The Icon of Our Lady of the Bright Mount in Czestochowa
The almighty and merciful God showed us his infinite mercy many times in the history of our country through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who He gave to the Polish people, by way of wondrous help and self-defense, and in an extraordinary way provided the revered famous image from the Bright Mount. (...) I offer our homeland, the entire Church, as well as myself to her maternal care. Totus Tuus! (bl. John Paul II)
Mysterious origin of the Image
To this day, the mystery of the origin of the Miraculous Image currently placed at the Bright Mount has not been solved. Although many art historians and experts have analyzed the Image, neither the country of origin nor the century in which it was produced has not been determined. There are several opinions in this matter, including that the Image may come from the region of Italy or Eastern Byzantium. Further research is necessary to answer the mystery of the origin and history of the Image of the Divine Mother.
Tradition maintains a History of the Miraculous Image that would be difficult to document and prove.
According to the tradition, the image was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist in answer to requests from his contemporary faith, to portray the unique beauty of Mary. It was created on the surface of a table where the Holy Family shared its meals. St. Luke the Evangelist created two images of the Holy Mother in Jerusalem, one of which made its way to Italy and is revered in Florence; the other was transported to Constantinople from Jerusalem by the emperor Constantine, and placed in a shrine there. Prince Leo of Ruthenia, serving in the Imperial armed forces, desired to bring the Image from Constantinople to his country and to place it in a shrine erected especially with the purpose of housing the Image. Constantine relented to Leo’s many pleas and gave him the image, who took it to Ruthenia. The Prince decorated the Image with gold, precious stones, and other treasures, and bade his subjects to adore it.
The image became famous for numerous miracles. An ever growing number of crowds made pilgrimages to it. During the campaign conducted in Russia by Casimir the Great, followed by Louis of Hungary, the Image of Our Lady was hidden in the castle in Belz. Louis of Hungary entrusted the management of Ruthenia to Prince Wladyslaw of Opole, who found the Image in Belz, and decided to go there and personally bring it to his lands. Wladyslaw discovered within himself a special reverence to the Virgin of the Miraculous Image when She helped bring victory to his army over the besieging Lithuanian and Tartar troops. During the siege, the Prince asked the Blessed Virgin for help. One shot released by the Tatars damaged the image of Mary. After this incident, a heavy fog surrounded the besiegers. Fear took over them, and Prince Wladyslaw, taking advantage of the opportunity, attacked the retreating forces with his army and scattered the enemy altogether.
The Image in Poland
When the Ruthenian campaign of Prince Wladyslaw of Opole drew to an end, the Image was placed on a wagon with the purpose of transporting it to the Silesia region. The horses would not move. The Prince requested a larger team of horses. Still, it did not help. The Prince and his companions knelt, and he begged God to choose a place, and he would bring the Image to that place and construct a shrine to house the Image, combined with a properly outfitted monastery for the Pauline order. As the Prince and his companions rose from the prayer, the horses started. The Image was brought to Jasna Gora, near Czestochowa, and placed in a church. The Prince fulfilled his vow and built a monastery for the Paulines, and entrusted them with care for the precious Image.
Many graces and miracles ensued, for which the Image became even more famous. The original document founding the Jasna Gora shrine by Prince Wlasyslaw of Opole in 1382 is preserved to this day at the library of the monastery. A piece of canvas glued to the reverse of the Image contains an illustration of its history, painted by a Pauline in 1682.
What does the Image depict?
Over the centuries, artists have depicted the Mother of God in different ways, using symbolism to reveal their interpretation of the mysteries of the Most Holy Trinity. Various iconographic types have been developed, or ways of artistic presentation of the truths of faith.
The Image of the Lady of Jasna Gora is a type of Hodegeteria. This term means She, Who leads. It portrays Mary enthroned with the Child Jesus on her left arm. The prototype icon was on one of the gates of Byzantium, which is why the Mother of God in this image has been acclaimed as the Guiding Star.
The size of the image is 121.8 by 81.3 by 3.2 cm. The radiant crowns surrounding the head of Our Lady and the Child Jesus are raised, and measure 5-7 cm. A star appears on the forehead of Mary. Her garments are adorned with lilies. The Child Jesus wears a garment of carmine color, covered with golden rosettes, arranged with trefoil and lilies. The Child’s right hand is raised, a gesture of teaching, which corresponds to the second gesture - supporting the Gospel with the left hand. The pale blue background of the Image has a slight green tint.
The oldest description of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa was written by Jan Dlugosz (1415-1480) in the Liber Beneficorum: the Image of the Virgin and most glorious Lady, the Queen of our world and our Queen ... made in a strange and rare way of painting ... of an exceptionally pretty facial expression that infiltrates the viewer with a unique devotion – as if one were looking at a living being.
