'miraculous' aspect of this image is that its antiquity is so great that
its origins are unknown, as if "dropped from the heavens." Legend
attributes its creation to St. Luke, the evangelist, who "painted a portrait
of the Virgin on the cedar wood table at which she had taken her meals."
St. Helena, the Queen-Mother of Emperor Constantine is said to have located
the portrait during her visit to the Holy Land and to have brought it to
Constantinople in the fourth century. After remaining there for five
centuries, it allegedly was transferred in royal dowries until it made
its way to Poland, and the possession of St. Ladislaus in the fifteenth
legend continues: During Ladislaus' time, the image was damaged during
a siege, by a Tartar arrow, "inflicting a scar on the throat of the Blessed
Virgin." In 1430, Hussites stole and vandalized the precious image,
breaking it into three pieces. Adding insult to injury:
of the robbers drew his sword, struck the image and inflicted two deep
gashes. While preparing to inflict a third gash, he fell to the ground
and writhed in agony until his death ... The two slashes on the cheek of
the Blessed Virgin, together with the previous injury to the throat, have
always reappeared - despite repeated attempts to repair them.
modern scholarship has its own views on this legend. Leonard Moss
claims: "the figure is distinctly thirteenth-fourteenth century Byzantine
in form." In general, its Byzantine style is obvious, a variant on
Hodegetria. Janusz Pasierb states of the image that "in 1434 it was
painted virtually anew" due to the extensive damage caused by vandalism.
He adds that "the authors of the new version were faithful to the original
as regards its contents." This might explain the persistence of the
damage marks mentioned earlier. Finally, note that Pasierb sees the
prototype of Our Lady of Czestochowa as "a Byzantine icon ... which from
the fifth century on had been worshipped in a church in Constantinople's
ton hodegon quarter."
miracles worked by Our Lady of Czestochowa seem to occur mainly on a public
scale. During her stay in Constantinople, she is reported to have
frightened the besieging Saracens away from the city. Similarly,
in 1655 a small group of Polish defenders was able to drive off a much
larger army of Swedish invaders from the sanctuary. The following
year, the Holy Virgin was acclaimed Queen of Poland by King Casimir.
It is also recorded that Our Lady dispersed an army of Russian invaders
by an apparition at the River Vistula on September 15, 1920. In more
recent times, the Czestochowa Madonna has also been acknowledged for her
protection of and cooperation with the Polish nation. Beyond these
miracles attributed to Our Lady of Czestochowa are numerous and spectacular.
The original accounts of these cures and miracles are preserved in the
archives of the Pauline Fathers at Jasna Gora.
image is not so well-known only on account of its history of miracles.
Its international reputation has been considerably enhanced because of
the personal devotion of the current Roman Pontiff:
modern times, Pope John Paul II, a native son of Poland, prayed before
the Madonna during his historic visit in 1979, several months after his
election to the Chair of Peter. The Pope made another visit to Our
Lady of Czestochowa in 1983 and again in 1991.
is She Black?
final question remains: why is Our Lady of Czestochowa black? Cruz
mentions a possible link to the Canticle of Canticles: "I am black but
beautiful"; but concludes that "The darkness is ascribed to various conditions
[e.g. accumulated residue from candles], of which its age is primary."
Broschart, by contrast, opines: the shrine was destroyed by fire, but the
picture was not burned - however, the flames and smoke had darkened it
and from that day it has been known as the "Black Madonna."
that Moss saw the image as Byzantine in form, dating from the Medieval
period. He added: "the skin pigmentation is characteristic of this
Ernst Scheyer, an art historian who studied the image, believed that "the
present image was restored in the nineteenth century and painted somewhat
darker than previously."
to all this confusion, a notable Swiss copy, completed by Kosmoski in 1956
and kept in the Hospice of the Great St. Bernard Pass, is much darker than
the version in Jasna Gora, while a copy at a shrine in Doylestown, Pennsylvania
is depicted in lighter flesh tones. All of which makes the question
of authorial intent extremely complicated. Perhaps all that may be
said of Our Lady of Czestochowa is that she may be called black, but she
is certainly beautiful. Her miraculous reputation, though, is beyond
further information on Our Lady of Czestochowa, refer to In Quest of the
Black Virgin ... by Leonard W. Moss pp. 53-74 in Mother Worship:Themes
and Variations (1982) by James Preston (ed.); Miraculous Images of Our
Lady (1993) by Joan Carroll Cruz; Call Her Blessed (1961) by Charles B.
Broschart; and The Shrine of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa (1989) by
miraculous portrait of Our Lady of Czestochowa is venerated by many as
an actual portrait of the Madonna, painted during her lifetime by Saint
Luke the Evangelist on the top of a cypress-wood table.
history of the image is unknown. Saint Helena in her search for the True
Cross in Jerusalem discovered the portrait in 326. Her son, Constantine,
had a shrine built for it in Constantinople where it remained for 500 years.
There it is claimed to have saved the city from attacking Saracens while
being displayed during a battle.
years later the Emperor Charlemagne was offered the choice of any of the
city's treasures, but he had eyes only for the image of Our Lady. Charlemagne
presented the portrait to Prince Leo of Ruthenia. The icon was brought
to Kiev and installed in the Royal Palace of Belz, where it remained for
nearly 600 years.
1382 the image was damaged. An arrow from an invading Tartar struck it
and left a scar on the neck which is still visible today. Prince Ladislaus
Opolski decided to move the portrait to a safer haven.
is said to have told Prince Ladislaus in a dream that Jasna Gora near Czestochowa
was to be Her new resting place. Eventually the Polish Pauline Fathers
became custodians of the icon.
Pauline Fathers built a shrine for the portrait at Czestochowa and many
miracles occurred there. It soon became the most famous shrine in Poland.
The image has remained at Jasna Gora for 600 years.
1430 Hussites sacked the Jasna Gora monastery and the icon was further
mutilated. A raider slashed at the image in an effort to claim the adornments
of jewels and gold, cutting twice into the right cheek of Mary. The raider
attempted a third strike, but then he suddenly dropped dead. Fearing Divine
retribution, the others raiders fled.
to restore the image have not been successful. It is believed to be the
will of Mary that Her scars remain as a sign to others who would desecrate
1920 the Polish people beseeched Our Lady to save them from impending Russian
invasion. Her image appeared over Warsaw, causing a Russian withdrawal.
Once again She showed Her support for Her people during times of oppression.
1928 the poet Hilaire Belloc visited the shrine. He left behind the manuscript
of a beautiful poem: