Daughter of first-generation Poles, I grew up in Ohio learning to cook and celebrate religious traditions. I've visited Poland three times.
Replica Icons of the Black Madonna in a Polish Peasant Cottage circa mid-19th Century
What or who is the Black Madonna of Czestochowa?
Why is she called "The Queen of Poland?" Why is her feast day on August 26? Why does she appear in so many types of clothing? Why is this painting so beloved by the Polish people and those of Polish descent?
This article attempts to answer these questions and enlighten the curious about the centuries-old significance of this icon to Poland and Polonia (people of Polish descent who live outside Polish borders.) This piece of writing is the result of my upbringing and desire to know more about my heritage
The Black Madonna in My Life
I grew up in Cleveland, OH descending from grandparents born in Poland in the 19th century and emigrating to the U.S. at the latter half of that century. They left a partitioned Poland that was not really an independent Poland. My paternal grandfather always said he went to came to America to evade the Czar's army.
My family circle was not fiercely Polish, but I absorbed enough of tradition and culture - especially Roman Catholicism - to have pride in my background. There were icons in my paternal grandmother's home and mostly peasant-style stories about the Black Madonna.
As a curious adult, I visited Poland three times (and counting) which included one spectacular day at Jasna Gora, the monastery at Czestochowa which houses the Black Madonna.
In my workroom, I have a fantastic black and white ink sketch of the Madonna holding the Christ Child. Smaller drawings of Polish saints surround them. There is no attribution on this mini-poster-sized work, so I have no idea of its origin. However, the poster is my reminder of a traditional and historical past.
Please enjoy this article, a small result of my enthusiasm and research. Feel free to leave questions and comments in the guestbook at the end of this article.
Dziekuje bardzo (Thank you very much!) and Na zdrowie (Cheers!)
The Black Madonna - Lady of Czestochowa - Without Jeweled Robes
The Icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa
Queen of Poland
This painting of Our Lady, Mother of God, in the style of an icon, is housed at the Jasna Gora (Shining or Luminous Hill) monastery maintained by priests and brothers belonging to the Pauline Order founded by St. Paul the First Hermit.
The icon is the monastery's most valuable treasure and is housed in the Chapel of the Virgin at the heart of the monastery. The Virgin and Child are painted on a board that measures 81.5 x 121.7 cm (approximately 32 x 48 inches) and shows mother and infant in traditional fleur-de-lys robes (without the jeweled coverings). In the above illustration, a standing Virgin is holding the infant Christ on her left arm.
Tradition and myth shroud the icon's travels until about the 14th century when it was finally housed at Jasna Gora (Shining Mountain) temporarily in a church, and then in a chapel specifically built to display it.
Tradition Usually Accepted as Facts
- St. Luke, the Evangelist painted this icon on a tabletop which tradition says served the Holy Family.
- St. Helena, Constantine the Great's mother, found the icon in 326 AD while searching for the true Cross in Jerusalem.
- Emperor Constantine brought the icon from the Holy Land to Constantinople where it was kept in "a holy temple" for many centuries.
- Six centuries the icon transferred via the hands of the current Emperor to Prince Lev of Ruthenia where his people venerated the Madonna.
- During a time of war, Prince Ladislaus of Belz tried to take the icon to Opole, his birthplace and a secure location. The Prince and his party carried the icon as far as Jasna Gora when the horses balked and would go no further.
- The Black Madonna was placed in her recent home and soon became the Queen of Poland.
Why is the Feast Day of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa Celebrated on August 26?
This date is observed as the Black Madonna's special day because it was on this day in 1382 that the icon was placed by Prince Ladislaus of Belz in the small Church of The Assumption that stood on Jasna Gora.
Jasna Gora Guide
Closeup a Replica of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa Icon
Why do the Madonna and Infant have Black Faces?
There are really three possible answers. All are shrouded in speculation and tradition:
- Mary (The Madonna) was of Jewish origin. She had features similar to other women in the ancient land of Palestine including a somewhat dark complexion. However, not so dark as to be black. The icon was made with original dark flesh tones. There is no evidence that the “black” coloration resulted (as some have claimed) later from smoke, fires or the discoloration of age.
