The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9/28 – Our Lady of Czestochowa

The Icon of Our Lady, referred today as the Icon of ‘Our Lady of Czestochowa,’ is held in the Fortress Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, Poland. The late Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, once affirmed that: “The strength of Poland lies in her Mother and Queen, Our Lady of Czestochowa on the Mountain of Light, Jasna Gora.”(1) It is no legend but a documented fact that the Icon is two thousand years old and owes its origins to Our Lord Himself. As a young apprentice within the workshop of his foster father, Saint Joseph instructed our Lord in the craft of carpentry. The young Jesus constructed a table out of cypress wood, which was used as a kitchen table by the Holy Family. It seems a fantastical notion that such details would have been successfully passed down to our modern day, which would have not occurred, were it not for the claim that the Evangelist Saint Luke depicted the Icon of Czestochowa upon the Holy Family’s kitchen table. The Image of Our Lady and Child has, throughout these two millennia, contributed to the protection of Christendom firstly in Jerusalem, then Constantinople and finally in Poland.

John 19:26-27 reveals that, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” During His agony on the Cross, Our Lord gave his mother, the Blessed Virgin, to the world as our spiritual mother. The disciple, took the Blessed Virgin to his home. Mary brought her personal belongings including her table, which was constructed by her Son. Upon this dining table, Our Lady of Sorrows shed many tears, prayed ceaselessly and glorified God for the graces he showered upon her and His Church. Saint Luke visited Mary at Saint John’s house and upon the tabletop he depicted her portrait, the portrait of the Blessed Virgin and Child Jesus. Mary saw that this was a fitting thing to do and whilst evangelizing, the apostles carried this Image to the people. Saint Luke discussed the Lord’s childhood with the Blessed Virgin and many of the details were later included in his gospel. The probable event, might have induced Saint Luke to become aware of the bountiful abundance of blessings and graces, which accompanied the newly evangelized community when a painting of Our lady and Child was left. There exists no records indicating that the Blessed Virgin inquired of Saint Luke to leave her images in the places of Christian evangelization, nor is there any concrete evidence that the mentioned events did transpire. In many instances during his journeys accompanying the Apostle of the gentiles, Saint Paul, Saint Luke would paint and indeed leave in such places of new evangelization, the pictorial paintings and statuettes depicting the Blessed Virgin and Child Jesus. This might have occurred in testimony to Christian evangelization and as perpetually reminding the invocation of Our Lady for the protection of the budding new Christian families and communities. Newly established Christian societies were founded on the family and love for one another, which was splendidly portrayed in such Icons.