The Blessed Mother, arriving on our lands in the form of the Image, became a Guiding Star and inspiration of the Poles; the Gate through which we enter to meet with Christ. Her penetrating yet gentle gaze crumbles the hardened, raises the fallen and suffering, heals the sick in soul and body, strengthens the weak, gives you the strength to persevere in adversity, and stimulates courage in the fight for the kingdom of God.
A New Era in Poland
The year the Image was brought to Poland - 1382 - closes the era of the Piast dynasty. It seemed then that Poland was on the edge of an abyss. After the death of Louis of Hungary there was an interregnum, and the country did not have sufficient defense capabilities. Yet, it was also the dawn of a new era, of Poland as a superpower - the era of the Jagiellonian dynasty. The Queen of heaven and earth was hailed as the Queen of Poland. At this time, a very young eleven year old Jadwiga, granddaughter of Casimir the Great, was called to the Polish throne. For the first time in the history of Poland, the crown and scepter - the emblem of royal power - were lodged in the hands of a woman, in fact a child. The will of God becomes clearer, as He invokes an innocent child to fulfill His will.
The coronation ceremony of Queen Jadwiga took place on October 15, 1384 in Krakow. The fate of the state and nation suddenly became dependent on the delicate, young girl, who, however, had shown extraordinary dedication and prudence. In retrospect, the outcome of her reign exceeds the acts of the greatest statesmen and experienced warriors. The Queen Jadwiga renounced personal happiness in order to bring Christianity to Lithuania and combine it with Poland. She reconciled the feuding Jagiello brothers, and also unified Poland with Ruthenia. Using diplomacy, she did not allow for war on Polish soil during her reign. Moreover, she raised awareness of culture and contributed to the renewal of the Cracow Academy.
Jadwiga was loved by all layers of society. She healed the sick, and brought assistance to victims and orphans. Radiating love to the people, she had an effect on the entire nation. Her spirit of sacrifice and benevolence contributed to the Polish -Lithuanian union, whose slogan was: Free among the Free, Equal among Equals. Polish descendants of royal families and nobles renounced many privileges, becoming equal to the Lithuanians in the nobility and faith.
The First Miracles and Graces at Jasna Góra
The Blessed Mother bestowed numerous miracles to the growing number of pilgrims praying before her Image. People would offer gifts as a sign of thanks for the graces received, the so-called votive offerings: expensive jewels, plates with descriptions of miracles, and those healed of infirmity left their crutches. Votive plates were an outward expression of thanksgiving for the miracle and usually presented a symbol of the disease, such as in the case of eye disease, the plate had an image of the eye.
Holy Queen Jadwiga donated a hand- embroidered chasuble, decorated with precious pearls, which remains today in the Jasna Gora vault. King Wladyslaw Jagiello also frequently visited Jasna Gora. He completed the construction of a brick church, and in 1429 he asked Pope Martin V to grant special indulgences to the ever increasing number of pilgrims arriving at Jasna Gora. He wrote: In the said Church of the Virgin Mary (...) many miracles happen by the power of God.
The Sanctuary is Attacked
The Image of Our Lady of Jasna Gora was known and revered by the Poles, but also by the Czechs, Slovaks, Lithuanians, and Hungarians. This is evidenced by the pilgrimages described by Dlugosz. However, the origins of the Image of the Mother of God were also marked by an offense. In his chronicles, Dlugosz describes the villains’ attack on Jasna Gora in 1430, or 48 years after the construction of the monastery. It was conducted by thieves, which were attracted by the many valuable votive offerings, and - according to tradition - the Hussites, who previously destroyed many sacred buildings in the Czech Republic (about 550 churches and 115 monasteries). The attack also was political in nature, as an attempt to break apart the Polish-Lithuanian Union. Twelve monks died a martyr's death in defense of the Holy site. Their relics are kept in a chapel adjacent to the right nave of the Basilica.
The attackers looted the precious objects and loaded the Image into the wagon, but just outside the Jasna Gora the horses came to a halt, and would not move. The thieves angrily threw the picture, which as a result broke into three parts. However, the Sacred Faces of Jesus and Mary remained intact. The bandits, possessed with a satanic fury, struck the face of Mary twice with a sword. But God did not allow such insult, at which point the sacrilegious were killed. The rest of the thugs fled in panic.
Source of Miracles
When the monks, who had been chasing the thieves, were returning to the monastery, they saw the defiled image of the Blessed Mother. They fell to their knees and apologized to Mother of God. The tradition holds that a spring began to flow in this place. The Paulines recognized the water as a gift of God, and washed the mud from the Image. A cross was erected in this place, soon afterwards a brick chapel, and the water source was contained in a well. The Spring was considered miraculous, because pilgrims partaking of the water often experienced great graces.
