Black Madonna of Częstochowa

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Black Madonna of Częstochowa
Our Lady of Częstochowa
LocationCzęstochowa, Poland
DateAttested as early as 14th century
TypeWooden icon, bejewelled
ApprovalPope Clement XI
Pope Pius X
Pope John Paul II
ShrineJasna Góra Monastery, Częstochowa, Poland
National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
AttributesBlack Madonna in Hodegetria form, Infant Jesus, fleur-de-lis robes, slashes on right cheek

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 venerated icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary housed at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland. Several Pontiffs have recognised the venerated icon, beginning with Pope Clement XI who issued a Canonical Coronation to the image on 8 September 1717 via the Vatican Chapter.

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-lis robes.[1]

The origins of the icon and the date of its composition are still contested among scholars.[2] One difficulty in dating the icon is due in part to its original image being 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]


The image of the Holy Virgin of Częstochowa (after 1714). The collection of Radomysl Castle[3]

Lucan tradition[edit]

The icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa has been intimately associated with Poland for the past 600 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.[4][5] 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.[6]

Arrival in Częstochowa[edit]

The oldest documents from Jasna Góra state that the picture travelled from Constantinople via Belz.[5] 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]

Pontifical approbations[edit]

Several Pontiffs have recognized the image, namely the following:

  • Pope Clement XI issued a Canonical Coronation for the image through the Vatican Chapter on 8 September 1717
  • Pope Pius X, after the crowns were stolen on 23 October 1909, the Pontiff replaced the crowns on 22 May 1910.
  • Pope John Paul II gifted another set of crowns as a native of Poland, which was placed on 26 August 2005.

Our Lady declared as Queen and Protectress of Poland[edit]

In August 1382 the hilltop parish church was transferred to the Paulites, a hermitic order from Hungary.[7] The golden fleur-de-lis painted on the Virgin's blue veil parallel the heraldic azure, semée 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 Black Madonna is said to have miraculously saved the monastery of Jasna Góra (English: Bright Mount) from a Swedish invasion.[5] 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 40 days, saved their sacred icon and, according to some accounts, turned the course of the war.[7] This event led King John II Casimir Vasa to give what has become known as the Lwów Oath in which he submitted the Polish Commonwealth under the protection of Our Lady and proclaimed her Queen of Poland in the cathedral of Lwów on 1 April 1656. Prior to this event, several royal nobilities have offered crowns to the image throughout the years, replacing its iron sheet crown by gold and several jewels. In later years, various jewels were interchanged and repositioned around the image to preserve the aesthetic of the icon with the replacement of stolen crowns.[8]

Legends about the Madonna's appearance[edit]

Black Madonna mosaic at Jasna Góra.

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.[4]


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 August 6 since 1711 for the nine-day, 140-mile trek. Elderly pilgrims recall stealing through the dark countryside at great personal risk during the German Nazi occupation. Pope John Paul II secretly visited as a student pilgrim during World War II.[7]

The feast day of Our Lady of Częstochowa is celebrated on August 26.[9]

Outside Poland[edit]

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

Orthodox Christians are also aware of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa and venerate her. The icon is popular in Ukraine and Belarus as former parts of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Moreover, this icon has an Orthodox origin, but Polish historians have found out it has been repainted at least twice and there is almost nothing left of the previous Byzantine manner of painting.[10] Ukrainians have a special devotion for the Madonna of Częstochowa. The icon is often mentioned in Ukrainian folk songs from the 16th and 17th centuries.[5]

The American National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa is located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.[11]

An additional minor shrine to our Lady of Czestochowa is located in Garfield Heights, Ohio; blessed on October 1, 1939 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis.[12]

Non-Christian usage[edit]

Haitian Vodou[edit]

The icon has been adopted as a depiction of Ezilí Dantor, the main loa of the Petro family in Haitian Vodou. It is hypothesized that the image was appropriated from the reproductions brought by Polish soldiers who sided with the rebels during the Haitian Revolution.[13]

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "The Black Madonna of Czestochowa". Polish American Journal.
  2. ^ Nickell, Joe (September 2015). "The Black Madonna: A Folkloristic and Iconographic Investigation". Skeptical Inquirer. Vol. 39 no. 5.
  3. ^ The Official Site of Radomysl Castle
  4. ^ a b Duricy, Michael P (26 March 2008). "Black Madonnas: Our Lady of Czestochowa". The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio - University of Dayton. Archived from the original on 12 October 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2008.
  5. ^ a b c d Zenon Zawada (26 January 2008). "EASTERN APPROACHES - The Black Madonna". Ukraine Observer. Archived from the original on 26 January 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2008.
  6. ^ "Black Madonna Shrine", Franciscan Missionary Brothers Archived August 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b c Menaker, Drusilla. "Poland's Black Madonna", New York Times, July 22, 1990
  8. ^ Rozanow, Zofia (20 August 2019). "History of the crowns". Niedziela.
  9. ^ Coffey, Kathy (2012). Companion to the calendar : a guide to the saints, seasons, and holidays of the year (2nd ed.). Chicago, Ill.: Liturgy Training Publications. ISBN 9781568542607. OCLC 816318716.
  10. ^ A. Różycka-Bryzek, J. Gadomski, Obraz Matki Boskiej Częstochowskiej w świetle badań historii sztuki, "Studia Claromontana" 5, 1984, s. 27-52
  11. ^ ""National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa". Archived from the original on 19 August 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
  12. ^ 'History', website of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis (archive).
  13. ^ Rypson, Sebastian (2008), Being Poloné in Haiti: Origins, Survivals, Development, and Narrative Production of the Polish Presence in Haiti


  • "Jasna Góra". ©1998-2008 Copyright by Klasztor OO. Paulinów Jasna Góra - Częstochowa. Retrieved 22 October 2008.
  • Kurpik, Wojciech (2008). "Częstochowska Hodegetria" (in Polish, English, and Hungarian). Łódź-Pelplin: Wydawnictwo Konserwatorów Dzieł Sztuki, Wydawnictwo Bernardinum. p. 302. Archived from the original on 18 May 2011. Retrieved 20 March 2011.

External links[edit]