- The portrait has existed for many centuries and has been poorly treated while hidden away. Unfortunately, there were many who would venerate the image by kissing and touching it. The Black Madonna was constantly exposed to smoke and dust by being housed in Constantinople where church ritual incorporates lighting vigil candles in front of icons, In the early days of the Jasna Gora complex, ritual candle lighting and incense burning continued allowing more dust and smoke particles to settle upon the icon.
- Several restorations, according to sketchy record-keeping, involved layers of varnish which did not mix with underlying color, and also darkened with age. The latest restoration of the painting was under the direction of the Pauline caretakers at Jasna Gora. It took place from November 1925 to March 1926.
Today, the icon is covered by a silver screen dating from 1673 for protection. This is raised, according to the Jasna Gorna Information Office depending upon times of day and the number of visiting pilgrims.
Black Madonna Icon: Our Lady of Czestochowa Madonna and Child with Jeweled Robes overlay
Black Madonna: One of My Favorite Hymns
The Icon of Black Madonna of Częstochowa
Why is the Black Madonna Dressed in Jeweled Robes and Crowns?
Originally, in the middle ages, votive offerings, including expensive jewels, for the Black Madonna were placed, often nailed, directly to the icon. By about 1585, these were removed from the icon and nailed to boards on either side of the altar. By the mid-17th century, so many jewels had accumulated that they were placed in patterns and sewn to velvet backings - the beginnings of the Black Madonna's dresses or wardrobes. Currently used robes are named according to the gems and ornaments adorning them.
What Robes Currently Adorn the Black Madonna?
Only the old Diamond and Ruby robes have come down to us. The Jasna Gora Information Center shows photos of six of the current jeweled robes. According to the Jasna Gora Guide these robes, along with more modern and significant ones, are displayed when not in use, in the Marian Room. This guide also provides some details about the older robes as well as the modern ones.
Six of the Customary Jeweled Robes
- I-Brilliant Blue Diamond Dress
- II-Robe of Fidelity (Mostly rubies)
- III-1910 Coral Dress
- IV-Millennium (of Polish Christianity) Dress
- V-1969 Coral Dress
- 6th Centenary Coral-Pearl Dress (Made for the jubilee of the 600th anniversary of the presence of the Miraculous Image of Jasna Gora
Examples of Significant Modern Dress Robes
- Jasna Gora Patroness of the Army Robe (Decorated with military medals)
- Robe made entirely from seeds
- Shirt of an interred "Solidarity" activists.
Our Lady of Częstochowa - Historical Timeline
The Monastery of Jasna Gora in Częstochowa, Poland, is the third-largest Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. It was founded on 9 August 1382, and is home to the beloved miraculous icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa. This shrine which has grow larger over the centuries is the national shrine of Poland and the center of Polish Catholicism.
An Elaboration of the History of the Black Madonna
- Antiquity. Tradition says that the apostle Luke the Evangelist painted the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa on a tabletop built by Jesus.
- St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine and collector of Christian relics in Jerusalem, discovered the icon the Holy Land.
- Antiquity. The icon remains enshrined in the imperial city of Constantinople, for the next 500 years.
- 803 A.D. A Greek princess, who married a Ruthenian (people of the area that is known today as Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and eastern Slovakia) nobleman, received the painting as a wedding gift from the Byzantine emperor. The royal palace at Belz (now a small city in Western Ukraine, near the border with Poland) was home to the image for several centuries.
- 14th Century. The Tartars conquered Belz, looting almost everything--except for the portrait of the Madonna. A mysterious cloud supposedly enveloped the chapel of the Madonna and it was preserved. An angel then appeared to Saint Ladislaus, the prince of Belz, telling him to take the image to a small village named Czestochowa. After doing so, the saint founded a monastery of Pauline monks there to care for the icon.
- 1382 to 1386. The icon arrives in Poland with Ladislaus and a Polish army. Fleeing Tartars struck the icon with an arrow leaving a scar. August 26, 1382, a day still observed as the Feast Day of the painting because of the small Church of The Assumption that stood on Jasna Gora becoming home to the Black Madonna. A monastery church was built on Jasna Gora in1386 as a new home for the icon and soon Polish King Jagiello built a cathedral around the chapel containing the icon.
