Throughout the tumultuous times undergone by Poland, religious centers often safe-guarded its spiritual as well as material wealth. For none is this more true than the
church and monastery of Jasna Gora. Founded in 1382 by the nobel Wladyslaw Opalczyk,
Jasna Gora received 2 years later the painting which subsequently came to symbolize the
spiritual core of a nation: the Blessed Mother and Child Jesus. Now known as the
Black Madonna, the painting was the work of St. Luke who used a board from the
table of the Holy Family in Nazareth, or so goes the first myth surrounding the Black
Madonna. The second myth arises in 1430 when thieves attempted to do away with the
now revered icon: as they departed the chapel, painting in hands, it grew too heavy to lift.
In frustrated anger, the thieves slashed the painting; from those cuts, the Madonna began to
Thwarted, the thieves fled and the painting was whisked off to Krakow for repair.
Repaired, but not restored, the Madonna shows scars of the desecration to this day upon
her cheek. Her third high point in Poland's history arrived when she was out of town, as it
were. During the early part of the 17th century, the monastery and church were fortified in
light of all the religious tumult going on at the time. Said fortifications came in handy in 1655
when the Swedes laid siege for 6 weeks. Thousands fought outside the monastery against
only hundreds within it, yet they failed to conquer it. Despite the physical absence of the Black Madonna
at that time (having been placed in safe-keeping elsewhere), Poles attributed this second
miracle to her spiritual presence and subsequently rallied against the Swedes.
Today, the Black Madonna is world renowned: more than 5 million pilgrims flock to
Czestochowa yearly to pay their respects; copies exist everywhere within and without
Poland; and, the ascension of Karol Wojtyla to the throne of St. Peter ensured her everlasting
veneration. If you seek the spirit of Catholic Poland, it is here in Jasna Gora paying homage
to its Queen.