Black Madonna of Częstochowa

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Black Madonna of Częstochowa
Polish: Czarna Madonna or Matka Boska Częstochowska
Our Lady of Częstochowa
Type Icon
Dimensions 122 cm (48 in)
Condition On display
Location Jasna Góra Monastery, Częstochowa
Owner Jasna Góra Monastery
Black Madonna mosaic at Jasna Góra.

The Black Madonna of Częstochowa (Polish: Czarna Madonna or Matka Boska Częstochowska, Latin: Imago thaumaturga Beatae Virginis Mariae Immaculatae Conceptae, in Claro Monte), also known as Our Lady of Częstochowa, is a revered icon of the Virgin Mary housed at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland.

The icon[edit]

The four-foot-high painting displays a traditional composition well known in the icons of Eastern Christians. The Virgin Mary is shown as the "Hodegetria" ("One Who Shows the Way"). In it the Virgin directs attention away from herself, gesturing with her right hand toward Jesus as the source of salvation. In turn, the child extends his right hand toward the viewer in blessing while holding a book of gospels in his left hand. The icon shows the Madonna in fleur de lys robes.[1]

The origins of the icon and the date of its composition are still hotly contested among scholars. The 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. The wooden boards that backed the painting were broken and the canvas slashed. 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 to repaint it on the original panel. The original features of an Orthodox icon were softened; the nose was made more aquiline.[1]


Lucan tradition[edit]

The icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa has been intimately associated with Poland for the past six hundred years. Its history prior to its arrival in Poland is shrouded in numerous legends which trace the icon's origin to St. Luke who painted it on a cedar table top from the house of the Holy Family.[2][3] The same legend holds that the painting was discovered in Jerusalem in 326 by St. Helena, who brought it back to Constantinople and presented it to her son, Constantine the Great.[4]

Arrival in Częstochowa[edit]

The image of the Holy Virgin of Częstochowa (before 1714). The collection of Radomysl Castle, Ukraine[5]

The oldest documents from Jasna Góra states that the picture travelled from Constantinople via Belz.[3] Eventually it came into the possession of Władysław Opolczyk, Duke of Opole, and adviser to Louis of Anjou, King of Poland and Hungary. Ukrainian sources state that earlier in its history it was brought to Belz with much ceremony and honors by king Lev I of Galicia and later taken by Władysław from the Castle of Belz, when the town was incorporated into the Polish kingdom. A popular story tells that in late August 1384, Ladislaus was passing Częstochowa with the picture when his horses refused to go on. He was advised in a dream to leave the icon at Jasna Gora.

Art historians say that the original painting was a Byzantine icon created around the Sixth or Ninth Century; they agree that Prince Władysław brought it to the monastery in the 14th Century.[1]

Coronation as Queen and Protectress of Poland[edit]

Eastern Orthodox icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

The Black Madonna is credited with miraculously saving the monastery of Jasna Góra (English: Bright Mount) from a Swedish invasion.[3] In August 1382 the hilltop parish church was transferred to the Paulites, a hermetic order from Hungary.[6] The golden fleur-de-lis painted on the Virgin's blue veil parallel the heraldic azure, semee de lis, or of the French royal coat of arms and the most likely explanation for their presence is that the icon had been present in Hungary during the reign of either Charles I of Hungary and/or Louis the Great, the Hungarian kings of the Anjou dynasty, who probably had the fleur-de-lis of their family's coat of arms painted on the icon. This would suggest that the icon was probably originally brought to Jasna Gora by the Pauline monks from their founding monastery in Hungary.

The Siege of Jasna Góra took place in the winter of 1655 during the Second Northern War, as the Swedish invasion of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is known. The Swedes were attempting to capture the Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa. Seventy monks and 180 local volunteers, mostly from the szlachta (Polish nobility), held off 4,000 Swedes for forty days, saved their sacred icon and, according to some accounts, turned the course of the war.[6]

This event led King John II Casimir Vasa to "crown" Our Lady of Częstochowa ("the Black Madonna") as Queen and Protector of Poland in the cathedral of Lwów on April 1, 1652

Legends about the Madonna's appearance[edit]

The legend concerning the two scars on the Black Madonna's right cheek is that the Hussites stormed the Pauline monastery in 1430, plundering the sanctuary. Among the items stolen was the icon. After putting it in their wagon, the Hussites tried to get away but their horses refused to move. They threw the portrait down to the ground and one of the plunderers 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 writhed in agony until his death. Despite past attempts to repair these scars, they had difficulty in covering up those slashes as the painting was done with tempera infused with diluted wax.[2]

Another legend states 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.[citation needed]


Częstochowa is regarded as the most popular shrine in Poland, with many Polish Catholics making a pilgrimage there every year. A pilgrimage has left Warsaw every Aug. 6 since 1711 for the nine-day, 140-mile trek. Elderly pilgrims recall stealing through the dark countryside at great personal risk during the Nazi occupation. Pope John Paul II secretly visited as a student pilgrim during World War II.[6]

The feast day of Our Lady of Częstochowa is celebrated on August 26.

The American National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa is located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.[7]

In other traditions[edit]

Black Madonna of Częstochowa (at National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Philippines).

Orthodox Christians are also aware of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. They also venerate her. The icon is popular in Ukraine and Belarus as the former parts of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and even in Russia. Moreover, this icon has Orthodox origin. But Polish historians found out it was repainted at least twice and there's almost nothing left from the previous Byzantine manner of painting.[8] Ukrainians have a special devotion for the Madonna of Częstochowa. The icon is often mentioned in Ukrainian folk songs from XVI-XVII cc.[3]

In Vodou, it is believed that a common depiction of Erzulie has its roots in copies of the icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa.[citation needed] The image was brought to Haiti by Polish Legionnaires who were part of Napoleon’s forces sent to put down the Haitian Revolution.[9]

In her Petro nation aspect as Erzulie Dantor she is often depicted as a scarred and buxom woman, holding a child protectively in one hand and a knife in the other.[citation needed] She is a warrior and particularly a fierce protector of women and children.

The Santa Barbara Africana, a version of the Black Madonna, is venerated with candles and dolls.[9]

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "The Black Madonna of Czestochowa", Polish American Journal
  2. ^ a b Duricy, Michael P (2008-03-26). "Black Madonnas: Our Lady of Czestochowa". The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio - University of Dayton. Retrieved 2008-12-05. 
  3. ^ a b c d Zenon Zawada (2008-01-26). "EASTERN APPROACHES - The Black Madonna". Ukraine Observer. Archived from the original on 2008-01-26. Retrieved 2008-12-05. 
  4. ^ "Black Madonna Shrine", Franciscan Missionary Brothers
  5. ^ The Official Site of Radomysl Castle
  6. ^ a b c Menaker, Drusilla. "Poland's Black Madonna", New York Times, July 22, 1990
  7. ^ "National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa
  8. ^ A. Różycka-Bryzek, J. Gadomski, Obraz Matki Boskiej Częstochowskiej w świetle badań historii sztuki, "Studia Claromontana" 5, 1984, s. 27-52
  9. ^ a b "The Many Faces of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa", Krakow Post, November 2, 2013
  • "Jasna Góra". ©1998-2008 Copyright by Klasztor OO. Paulinów Jasna Góra - Częstochowa. Retrieved 2008-10-22.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  • Kurpik, Wojciech (2008). "Częstochowska Hodegetria" (in Polish, summary in English, Hungarian). © Wydawnictwo Konserwatorów Dzieł Sztuki, Wydawnictwo Bernardinum, Łódź-Pelplin. p. 302. 

External links[edit]