MOTHER OF GOD OF CZESTOCHOWA
On the limehills extending from Krakow to Wielun ("land of the eagle's nest") on the River Warta, rises the city of Czestochowa, the capital of the province of the same name. It is believed that the name of the city derives from its founder, a Slav called Czestoch. In 13th century documents, it is mentioned as a village of horsemen called Czestochowa and at the end of the 14th century, it received its charter.
In the western part of the city, known as "old Czestochowa" in the 14th century, a 293-metre high hill was handed over to the Pauline Monks from Hungary in 1382. A sanctuary and monastery were built on the site, surrounded by a wall and garden and it bore the name Jasna Góra (Bright Hill). The name was taken from that of their Mother House at Buda, St. Lawrence in Claro Monte Budensi.
The Pauline Monks belonged to the Order of St. Paul the First Hermit, founded at the beginning of the 13th century in Hungary in the wake of the great Hermit movement that swept Europe between the 12th and 13 th centuries. The Order's founder, the Blessed Eusebius, Canon of Esztergom, founded the first community of Paulines by uniting all the hermits who lived in the forests of Hungary and Croatia. They modelled their monastic life on St. Paul of Thebes, the First Hermit, as their Patriatch.
Born in Thebes probably in the year 230, Paul fled into the surrounding desert when he was only 16 years old during the persecutions of Decian. According to the tradition passed down from St. Jerome, he lived in the desert for 90 years on a diet of bread, brought to him by a raven. St. Jerome tells us that at the end of his life, St Anthony, abbot had sought him out and, according to legend, buried Paul's body in a grave dug by two lions. This is why the symbol of the Order of the Pauline Monks shows a palm tree, two lions and a raven with in its beak. It was Prince Ladislaus of Opole, the plenipotentiary of King Louis of Hungary for Polish territory between 1367 and 1372 who summoned the Pauline Monks to Poland. They arrived given a small church where they kept which the Miraculous Painting of Our Lady which the Prince had brought from the city of Belz in Ukraine.
There are two version of the history of the Jasna Gora painting. There is a traditional version, steeped in legend and an historical one, reconstructed by art critics whose attention was drawn to this extraordinary image and its origins.
According to the traditional version, the painting was created by St. Luke the Evangelist on a table top from the house of the Holy Family. St. Luke was said to have painted two images of Mary, one of which found its way to Italy and was kept in Bologna where it is still venerated. The other was said to have been removed from Jerusalem and brought to Constantinopole by the Emperor Constantine and placed in a church. Six centuries later, the Russian Prince Lev obtained the painting from the emperor of the time in acknowledgement of his military achievements.
During the wars in Rus, Prince Ladislaus of Opole found the painting in the castle at Bełz and discovered it was being venerated as if it were miraculous. After the victory over the Tatars, he brought the painting to Czestochowa, entrusting it to Pauline Monks for safekeeping. This information is contained in a manuscript - one of the oldest - entitled "Translatio Tabulae", a copy of which, dated 1474, is conserved in the Jasna Góra archives. According to art critics, the Jasna Góra painting was originally a Byzantine icon (of the Hodigitria type), dating between the sixth and ninth centuries.
The growing fame of the miraculous image of the Mother of God meant that in a short time, the monastery became the site of constant pilgrimages and the costodian of numerous, priceless votive offerings. But, unfortunately, such valuable gifts led to greed. On Easter Day April 14 1430, a gang of robbers from Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia attacked the monastery.
They burst into the Chapel of the Mother of God and grabbed the image from the altar. They then stole all the painting's valuable gift offerings and disfigured it slashing it with their swords. They threw the painting to the ground and it broke in three places, according to the account of Piotr Risinus in the 1523 volume "Historia Pulchra". The painting was restored at Kraków, at the court of King Ladislaus Jagiełło. Restorers tried repeatedly to spread colour on the panel but the shades kept vanishing. Today, it is known that in the Middle Ages, restorers had difficulty working on an ancient icon because of the application of tempera colours on an image obtained with shades diluted with fused wax. Because the restoration operation was a total failure, the restorers scraped away the ancient image and painted a completely new one over the miraculous panel. They marked the signs of the robbers' outrage on the face of the image with a pen, inmemory of the barbarism.