The Chronicles of Jasna Gora have recorded more than 50 incidents of miraculous healings among those who by faith have used this water. The Church of St. Barbara was built in the seventeenth century, with a home for novices. The chapel, which houses the miraculous spring, was also expanded.
Marks on the Image
By order of the King Wladyslaw Jagiello, the Image of Our Lady was restored in Krakow. However, to this day, marks remain on the face of the Virgin - two large and 28 small cuts. The Pauline author Risinius (Peter of Rozprza) wrote that despite the threefold attempt, the wounds and cuts would not be masked by paint. Some historians believe that it is a medieval poetic tale. (However, the analysis by art conservator Wojciech Kurpik in 1983 confirmed the tradition recorded by Peter of Rozprza.) King Wladyslaw Jagiello decorated the restored image of the Mother of God using silver plate, gilded and engraved. The Image was carried in a procession from Krakow to Jasna Gora. It was a national pilgrimage of expiation, which the king granted the rank of the importance of an Act of State.
A Rediscovery of the Miraculous Image
A new light shone onto mankind in 1917. These were the apparitions in Fatima, during which Mary warned and showed ways of salvation for the modern world. Pope Pius XII in 1942 declared the message of Fatima to be true, calling the request of the Blessed Virgin the only salvation for the world. In this light it is worth once again think about the pronunciation of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, which Mary herself chose as a medium of grace to reign over our Nation – and the gestures of the Mother of God and of the Lord Jesus portrayed in the Image of Jasna Gora. Baby Jesus points to the Mother of God, and as if in response to the words that she said at Cana: Do whatever he tells you, He says to us today: Do whatever she tells you. (Mary speaks to us in apparitions throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and to this day.) The Mother of God points to her heart as if to say: Then, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.
This last sentence can be fully understood in the light of Fatima, where the Blessed Virgin, preaching the suffering of humanity caused by war and natural disasters, nevertheless promises: But in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. It will triumph when we fulfill her request, when we stop sinning and do penance, when we give ourselves completely to her heart, when the rosary becomes our daily prayer uniting us with the Queen. At Fatima in 1917, Mary called all mankind to devote to her Immaculate Heart. In the same year St. Maximilian Kolbe began his great service. His mission was to bring each person’s soul closer to the Immaculate One. His holy life is a beacon for us, indicating the Marian nature of times to come.
The Call of the Bright Mount
Upon the imprisonment of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, on December 8, 1954, the first Call of the Bright Mount was recited, with the intention of the Church, the Homeland, and the release of the Cardinal. Since that day, the 21 bells of the sanctuary toll each evening at 9:00pm, calling for evening prayer. Fanfare is heard, and the Image is revealed. The call begins with a Hymn to the Mother of God. Then the pilgrims sing three times: Mary Queen of Polish, I am with you, I remember, I am keeping watch. After reading the current intentions of the Church, the world, and of individual people, a mystery of the rosary is recited. The call ends with a prayer for the Holy Father and a blessing. The Image is then covered again as the congregation sings. At the same time, the worshipers of Our Lady throughout Poland and the world are united in spirit and prayer.
The Peregrination of the Holy Mother within the Image
The Great Novena preceding the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland brought renewal to the nation within the Jasna Gora Vows. The Journey of the Image began, and the Holy Mother visited parishes throughout the year, together with blessings from Pope Pius XII, in preparation for the Millennium celebrations. This novena lasted 9 years, and throughout the duration, the Mother of God bestowed many graces upon the nation. The Image, journeying from temple to temple, in the words of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, was a Ray transcending across the land. In its light, sinners and doubters suddenly perceived the illnesses of their souls, and would return to begin a new life without the darkness of sin.
Several instances of confession took place after 30, 35, or even 40 years. For example, a woman came to the church encouraged by a neighbor. "I relented, went and stood before the image of Our Lady, and my eyes were drawn to the eyes of the serious, thoughtful Lady ... It seemed to me that She looked straight at me, and that She became sad. Unable to contain myself, I knelt, and then [ ... ] I felt a sudden need to remove the terrible burden that was crushing me for 30 years. My soul was moaning, heart bleeding, as I swam in the blood of 12 of my innocent children that had been killed. I went to confession. [ . ..] Oh, how great and good is the Heart of Mary. Throughout the rest of my life - I will praise her blissful mercy ...
Other instances of miraculous healings and graces have been recounted under oath.
The communist authorities tried to prevent the pilgrimage of the Virgin Mary in various ways. On the road from Warsaw to Katowice, the Image of Mary was arrested on September 2, 1966. Over the course of the following six years, the visitation of parishes by the Mother of God took place in the form of an empty frame and insignia.