July 12, 2012

Road Journal: Jasna Gora

Our Lady of Częstochowa
The Jasna Gora (Bright Mount in Polish) sanctuary in Częstochowa is the holiest place of Poland. Its most valuable treasure is the famous painting of Our Lady, also known as the Black Madonna.

The strange thing about this sanctuary is that it was not built after a Marian apparition—as is usually the case for major holy sites—of which the painting is the representation, no, this place exists because of the painting. Why? Here is an explanation about this mystery:

Tradition has it that St. Luke the Evangelist painted two pictures of the Virgin Mary on a tabletop once used by the Holy Family. One icon eventually made to Italy’s Bologna. Emperor Constantine brought the other from Jerusalem to Constantinople, and some 600 years later it was awarded to Prince Lev of Rus for his military services. In the 14th century a Polish prince, Wladislaw of Opole, found the icon in the Belz castle while he was warring Tatars who had conquered neighboring Rus, and he entrusted the holy image to the Pauline monks in Czestochowa. So says the 1474 volume of Translatio Tabulae from the Jasna Gora library. April 14, 1430, on the Easter, Bohemian robbers looted the Jasna Gora monastery, slashed Our Lady’s cheek with swords, and – by the account of the 1523 "Historia Pulchra" – left the holy image on the floor, broken in three.
Art historians believe Our Lady of Czestochowa was initially a Byzantine icon of the Hodigitria type, dated from the 6th to 9th centuries. During the 15th-centrury restoration in Krakow it was painted anew because the restorers were not able to apply their tempera colors over the original wax paint so they scraped it clean.

It is a fascinating story, no doubt. Yet, I think the best explanation is what you feel when you are there, the atmosphere you breathe in. But there are no words. Believe me, if you go there—and if you have been given the gift of Faith—you’ll understand.