Pilzno/Pilsen

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Our Lady of Consolation
(Matki Bożej Pocieszenia)

In the Carmelite convent church at ul. Karmelicka 3, 17th century,

According to various traditions, this painting was brought to Pilsen in the ninth century either by wandering musicians or by Sierosław, a disciple of St. Methodius (815–885). Others believe that the story began in the 11th century when this Black Madonna was hung in the castle tower, which was later converted into a chapel. From there the Marian cult spread to the village, which belonged to this settlement. In 1403 the Augustian order took responsibility of the shrine and since 1840 the Carmelites.

Devotion to this icon became particularly intense after a miraculous defense of the city against Tatars in the 18th century. One legend says that at that time some of the inhabitants of Pilsen themselves set a great fire and threw themselves into it so as not to fall into the hands of the enemies. Among the ashes glittered the sacred image, intact and covered with a glorious light . With that, new confidence spread, the enemy was defeated, and the credit given to the Black Madonnan. Her picture was transferred in a solemn procession from the chapel in the castle tower to the parish church.

Several Polish monarchs paid tribute to the Madonna of Pilsen, including Władysław Łokietek, Kazimierz Wielki, Queen Jadwiga, Wladyslaw Jagiello, and Prince Witold. It was Wladyslaw Jagiełło who founded the church and the Augustinian monastery in 1403, and in 1840 the bishop of Tarnów handed it to Carmelites, who are still in charge of the sanctuary. The image of Our Lady of Consolation was placed on pennants and banners, which accompanied Pilsen knights into battle.

At the end of the Middle Ages, during an invasion, Pilsen was burnt twice. The second time the original icon did not survive, but one of the Augustinian brothers had a vision in which Mary asked the happy monk to persuade his confreres to paint the image of her again. Her wish was granted around 1500.

Tragedy struck again on March 18, 1657, during the "Swedish Deluge", a series of wars that lasted from 1655-1660. Hungarian troops led by Rakoczi and assisted by Cossacks attacked. The enemies plundered and set fire to the city. The image was damaged in the lower parts and was placed on the surviving fragment of the wall of the monastery. Once peace returned to Poland, the Black Madonna was restored by the local artist Brzezinski and her cult continued to flourish. 

During the Galician uprising in 1846, the Austrian commander ordered the image burnt. One day, his soldiers brought straw into the church. The next morning the fire was set in the choir. The church was surrounded by a cordon to prevent anyone from extinguishing it. Then the two most beautiful local maidens begged an officer to allow them to collect their treasure hidden in the church. At the last moment they took the picture and hid it in the sacristy. Thanks to the determination of women, the image of the Virgin Mary survived.

Our Lady of Consolation was the backbone during all the hard years of national uprisings and world wars. She gave the power to survive and save dignity, to cheer in tragedy and sorrow. During the Nazi occupation during the bombardment of the town, when most of the houses, the church, and the chapel with the image were destroyed, the Madonna survived in the rubble. After the liberation of Pilsen on February 11, 1945, a solemn worship service was held in front of the painting.

The worship of Our Lady of Consolation continues uninterrupted until the present. This image is coming to many believers who find relief in their sufferings, comfort in misery, and healing in sickness. Many come back here one month later, one year later ... Immense gratitude for graces received from the Lady of Pilsen is expressed in numerous votive offerings submitted by the faithful, written requests and thanks, and a lot of masses that are offered in thanksgiving or supplication to her.

The chronicles of the convent and other books record testimonies of the graces and healings attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Consolation. Here is one example.
Mrs Stanislaus testifies: "in January 1972 my husband had an accident, during which stones fell from the bridge to the water. He suffered a severe head injury, fractured the base of his skull and damaged both hemispheres of the brain. (...) His condition was described as hopeless.
Then I requested a Mass for him before the image of Our Lady of Consolation, because only here I saw help. I prayed before the picture before the surgeryand made a vow to Our Lady of Consolation. For several days his health did not improve, my husband did not regain consciousness. As complications appeared, I also brought in specialists from Cracow. The state of his health was really hopeless. One of the doctors said, "We did what we could, and now as God wills ...". So I asked for another mass before the picture. His condition was critical, the doctor told me that these were the last moments of life. My husband had strong seizures and there was no rescue from the doctors, but he was rescued by the Mother of God. After a few minutes the seizures ceased and my husband began to come to. On the second day he regained full consciousness. The doctors did not believe that he would completely recover, but thanks to the care of Our Blessed Mother my husband happily returned home. During my entire stay at the hospital I prayed to Our Lady of Consolation, also in the church and at home in front of the painting, and at the hospital with my husband. (...)."

