If you want to better understand what the phenomenon of ardent, folk Catholicism in Poland may be all about, you really should come here. The Pauline Monastery of Jasna Góra in the city of Częstochowa is Poland’s most famous Marian shrine. Each year, the reputedly miraculous Icon of the Black Madonna attracts more than 3 million people to the site.
The phenomenon of the Icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa reaches far beyond the Jasna Góra shrine. The small (122 x 82 cm) icon created in accordance with orthodox canons of religious art is recognized by every Pole. A famous pin with her image hung on the jacket of Lech Wałęsa – Poland’s first democratic president after the 1989 changes. Throughout the spring and summer, the faithful from all over the country make pilgrimages on foot to Częstochowa via the country’s side roads. Groups from the seaside walk here for as long as 19 days!
The origins of the Jasna Góra Monastery date back to the XIV century when Prince Władysław Opolczyk brought the Pauline order from Hungary to Poland. A few years later, the Icon of Our Lady and Child, which is now called the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, arrived at Jasna Góra. According to legend, it was supposed to have been painted on a board from Mary’s table by St. Luke the Evangelist, but most likely it was created later, in the Eastern circle of religious art. Characteristic in the painting is a double scar on Mary’s cheek, commemorating one of the attacks on the shrine in the 15th century.
Year after year, more and more pilgrims came to Jasna Góra. The complex was growing. Over time, a fortress was established at the site. The site played a particularly important role during the Swedish invasion in the 17th century. The fiercely defended walls of Jasna Góra have become one of the national symbols, and the saying “Defending Częstochowa” has entered the dictionary as a synonym for hopeless struggle in the face of enemy superiority.
Today Jasna Góra is a pilgrimage complex that is visited throughout the year by the faithful not only from Poland. The 18th-century library houses 15,000 incunabula, manuscripts and old prints, and the collection of votive gifts is also impressive.
Regardless of your personal attitude to religion, one must admit that something extraordinary is happening here!