In the 1400s and 1500s, the Spaniards adopted this form of evangelization in South America. Indeed, the gold craved conquistadors, as popular culture would have us believe, insisted on spreading the devotion and veneration to the Blessed Virgin and Child amongst the South American Indos, however that is another story. The God of the Jews, of Abraham, of Isaac, and Jacob became the Protector of the Christians, as mentioned earlier, Constantine witnessed in vision Jesus Christ, while Basil beheld the supernatural protection and victory of Our Lady, so did Justinian, Narses and Belisarius. The Christians were being supernaturally aided and protected by their God in a similar manner, in which the faithful Jews were protected throughout the Old Testament. The gospel of Saint Luke 19:43-44 mentions, “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” The Jewish wars of 66 – 70 against the might of Rome began with the fanatical (justifiable) Jewish zealots demanding freedom from the yoke of the oppressing Roman conquerors. Strategic murders were carried out throughout the country, the procurator Florus demanded 17 talents from the temple treasury, the Jews responded by overrunning the Roman garrison and Jerusalem fell into their hands, the Roman sacrifice to the gods, ceased. On October 30, 66, Cestius Gallus, the Governor of Damascus, Syria descended into Israel with one legion and many auxiliary forces. However, the Jews fought back and Gallus had to retire with heavy losses. All Israel was in Jewish hands. Emperor Nero in Rome chose his three ablest legions to descend upon the Jews. General Flavius Vespasianus and his son Titus, commanded these legions, which had just returned victorious from the British Isles. By October 67, Galilee was under Roman rule. Then a turn of events occurred. Nero in Rome committed suicide; likewise, three successive Caesars lost their lives. Vespasianus was elected Caesar and returned to Rome leaving Titus, his son, to conclude the Jewish matter. In spring of the year 70, Titus arrived at Jerusalem with four Roman legions, the cavalry and auxiliary troops. His army consisted of 80,000 men, who on arriving at Jerusalem were greeted by the scoffing and laughter of the Jews. Within the city a conflict arose pitting the moderates against the zealots. The Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and showered the city ceaselessly with barrages of rock and stone. They also battered the fortress walls with their rams and within three weeks opened a breach through two fortified walls. The Jews arrested their own internal conflict and directed all their efforts at repelling the Romans. When Titus saw that he had the upper hand in the matter, desiring not to destroy Jerusalem he called off the attack. In full view of the beleaguered city, the Roman legionaries were ordered to polish their helmets and bedecking themselves with their fine armor, they marched in formation before Titus, receiving their pay and rations. Such were their numbers that the spectacle took four days to complete, nonetheless, this grandiose show of power and authority infuriated the Jews who were resilient and intended to defend Jerusalem to their last. Titus, desiring not to destroy the city, attempted one last time at convincing the inhabitants to give up their obstinate opposition. He sent Flavius Josephus, the Jewish commander-in-chief of Galilee, who from beneath the fortified walls cried out in the following manner: “Men of obstinate heart, give up your cause and weapons, the country which you are fighting for stands at its complete ruin. Behold the beauty of the city! Behold the many treasures within the temple! Should all of this go up in the smoke of destruction? Does any one of you desire this? No other nation owns such treasure, your unfeeling hearts are harder than the stones of these walls.”(2) His pleas and rebuke were useless for God hardened the hearts of the people. The Romans restarted their attack. At night many escaped from the city and on discovering these people, Titus ordered them to be crucified. The crucifixion of these escapees continued daily, at one point five hundred city escapees were crucified daily. The crosses dotted the hills around Jerusalem and from the city ramparts, one could view hundreds of crosses encircling the Holy City. Thousands more dead were thrown down the city walls and the stench of rotting bodies was unbearable. A “circumvallatio” or a high wall of earthwork was erected around Jerusalem. Titus, ordered the Romans to besiege the city once again, and after a few more days breaches were made and the Romans overran the Jews. An event which shocked Titus himself occurred, A noble Jewess was found roasting and consuming her own child, this and other events infuriated the general against the people, who were beaten by famine. The resistance gave in and a great plunder ensued. The temple was initially spared; however, a fire destroyed much of it. The Romans placed their banners in the temple precincts and sacrifice to the gods restarted. Throughout the nation synagogues were destroyed and much of the Jewish population was sold into slavery.

Many Christians escaped this destruction and were led away by Bishop Saint Simeon. The Christians fled to a town called Pella and with them they carried the Icon of Our Lady and Child. Three centuries later in 325 Saint Helen visited Jerusalem and visited a congregation of virgins who guarded the Icon. Saint Helen retrieved it and translated the Icon to Constantinople, the new city of the Roman Empire. There, Emperor Constantine erected a church in honor of the Blessed Virgin and placed the Icon within, making Our Lady the Patroness of Constantinople. It is believed that the Icon was referred to as ‘Our Lady Hodegetria’ or the ‘one who shows the way (to salvation)’ as she is ‘pointing’ to Our Lord, the Christ Child, indicating that He is the only way to salvation. The Icon was kept at the Holy Reliquary Church or the Panaghia Blachernae Church, together with the ‘Veil’ or the ‘Maphorion’ of Our Lady. Intercessory miracles soon occurred and devotion to the Image spread far and wide. On August 7, 626, the Icon was carried in procession around the city, an apparition of the Blessed Virgin upon the city gates, put a horde of invading Saracens to flight. Till the eight century this Holy Icon remained in Constantinople.

