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Black Madonna of Częstochowa
 

Jasna Góra's most valuable treasure is the miraculous painting of Our Lady. Because of this painting, Jasna Góra became Poland's most famous sanctuary among the numerous sites to Marian devotion throughout the country.

 

The origins of the icon and the date of its composition is still a hotly contested topic between scholars. This difficulty in dating the icon stems from the fact that the original image was painted over after being badly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430. Medieval restorers unfamiliar with the encaustic method found that the paints they applied to the damaged areas "simply sloughed off the image" according to the medieval chronicler Risinius, and their solution was to erase the original image and repainting it on the original canvas, which was believed to be holy because of its legendary origins as a table top from the home of the Holy Family.

 

It was painted on a wood panel measuring 122.2 x 82.2 x 3.5 cms. and displays a traditional composition well-known in the icons of Eastern Orthodoxy. The face of the Child is also turned towards the pilgrim but his eyes are looking elsewhere. The two faces have a serious and thoughtful expression adding to the emotional tone of the painting. Our Lady's right cheek is marked by two parallel slashes and a third horizontal cut. The neck of the image is marred with six scratches, two more visible than others. Jesus, dressed in a scarlet tunic is supported by His Mother's left hand, his right hand is raised in a magisterial gesture, of sovereignty and benediction. The hand of the Virgin rests on Her breast, as if she were indicating the Child. The Virgin's robe and mantle are decorated with lilies, the symbol of the Hungarian royal family. A six-pointed star is featured on Mary's brow. An important element are the auras around the Virgin and Child since their luminous quality contrasts with the dark facial tones. The painting of the Virgin belongs to the group of Hodigitria icons "she who indicates and guides along the road". The Jasna Góra icon represents the Biblical message and invites prayer and reflection.

 

Although the Icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa has been intimately tied with Poland for the past 600 years, its history prior to its arrival is shrouded in numerous legends which trace the icon's origin back to St. Luke who painted it on a cypress table top from the house of the Holy Family. One of the oldest documents from Jasna Góra states that the picture travelled from Jerusalem, via Constantinople, to finally reach Częstochowa in August 1382.

 

Another legend concerning the Black Madonna of Częstochowa is that the presence of the holy painting saved its church from being destroyed in a fire, but not before the flames darkened the fleshtone pigments. The legend concerning the two scars on the Black Madonna's right cheek is that a Hussite robber drew his sword upon the image and inflicted two deep strikes. When the robber tried to inflict a third strike, he fell to the ground and squirmed in agony until his death. Despite past attempts to repair these scars, they had always reappeared. Some would be fast to point that they are the symbols of identification with the sacred Eye of Horus that Isis Hathor used. Another legend translates that as the robber struck the painting twice, the face of the virgin Mary started to bleed, in a panic the scared Hussites retreated and left the painting.

 

The Black Madonna is credited with miraculously saving the monastery of Jasna Góra from a Swedish 17th century invasion, the Deluge, which actually changed the course of the war. Although this event was from lesser military importance, the event stimulated the Polish resistance. The Poles could not immediately change the course of the war but after an alliance with the Crimean Khanate they repulsed the Swedes. Shortly thereafter, in the cathedral of Lwów, on April 1, 1656, Jan Kazimierz, the King of Poland, solemnly pronounced his vow to consecrate the country to the protection of the Mother of God and proclaimed Her the Queen and Protector of Poland and promissed to "crown" Our Lady of Częstochowa.

 

But it is not just the tradition, which considers Luke the Apostle as the artist, or the influence of monarchs to whom Jasna Góra has always been dear that made this place famous above all others. It is the Miraculous presence of the image which has always attracted pilgrims not only from all over Poland but from all over the world, as the numerous votive offerings show. The painting of Our Lady is the very core of Jasna Góra drawing crowds of pilgrims to it. This sanctuary was not built after a Marian apparition as is usually the case for major holy sites. Without the painting, Jasna Góra would be nothing but a building complex, a museum of artworks which are undoubtedly precious and beautiful but devoid of any vitality. The painting is the mystery, the fulcrum, the atmosphere of the Jasna Góra sanctuary.





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