After the painting's profanation and restoration, the sanctuary's fame grew even more. There were more and more pilgrimages to the site and soon the original gothic church proved too small to cater for the vast numbers of faithful. So in the 1460s, building was begun beside the Chapel to Our Lady on w new gothic church with three wide aisles.
In 1466, the monastery was attacked again, by the army of the Bohemian King. These raids and the need for a protective bulwark near the border with Silesia convinced King Ladislaus IV to erect a wall round the monastery. Work was begun in 1638 transforming the Jasna Góra sanctuary into a Marian Fortress - Fortalitium Marianum. But it would not be put to the test again. At about 1655, a plan for attacking Poland was devised and on July 21 that year, the Swedish Army marched on the country. Warsaw, Poznań and Kraków soon fell. The Polish nobility, divided by internecine disputes, refused to fight and the whole country fell under Swedish dominion. On November 18, 1655, General Muller's army of 3,000 men reached Jasna Góra demanding the sanctuary's immediate surrender. Nevertheless, Jasna Góra's Prior, Augustine Kordecki decided to defend the holy site. He could count on 170 soldiers, 20 noblemen and 70 monks, too few to stand up to the 3,000 Swedish invaders.
When the monks refused to surrender, the Swedish army opened their attack which was to last 40 days but which would end in victory for Mary's army. The victory secured by the tiny Jasna Góra fortress, which General Muller scathingly called the "henhouse", proved to be of great religious and political importance. The attack on Jasna Góra was considered a violation of religious sentiments and political importance. The attack on Jasna Góra was considered a violation of religious sentiments and the victorious result was ascribed not to the military skill of the soldiers nor to the solidity of the fortress but to protection by the Mother of God herself, guardian of the site. After the Jasna Góra victory, the whole country rose up against the Swedish invaders.
On April 1, 1656, in the cathedral of Lvov, King John Casimirus solemnly pronounced his vow to consecrate the country to the protection of the Mother of God and proclaimed Her the Patron and Queen of the lands in his kingdom. the nation's destiny was entrusted to the Most Blessed Virgin from that moment. Jasna Góra became a symbol of religious and political liberty for the Polish people. But the fortifications of the Marian bulwark would have to stave off more attacks, in 1565, 1702, 1704 and 1705.
From 1711, Poland lived in relative peace. It was the time to crown the Effigy to Our Lady. the faithful had been requesting this for a long time and a crown had been placed on the image as far back as the sanctuary's foundation according to lithographs of the 16th century.
On the occasion of the Apostolic Nuncio, Benedetto Odescalchi, the Pauline monks made enquiries about organising the crowning of the image. They had drawn favourable replies and formally presented their request to the Vatican Chapter. In 1716, Pope Clement XI signed the Act of Incoronation and it took place on September 8, 1717 in presence of about 200,000 faithful. Halfway through the 18th century, the precarious political system, the growing power and dominion of the Polish aristocracy and misguided foreign policy led to the decline of the republic. Neighbouring states - Russia and Prussia - took advantage and on the pretext of protecting Poland, the army of the Russian Empress Catherine II marched in. On January 29, 1768, a Confederation of Polish aristocrats was formed to combat King Stanley Poniatowski who fostered Russia's interests. Casimir Pułaski, one of the Confederation's leaders, occupied the Jasna Góra fortress and for three years, he defended it against Russian attacks. When the Confaderation disbanded in September 1772, King Stanley Poniatowski ordered that the fortress be handed over to the Russians. It was the first time an enemy army ever penetrated the walls of Jasna Góra. Poland was partitioned a short time afterwards. In 1795, Poland was partitioned for third time by three inveders - the Austrians, the Prussians and the Russians - and for over 120 years Poland was cancelled from the map of Europe.
