Czestochowa – the Jasna Góra Monastery is the most famous Polish shrine to the Virgin Mary and the country’s greatest place of pilgrimage. Inside the monastery is the world famous “Black Madonna” or known to its locals as “Our lady of Częstochowa” or “Our Lady of Jasna Gora”. The image is now recognized throughout the entire world, largely due to the Polish Pope, John Paul II.
According to tradition, the painting was created by St. Luke sometime after the Crucifixion of Christ. It remained in the Holy Land until it was discovered by St. Helena of the Cross in the fourth century. The painting was then taken to Constantinople, where St. Helena’s son, the Emperor Constantine, erected a church to exhibit it. This image was widely revered by the people of the city.
In a battle with the Saracens, the portrait was displayed from the walls of Constantinople and the Saracens were defeated. The painting came into the hands of Charlemagne who subsequently presented it to Prince Leo of Ruthenia in northwest Hungary. It remained at the royal palace in Ruthenia until the fourteenth century.
Tradition says that St. Ladislaus was determined to save the image from repeated attacks. He decided to go to his birthplace, Opala and stopped for rest in Czestochowa. The image was brought nearby to Jasna Gora which means “bright hill”. The painting was placed in a small wooden church. The following morning, the picture was carefully put in the wagon, but the horses refused to move and so, St. Ladislaus understood this to be a sign from Heaven that the image should stay in Czestochowa.
The portrait again faced danger in 1655 from a Swedish horde of 12,000. A small band of 300 people stopped the horde and the following year, the Holy Virgin was proclaimed the Queen of Poland. According to history, Polish people have prayed to the Madonna on several occasions and have been helped. The original accounts of these miracles include numerous cures, are archived by the Pauline Fathers at Jasna Gora. Today, many Polish people continue to honour the painting, especially on August 26, the day reserved for St. Ladislaus. The picture has a dark pigment on the Madonna’s face and hands and is thus affectionately known as the “Black Madonna”. Papal recognition of the image was made by Pope Clement XI in 1717. The crown given to the image was used in the first official coronation of the painting, which was stolen in 1909. Later, Pope Pius X replaced it with a gold one encrusted with jewels.
Every year, at the beginning of August, Catholic Poles from every part of Poland set out on a walking pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. They thus walk from wherever they live to Czestochowa. What is more extraordinary, is that it is traditional for walkers to be housed and fed for free whist they are on the pilgrimage. The walking pilgrimages have been a penance, a kind of redemption and a plea for spiritual blessings. A pilgrimage can be a life-changing experience. Spiritual pilgrimages are popular in many countries. People from many religions such as Hindu, Mormon and Muslim etc all take part in their own special pilgrimages. Pilgrimages can be found in India, USA, Japan, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Italy etc.