Why the Image of the Black Madonna is So Important

Our Lady of Czestochowa, is also known as the “Black Madonna,”….The image, which has been crowned the “Queen of Poland” and is highly venerated throughout Europe.... and located in southern Poland…
The Long and Illustrious History of the “Black Madonna”

But while the image holds significant meaning for Europe and for Poles in particular, what is the story behind the Black Madonna? Legend has it the image dates back to the time of the Twelve Apostles, and was painted by the hand of St. Luke the Evangelist, who is believed to have used a tabletop from a table built by Jesus during his time as a carpenter. According to the legend, it was while Luke was painting Mary that she recounted to him the events in the life of Jesus that would eventually be used in his Gospel.

The same legend states that when St. Helen came to Jerusalem in 326 AD to look for the true Cross, she also happened to find this image of Our Lady. She then gave it as a gift to her son, Constantine, who built a shrine to venerate it. In a major battle with the Saracens, the image was displayed from the walls of Constantinople and the Saracen army was subsequently defeated, leading many to credit the portrait with saving the city.

The image eventually fell to the care of Charlemagne, who presented it to Prince Leo of Ruthenia (northwest Hungary). It was placed in the Ruthenian Palace where it remained until an invasion in the 11th century. Fearful for the fate of his city, the king prayed to Our Lady to assist his small army. The result, according to legend, was that a darkness overshadowed enemy troops, leading them to attack one another.
01In the 14th century the image was transferred to Jasna Gora in Poland as an answer to a request made in a dream of Prince Ladislaus of Opola. The history of the image is better documented while in his care.

In 1382 Tartars invaded the Prince’s fortress at Belz, and during the attack one of the Tartar arrows struck the painting and lodged in the neck of the Madonna. The prince, fearful that the image would fall into the enemy’s hands, fled during the night and stopped in the town of Czestochowa. The painting was placed inside a small church, and the prince later had a Pauline monastery and church built at the location to ensure the painting’s safety.

However, in 1430 the Hussites overran the monastery, attempting to take the image. In the process, one of the looters took the painting and put it into a wagon and tried to drive away. But when the horses refused to move, he struck the painting twice with his sword. As he raised his hand to strike it again, he suddenly fell over writhing in pain and died.
Attempts at Repairing the Image
Despite previous attempts to repair the scars from the arrow and the blows from the sword, restorers had trouble in covering them up since the painting was done with tempera infused with diluted wax. The marks remain visible to this day. Later, in 1655 when Poland was almost entirely overrun by King Charles X of Sweden, only the area surrounding the monastery remained unconquered.

Miraculously, the monks who lived there were somehow able to defend the portrait throughout a 40 day siege, and Poland was eventually able to drive out the invaders. After the miraculous event, King John II Casimir Vasa crowned the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa as Queen of Poland, placing the entire country under her care and protection.

More recent stories surrounding the image involve the Russian invasion of Poland in 1920, holding that when the Russian army was gathering on the banks of the Vistula River and threatening Warsaw, they saw an image of Our Lady in the clouds over the city, prompting them to withdraw.

The image of Our Lady of Czestochowa gets its nickname, “Black Madonna”, from the soot residue which discolors the painting as a result of centuries of votive lights and candles burned in front of it. Since the fall of communism in Poland, pilgrimages to the image have significantly increased…

(Republished with permission from CNA/EWTN News , edited)

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