During this unhappy period, Jasna Góra was a point of reference for the divided nation. It made Poles aware that they were sons of one land and inspired hope for liberty in their hearts. The image of Our Lady thus became a pledge for a free Poland. At the time of Napoleon I when Warsaw was a principality, Jasna Góra became a military fortress for the last time. It was called to defend the liberty of the Polish people who resisted a series of attacks by enemy armies between 1806 and 1813. When Napoleon fell, the Russian army again occupied the fortress of Jasna Góra and the Tsar Aleksander I ordered that its walls be demolished. It was only in 1843 by order of Tsar Nicholas I that the walls were rebuilt, although to different plans. By issuing such an order, the Tsar hoped that he would appear tolerant and benevolent towards the Church in the eyes of all Europe. But all three invaders feared Jasna Góra because of its special role as defender of the faith and homeland. They therefore fobade Polish people to make pilgrimages to Częstochowa and called Our Lady of Jasna Góra "the biggest revolutionary of them all". In such a climate, insurrecton came soon, in January 1863, with the aim of liberating Poland. The rebels carred banners bearing the image of Our Lady of Jasna Góra but the insurrection was repressed and the whole nation later suffered the consequences.
Many Pauline monks were also accused of collaborating with the rebels and deported to Siberia. In 1864, Tsar Alexander II ordered that the printing house, the pharmacy and all the religious offices of Jasna Góra be closed. He stripped the monastery of its land and set limits on the number of monks who could live there. Even the right to retreat was repressed and the Czar's men harassed the monks continually. On the night of September 22, 1909, the pearl vestment and two gold crowns, which were papal gifts, were stolen from the Miraculous Painting. When Pope Pius X heard about the theft he offered two new crowns to the Jasna Góra painting. The new incoronation took place on May 22, 1910 and although the partition of Poland was again under way, it was celebrated amid the same splendour as the 1717 ceremony.
Jasna Góra emerged unscathed from World War I and from then until World War II, it would again be the focal point of important historical events. On July 27, 1920 with the Russian Bolshevik scourge close at hand, the Polish Episcopate met at Jasna Góra and again proclaimed Mary, Queen of Poland. When the Red Army reached Warsaw, thousands of Poles travelled to Jasna Góra to their Queen to beg her for victory, which duly came on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. This victory, called the "miracle of the Vistula" was attributed to Our Lady's intercession. In 1932, the 550th anniversary of the transfer of the Effigy of Mary from Bełz to Jasna Góra was celebrated. That year, 750,000 pilgrims travelled t the sanctuary. In May 1936, 20,000 Polish students consecrated their lives to Mary vowing to build with Her a new Poland. In August the same year, the first plenary synod of the Polish Episcopate met at Jasna Góra. With the start of World War II, the whole country was put to a bitter test and Jasna Góra was no exception.
Part of the monastery was invaded by Nazi troops who remained there until January 16, 1945. Although organised pilgrimages were prohibited, those who managed to reach the sanctuary were comforted by messages of hope from the pulpit. At Jasna Góra, partisans, prisoners and Jews found succour.
On January 16, 1945 while monks were secretly holding lessons for young people, the sanctuary was suddenly attacked by the Red Army. The Germans who had taken possession of the sanctuary panicked and fled. They had had no time to spirit its treasures away or destroy the monastery.
After the War, Jasna Gora was once more the nation's spiritual capital. In September 1946 before half a million faithful, the then Polish Primate August Hlond censecrated Poland to Mary's Immaculate Heart.
In 1948 when Communist ideology threatened, the Primate's message on his death-bed would prove to be prophetic. "Victory when it comes, will be a victory of the Most Blessed Mother", was the message which would be the ingeritance of the new Primate, Stefan Wyszynski.
Jailed by Communists in a Stalinist prison, Cardinal Wyszyński would draw inspiration from the gesture of King John Casimirus and composed a prayer to the Virgin in which he expressed his gratitude for all the grace received. He incorporated a prayer for a free Poland and an immaculate life in thanks for liberty. On August 26, 1956 the 300th anniversary of King John Casimir's vow, the cardinal's prayer was read publicly for the first time, at Jasna Góra before a milion faithful. Cardinal Wyszynski, who was in jail at that time, was finally released on October 26.
