracle of Vistula in Poland.
During World War II, 500,000 Poles made a pilgrimage to the city of Czestochowa in defiance to Hitler’s orders, which stated that all religious pilgrimages had to cease. After Poland was liberated from Nazi rule, one and half million people gave thanksgiving to the Black Madonna by praying before the sacred and miraculous image.
In 1948, as the entire nation of Poland was held captive by Communist Russia, nearly 800,000 courageous Poles made a pilgrimage to the city and sanctuary of Czestochowa at Jasna Gora Monastery on the Feast of the Assumption.
The Black Madonna to this day is honored by not only the Polish people, but even in America at the Shrine in Doylestown, PA on August 26. It is known as the Black Madonna because of the dark colors on Our Lady’s face and hands. The color is ascribed simply not because the image is old but also because it was kept in places where the smoke of votive candles changed the pigmentation of it. Many Popes, including Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI have traveled to venerate the image.
Our Lady of Jasna Gora…Pray for Us.