The worship of Our Lady of Consolation is very lively. Her feast day is celebrated on the first Sunday after the feast of St. Augustine (August 28th). Crowds of worshipers also gather for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, celebrated on the first Sunday after 16 July and for St. Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary on March 19th. For each of these celebrations the faithful prepare for three evenings. Special masses dedicated to the Black Madonna are also offered every Monday at 7:30 a.m. and every first Saturday of the month.

This is an edited Google translation of the sanctuary's website. The Poles don't actually call this a Black Madonna, but boy is she black and miraculous!

In

Swieta Lipka/Heiligelinde

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In her sanctuary in the little village Swieta Lipka in Northern Poland, in what used to be East Prussia, a part of Germany until 1945, about 6 km S/E of Reszel and 70 km N/E of Olsztyn.

Our Lady of the Holy Linden Tree

 

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Though she does not bear the title ‘Black Madonna’ I included Our Lady of the Holy Linden Tree in this index because she shares so many characteristics of Black Madonnas: she is dark, has a strong connection to the earth, to pre-Christian spirituality, and she has been miraculous from her inception.

Legend tells of a 13th century convict who was saved by Mother Mary in the following manner: The night before his scheduled execution she appeared in his cell in the jail of Rastenburg. Handing him a piece of wood and a knife, she told him to carve what he liked. Now the accounts differ. Most say he carved a beautiful Madonna and child, others claim it was only Baby Jesus.(*1) In either case, the image was so moving that the jailors and the judge believed the convict’s apparition story and set him free. On his way home to Rössel the freed man did as Mary had told him: he hung his carving in the first linden tree he passed. Many miracles began to happen at this tree and so the ‘holy linden tree’ became a place of pilgrimage, whereby Baby Jesus, Mary, and the tree all became one in the hearts of the faithful.

Many Black Madonnas appeared in trees or are somehow associated with sacred trees (see e.g.: TelgteHalleAltöttingNeuerburgNeukirchen-beim-Heiligen-BlutBar-sur-Seine , FoggiaMonte CivitaAntipolo ). However here in East Prussia the connection is particularly strong. Many villages that grew around sacred trees dedicated to Mary are called something like “Mary’s linden tree”,(*2) but here Mary is not in the name, only the sacred tree: Holy Linden Tree/ Swieta Lipka. Also many of the above mentioned shrines preserve as best they can any remnant of the ancient trees, but nowhere else have I seen an almost life size statue of the tree being erected after its death in the place where it stood. 
I wonder if this centrality of the tree is due to the very late and then forced conversion of the local population from Paganism to Christianity. The Baltic Prussian tribes were conquered in a crusade by the Teutonic Order in 1241 A.D.(*3) According to Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska the convict of the Swieta Lipka legend was actually a Prussian tribal leader and the judge a Teutonic knight.(*4) Aha, the plot thickens…. 

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It is also said that the Holy Linden Tree in which he hung his statue wasn't just any old linden tree but one that had been revered as sacred already during pre-Christian times. It was seen as the dwelling place of Puskaite, Goddess of fertility and grains, in whose honor festivals were held in spring and fall. Her name sounds a lot like that of her people who called themselves Prusai or prusiskan (adjective). So Puskaite and her tree may well have been of central importance to the identity of the local tribe. The Prusai also believed that humans could reincarnate in trees, whereby the souls of women would inhabit linden trees and those of men oaks.(*5)