Emperor Leo the Izauryn of Constantinople, influenced by the Islamic mentality persecuted the holy practice of icon and holy image veneration. Many religious objects were destroyed during the period of Iconoclasm; nonetheless the Holy Icon was kept hidden in the palace by Empress Irene and her daughter, who remained faithful to the Church of Jesus Christ. For approximately five hundred years, the Icon was passed on from Empress to daughter. From Constantinople it was translated to Russia and then to Poland. During its history it was owned by Emperor Charles the Great, who presented it to the Hungarian Prince Leo of Ruthenia. In the eleventh century, the Prince prayed to Our Lady to aid his small army against invading enemy troops. A thick darkness descended upon the enemy troops who in fright attacked each other. The Icon remained in Belsk till the times of King Casmir of Poland (1333-1370). During these days a cousin of Casmir, Saint Ladislaus of Hungary was given the charge to capture the Russian forts in Ukraine. Saint Ladislaus captured the castle of Belsk and had the Icon transferred to a chapel. During an ensuing battle against Tartars, an arrow was shot through one of the chapel windows and landed striking the painting in the throat. The Tartars re-attacked Belsk and the Prince resolved to leave the city and carry the Icon to safety to the town of Opala.

In August of 1382, the Prince reached Czestochowa and placing the Icon in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption, retired for the night. The morrow, the Prince intended to move the Image elsewhere, the Icon was taken into a carriage. But the carriage would not budge, the struggling horses were incapable of moving the carriage and on realizing the miraculous nature of the event, the Prince fell onto his knees, before the sacred Icon of Mary. He prayed to her asking, “What should I do with your Image, dear Mother?” Our Lady was quick to reply as the Prince had a recurring dream, and was emphatically told to leave the miraculous Image of Our Lady and Child, at Jasna Gora in Czestochowa. On August 26, 1382, the Icon was taken in procession back to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption. Prince Ladislaus constructed a church and monastery on the Hill of Jasna Gora and brought monks of Saint Paul of the Desert, from Hungary to guard the miraculous Image.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Czestochowa, became a place of pilgrimage. Today, the Christian pilgrim can still visit this shrine and view the ancient Image painted by Saint Luke. Historical events testify to the miraculous nature of this Icon. For example when Saint Jadwiga of Poland was asked to find a husband by her courtiers and noblemen, she initially desired to marry a Hapsburgian Prince, however, her people were against the union and strongly pleaded with her to marry Jagiello of Lithuania. The princess was much troubled regarding this matter and one day took refuge in the Castle’s Cathedral in Krakowia, to pray beneath the cross of Our Lord. She prayed ardently and begged the Lord to inspire her on the decision, of whom to take for a husband. Whilst praying she lifted her head towards the cross and beheld the radiant face of Christ who spoke to her. The Lord asked Princess Jadwiga, to kindly listen to the supplications of her people and take Prince Jagiello of Lithuania for husband. He said, “My dear child please help me carry my cross to Lithuania.” The Princess accordingly placed her trust in the Lord and married Jagiello. Duke Jagiello converted to Catholicism and became King. The King and Queen sent missionaries to Lithuania and evangelized the pagan Lithuanians winning many converts to Christianity. King Ladislaus Jagiello built Our Lady’s Cathedral at Jasna Gora.

In 1430, Poland was invaded by the Hussites, who were a mixture of Turks, Tatars, Mongolians, Russians and Cossacks. This barbarous horde pillaged and burnt wherever they proceeded. The army attacked Jasna Gora and the precious Icon fell into their depraved hands. They handled the Icon profanely, loading it onto a carriage they intended to leave the town. At the limits of the town the horses halted and nothing would get them to move. The Hussites remembered that this phenomenon had previously occurred and in a fit of rage, one of these Hussites, flung the Holy Image out onto the ground. He smashed the Image in two and struck the face of Our Lady with his sword, the first time, the second time and on lifting his sword to strike a third time, he fell to the ground, writhing in pain and agony, death soon followed. The other Hussites left and the carriage proceeded onwards. The Pauline monks found the Image covered in mud and blood. A miraculous fountain sprang near by and the monks cleaned the Icon with this water. Since the Hussite event, in the attempt at removing the scars, the Icon was subjected to numerous restorations the last one carried out in 1925. Following each restoration the terrible marks caused by the Hussite’s sword and the arrow, reappeared. The dark coloration of the Icon earned it the title of the ‘Black Madonna,’ an attribute given to many other miraculous icons. This appellation is also present in the Canticle of Canticles, “I am black but beautiful.” Our Lady of Czestochowa’s Feast Days are held on May 3, August 15 and August 26.

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