Thursday 10 March 2016

Lady and Queen and Mystery Manifold

Mary, the mother of Jesus has inspired prayer, poetry, artwork, and devotion for centuries. Pilgrims travel thousands of miles to places where her presence has manifested. To Polish Catholics, the most important of these places is the shrine at the Jasna Góra Monastery which houses the icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa.

In 2014, a copy of the icon was blessed and started a pilgrimage among the parishes of the Society of Christ priests of the United States and Canada. Earlier this month the icon visited St. Hedwig Parish in Oshawa, and a pilgrimage vigil will take place with the icon at Our Lady Queen of Poland Parish on Sunday, March 13th. 

This week we are featuring two images from the archives, and below you will find the story of the famous icon.

A print of the icon of Our Lady of  Częstochowa
ARCAT Special Collections AW12

Cardinal Carter speaking to the congregation at the Jasna Gora Cathedral in 1977. The icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa is visible above him.
PH 18P/21P

From Cardinal Carter's diary written during his 1977 tour of Poland: 

"All through mass there was a stream of pilgrims. First of all, the chapel itself was jammed packed. The people were so tightly put together that when one moved, others had to move. This was in the centre of the chapel, and on the side a constant stream of pilgrims were herded up. They were not allowed to stop in front of the image of the Blessed Virgin but they rapidly made a genuflection and a prayer. 

"I watched them very carefully during the moments that I could ... and I have never seen such faces of suffering ... but with their obvious background of suffering, there was a gentle peace and above all a tremendous sense of devotion to the Madonna. Many of them had tears in their eyes."

As described by Zsolt Aradi in his 1954 book Shrines to Our Lady, the legend of the icon is quite a story:

"The history of the Polish national shrine of Częstochowa is a mirror of the tormented and troubled history of the nations of Central and Eastern Europe and a key to the understanding of their spiritual resistance during their present trials. According to the legend, St. Luke painted a portrait of the Blessed Virgin on the table made by Jesus Himself when He was an apprentice carpenter under the paternal guidance of St. Joseph. After the Crucifixion, this table was brought to Jerusalem; when the Holy City had fallen to the Romans the disciples kept it hidden during their wanderings. It was St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, who while searching for the Holy Cross found the picture of the Mother of Christ and took it to Constantinople. The venerated portrait of the Virgin thus remained from the third to the eighth century in Constantinople in a church built for the purpose of housing the precious relic. In the troublesome eighth century the picture was again in great danger and was carried to the wilderness to be hidden in remote places like the forests of Belsk, in Eastern Poland. Even in that part of Europe there was no real peace, because of the migrations from the East, which constantly moved westward. During the first Tartar invasion of Europe the picture escaped harm. In 1382 the Tartars occupied Belsk, murdering and looting, but the portrait of the Holy Virgin was not discovered by the heathen invader, for a mysterious cloud enveloped the chapel. After the Tartars returned to their Asiatic homeland the Prince of Belsk was ordered in a dream by an angel to take the picture to an insignificant, obscure village named Częstochowa. There it was confided to the custody of the monks of St. Paul of the Desert who have guarded it down to the present day.

"Comparative calm reigned around Częstochowa until 1430 and the renown of the miraculous picture grew. During this time King Jagiello united Poland and Lithuania and himself became an ardent Christian. He built a great Gothic cathedral around Our Lady's chapel and kings, princes, noblemen and peasants provided the sanctuary with precious and priceless votive offerings. In 1430 a new danger appeared on the horizon as religious wars began to ravage this part of Europe. These were first the wars between the followers of Jan Hus and the Catholic princes. The Hussites attacked Częstochowa, murdered, burned, robbed and took the Holy Picture. There is a story that as they bore it away their horses stopped at the limits of the village and no beating could incite them to move forward. Thus the picture of the Virgin was saved. When the pious monks found the picture, retaken from the Hussites, it lay in the mud covered with earth and blood. They immediately wanted to clean it but found that all wells had gone dry in fighting the fire. It was at this time that a miraculous fountain sprung up, a spring that has since healed thousands and thousands of sick and has supplied water to millions of pilgrims.

"The Polish nation attributes its very existence to the help of the Virgin of Częstochowa. The veneration of the picture of the Madonna is the expression of the Polish nation's faith and gratitude. After the Hussite invasion the Poles fought for three hundred years with the Teutonic Crusaders, and all the decisive victories won by the Polish nation in these battles are attributed to the miraculous help of the Holy Virgin. Thus the safety of the shrine of Częstochowa is identified with the very safety and independence of the whole nation. During the wars with the Swedes in the seventeenth century Częstochowa was besieged by the whole Swedish army for more than six weeks, but the army of the enemy was defeated and the invader driven from Polish soil. Thus Częstochowa again defended Polish unity and independence. The following year, 1656, the Holy Virgin was acclaimed Queen of Poland and Częstochowa became the spiritual capital of the nation. But there was little peace around Częstochowa for warfare continued first against the Princes of the Reformation and then against the Turks who, having enslaved the whole Balkan Peninsula and the greater part of Hungary, had arrived at the very doors of Vienna. It was the last minute help of the Polish king Sobieski that saved Vienna and the West. Before Sobieski and his army undertook their crusade he and his knights gathered at Częstochowa and dedicated themselves to their Mother in Heaven."

Note: The title of this week's entry is from Hilaire Belloc's poem entitled Ballade to Our Lady of Czestochowa.

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