Another piece of the story is that the Teutonic Order took control of the Holy Linden Tree, built a little Christian shrine around it in 1320 and placed its own priests in charge of it.
Combining all those pieces of the puzzle, I see the following picture emerge: The pre-Christian Prussians had a holy tree dedicated to a goddess. They were conquered by Christians in 1241 and forced to convert. They resisted the conversion and occupation and one of their leaders was sentenced to die. That’s where Mary showed up as the peace maker and mediator. The compromise she offered was this: 
1. Let the subjugated live.
2. Embrace whatever is holy to them as long as it is not contrary to Christian teachings. (Creation being sacred is definitely not contrary to the Bible.) 
3. Make whatever was the domain of a goddess and the sacred feminine the domain of the Mother of God.

To sweeten the deal for all Our Lady threw in a few miracles. Apparently both sides could live with this and the fame of the tree spread beyond its original tribal teritory. In due time a first primitive chapel was built around it. The first extant historical records that mention a pilgrimage chapel in a linden tree (in Latin: capella in linda) stem from 1482.(*6) 

Alas, all was destroyed during the Protestant Reformation around 1525 when Prussia became the protestant state par excellence. Only in 1605 did it become legal again to be Catholic in East Prussia and soon the Jesuits began to rebuild the sanctuary in its present Baroque style. In 1993 Pope John Paul II gave it the privileged status of ‘basilica’.

During tourist season, hourly concerts are given from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the famous organ that doubles as a sort of cuckoo’s clock: movable baroque statuettes let angels blow their trumpets, the archangel Gabriel bow deeply before Mary, cherubim dance, etc.


Footnotes:

*1: e.g. the German wikipedia article on Swieta Lipka and another German article on "the pilgrimage church of Heiligenlinde" say he only carved the Baby Jesus. 
*2: e.g. Marialinden near Cologne, Germany
*3: See: German Wikipedia article on Prussians: The Teutonic order was a crusading military order that forced Christianity on Baltic areas not yet Christianized in the 13th century.
* 4: See her article on "The Linden Tree: Lore and Significance"
*5: See the German wikipedia article on Baltic Mythology
*6: According to a German Poland travel guide published by Dumont Buchverlag, p. 395

In

Czestochowa

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In the basilica of the Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa, 6th - 14th century (?) 122.2x82.2x3.5 cm

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa
Queen of Poland


Tradition says the Black Madonna of Czestochowa was painted by Luke right onto the kitchen table of the Holy family, which Jesus had made, with Mary sitting as the model. The image was hidden during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and rediscovered in 326 C.E. by St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantin. She had a church built for it in Constantinople. There it was venerated until the iconoclastic controversy broke out in the 8th century (see introduction to index). One story claims that the wife of the emperor who ordered the painting burnt, hid it away. It was eventually taken to the forest of Belsk in Poland. When Our Lady wasn't safe there anymore an angel told the Prince of Belsk in a dream to take her to Czestochowa, where the monks of St. Paul of the Desert would guard it. And so it has been. (Other accounts trace the image's journey through other royal hands.)

On Easter Day in 1430, a band of robbers connected with the Protestant Hussite movement came to steal the rumored treasure of the monastery. Finding only holy objects, they got angry and decided to take those. When they put Our Lady on their horse- drawn cart, the horses refused to move. Somehow the thieves realized that it was Our Mother's doing and so their anger turned on her. They slashed her face with a saber and threw her on the ground, breaking the icon in half. - That's how the monks found her the next morning, in the mud on the outskirts of town. A miraculous spring appeared in that place.

The monastery's artists tried to restore her to her previous unblemished state but could not. She was brought to the King's court, but even his craftsmen did not succeed in covering her scars. On she went to Western European specialists, who made her look beautiful, except that the paint still kept running off her scars. Finally the men realized that it was the will of the Mother of God to keep those scars as a symbol of her constant compassion for her people, her solidarity with them in all the sufferings they had already endured and the ones that were still to come.

Consequently the Black Madonna of Czestochowa became the symbol of Polish identity and independence. Every time the nation withstood or survived yet another attack or occupation it was attributed to the help and intercession of this Black Madonna, who had been declared Queen of Poland in 1656 by King John Casimir.