In 1957, Pope Pius XII blessed a copy of the Jasna Gora effigy that to be taken from parish to parish throughout the nation. It travelled the country for 25 years and was to bring about numerous conversions. On May 3, 1966, the occasion of the millenium of Poland's conversion to Christianity, the whole Polish Episcopate ratified the Act of the Consecration of Poland "In Service to Mary, Mother of the Church, for the Liberty of the Church of Christ". Pope Paul VI expressed his desire to visit Jasna Góra on the occasion of this Act to honour the sanctuary with the gift of golden rose. But the Communist regime would not allow it.
One June 4, 1979, the first Polish Pope, John Paul II, visited Jasna Gora and began his pilgrimage with these words: "Mary's will is being fulfilled. Here I am... I have come and I recall an old song of the Bar confederates: "We are servants of Christ, sevants of Mary..." The servant called from this land, summoned from the foot of Jasna Gora where I used to stop like you do and where I used to kneel on the bare ground like you often do for hours and hours ..." During his three-day visit, the Pope encoutered three and a half milion faithful. John Paul II declared the faith of the Universal Church, of his homeland, of all mankind and of himself in the Virgin and proclaimed: " Mother, I am yuors and all that I have is yours". He made on offering of a golden rose and set it on the altar of the Mother of God.
The sanctuary celebrated its 600th anniversary in 1982 although on December 13, 1981, relations between the government and the population worsened after the Communists declared a state of nartial law. This meant the Holy Father could not be present at the Jubilee Year and he would not return until June the next year. It was a visit that brought hope and comfort to the Polish people in their struggle for freedom. Jasna Góra would host the Pope a third time, in 1987 on the occasion of the Polish Eucharistic Congress.
The Holy Father often prayed that the precarious politico-economic situation in Poland would not dampen the people's hopes for a better future. The Polish people's faith in the intercession of Virgin of Jasna Góra has continued to find expression in the increasing number of pilgrims to the sanctuary. In the past few years, over four million pilgrims have travelled to Jasna Góra, about 350,000 of them on foot.
The last decade bears witness to the Polish people's deepending devotion for Jasna Góra. The failure and fall of Communnism called the "new miracle of the Vistula", were planned in prayer before the face of Our Lady. For the faithful who strive to put Mary's testament into practice. "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it" (John 2:5), Mary is the protagonist of Poland's revolution of love. Thanks to her presence and her maternal intercession, Christ lives in history.
The Jasna Góra sanctuary, situated on a plain, its belltower dominating the city of Czestochowa, is visible from tens of kilometers away. It occupies an area of five hectares. A park surrounds the monastery on three sides while the fourth opens onto a large square for crowds of pilgrims at major liturgical functions. A public park extends from the square down the valley to the city forming a natural barrier to preserve the spiritual, prayerful atmosphere of the sanctuary. The Jasna Góra complex was built over five centuries but is architecturally compact.
The walls of the fortress ensure the safekeeping of the treasures of faith and Polish culture conserved in the Jasna Góra monastery. Four doors, built between the 17th and 19th centuries, provide access to the monastery proper. The central part of the buildings is the oldest and others were built around it down the centuries in a type of circle.
The Chapel of the Virgin (between the 17th and 20 th centuries), the Basilica (between the 15th and 17th centuries) and the Cenacle (20th century) from the heart of the monastery. Beside the holy site are the so-called King's Chambers (17th century), the royal apartament for monarchs on pilgrimages to the sanctuary. The monastery comprises two square buildings (15th and 17th century) interconnected by a 17th century wing, which hosts priest on pilgrimages today, and the old arsenal (17th century).
Prayer Before an Icon of the Theotokos
Forasmuch as thou art a well-spring of tenderness, O Theotokos, make us worthy of compassion; Look upon a sinful people; Man-ifest thy power as ever, for hoping on thee we cry aloud unto thee: Hail I as once did Gabriel, Chief Captain of the Bodiless Powers.
Source : The Sanctuary of Jasna Gora : The History of Jasna Gora
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