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Poland:

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa Queen of Poland

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

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.