In 1655, the whole Swedish army maintained a six week siege of Czestochowa. Miraculously, a small band of Polish soldiers and the monks of Jasna Gora were able to send that army home.

On September 14, 1920, the Russian army was encamped on the banks of the River Vistula, about to attack Warsaw. The faithful Poles prayed to Our Lady for protection and the Russians withdrew. It is believed that Our Lady of Czestochowa appeared in the sky over the city as a clear sign of who reigned there.

In 1945, when the Germans were on their retreat out of Poland, they tried in vain to blow up Our Lady and her monastery.

Next came the Soviet rule, which the Solidarity movement shook off peacefully under the guidance and protection of Our Lady and her servant Lech Walesa.

In

Czarna

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In her sanctuary in the village Czarna, 26-220 Staporków, near Konskie, (careful: there are 12 towns and villages, plus a river by the name of Czarna, which means black) about 2 hours and 130 km North-East of Czestochowa, late 16th/early 17th century, oil on canvas.

Our Lady the Teacher
(Matka Boza Wychowawczyni)

 

This is what happens when you google translate and search Polish websites for Black Madonnas: you find a miraculous dark Mother of God, who fits almost all the criteria for being a Black Madonna, except she doesn’t actually bear that title, she’s just from a village called Black, on a river called Black (Czarna in Polish)! Oh well, looks like she’d be worth a visit for a devotee of the Dark Mother, so I will include her in my index.

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Here’s what I gather from the images and the google translation: at the turn of the 16th to the 17th century, Mary appeared in a grove of juniper trees on the banks of the river to a group of workers making charcoal. Whether that means Mary in form of this icon or Mary in form of a celestial apparition is not clear, but it is common in Black Madonna legends to treat the miraculous apparition of an image of Mary as an apparition of her very self. 
It didn’t take long for the villagers to build a little wooden chapel right on the spot of the apparition and to install in it this beautiful painting by an unknown artist.

The work is a copy of the famous icon in Rome called Salus Populi Romani, i.e. the Salvation of the Roman People. She too is lacking the title Black Madonna although Ean Begg and the Catholic University of Dayton both list her in their index of Black Madonnas. Beginning in the 16th century, the Jesuits used this image as part of their counter-reformation and spread copies and devotion to her all around the world.(*1) Although this Roman lady differs from the normal type of Mary icon that is known as Hodegetria (Greek: Guide of the Way), she was classified as such. Hence her Polish title: Our Lady the Teacher. 

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Her gesture of the upside down blessing that looks almost like a secret, barely noticeable gang sign, is unique to Salus Populi Romani. Also kind of secretly, the original holds a barely noticeable handkerchief. It’s an embroidered ceremonial cloth called a mappa or mappula and it signifies imperial power.(*2) In the Polish icon the mappa is covered by the riza, the precious metal cover that protects important Eastern European icons. Interesting how Mary somewhat hides her power to bless and to rule in plain sight! I think this is very significant...

But back to Poland. News of the supernatural apparition of the image and ensuing graces and miracles kept spreading and the parish grew. The first chapel became too small to accommodate the crowds of pilgrims. So in 1763 a wealthy lady, Isabella Malachowska, commissioned the construction of the first brick church. But still the crowds and parish kept growing and so at the beginning of the twentieth century the present, even larger church was erected. Work began in 1909. Because of World War I it took until 1930 to finish.

In 1999, after 19 years of jumping through the necessary Catholic hoops and preparations, Our Lady the Teacher was canonically crowned. The crown had already been blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1991 on one of his pilgrimages to his homeland.

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The icon was renovated and cleaned in 1990/91 and again in 1997. She must have been really black before that.

Daily masses are held at 5:00 p.m., Sunday masses at 8:30 and 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Since the 1970’s the sanctuary and parish is under the care of an order called the Pallottines. That likely means that the church is open all day. 
The Teacher’s feast days are celebrated on Pentecost and on the day that commemorates her arrival in the parish and her coronation: the first Sunday of September.


In