- 1430. Another tradition about the Black Madonna's scars. Hussites (Pre-formation reformers) attacked the monastery, slashed the Virgin's face with a sword, and left it desecrated in a puddle of blood and mud. When the monks pulled the icon from the mud, a miraculous fountain appeared, which they used to clean the painting. The icon was repainted in Krakow, but both the arrow mark and the gashes from the sword remained despite attempts to repair them. The scar and slashes and remain clearly visible today.
- 1655 to 1656. Swedish troops (the Swedish Deluge) about to invade Czestochowa retreated because Polish soldiers prayed fervently before the icon for deliverance. King John Casimir declared Our Lady of Czestochowa "Queen of Poland" and made Jasna Gora, Czestochowa the spiritual capital of the nation.
- 1717. Pope Clement XI officially recognized the miraculous nature of the Black Madonna.
- 1920. The Russian Red Army gathered on the banks of the Vistula River, preparing to attack Warsaw. The citizens and soldiers fervently prayed to Our Lady of Czestochowa, and on September 15, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, she appeared in the clouds above Warsaw. The Russians were defeated in a series of battles later dubbed the "Miracle at the Vistula."
- 1925. Pope Pius XI designated May 3 a feast day to honor the image of the icon.
- Nazi Occupation and afterward. In 1945, after Poland was liberated from the German army, pilgrims journeyed to Czestochowa. On September 8, 1946, 1.5 million people gathered at the shrine to express gratitude to the Black Madonna and rededicate the entire nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
- Cold War Period. Jasna Gora became a center of anti-Communist resistance. Pope John Paul II, a native of Poland, was a devotee of the Virgin Mary and of her icon at Czestochowa. As pope, he made pilgrimages to pray before the Black Madonna in 1979, 1983, 1991, and 1997.
- May 26, 2006. Pope Benedict XVI visited the shrine.
Czestochowa is home to the Jasna Gora Monastery a place of pilgrimage to the Black Madonna, Queen of Poland
Black Madonna (Czarna Madonna) Pilgrimage in Poland - Photos and Commentary: Courtesy of Christopher Wright (xpisto1) via Flickr
The Shrine at Czestochowa, Poland
Votive Lights - American National Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa, Doylestown, PA
American Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa
Busiest Day of the Year and Pilgrimage
Pilgrimage Site in the U.S. to Mary, Queen of Poland, National Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa: Doylestown, PA
Feast Day: August 26
The Feast of Our Lady of Częstochowa, observed on August 26, is the largest celebration for the Shrine and includes a procession.
Pilgrimage by Walking
Each year the Shrine welcomes groups of walking pilgrims. They follow the Polish tradition of foot pilgrimage to give thanks to Our Lady and to pray for Her intercession on their behalf.
The tradition of the foot pilgrimage on American Soil began during the Marian Year (1987-88) when a group of 17 pilgrims departed from Great Meadows, N.J. on August 12th walking to the Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa. They arrived at the Shrine on August 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The number of pilgrims who now participate in the yearly walking pilgrimage has exceeded three thousand.
American Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa - Doylestown, PA 18901
Religious Feast Days: Most religions arrange their liturgical or public worship around feast days celebrating blessed individuals or events.
Lady of Czestochowa (The Black Madonna of Czestochowa) in Ritual Dress
An Eastern Orthodox Icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa
"In myself I am nothing. It all comes from God and the Virgin Mary." Lech Walesa
Jasna Gora Mosaic (2000) showing the Black Madonna and (possibly) King John Casimir and Father Augustyn Kordecki
Father Jerzy Popieluszko, the Black Madonna and Solidarity
Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a popular young parish priest in a suburb of Warsaw, Poland, spoke out against the abuses of communism and supported the then-banned Solidarity labor union. Thousands flocked to hear his Sunday sermons. He was abducted by the Polish secret police on October 19, 1984. His savagely beaten body was found 11 days later in an icy reservoir. Father Popieluszko's death serves as testimony to the struggle for freedom, basic rights, and human dignity.
Litany to Our Lady of Czestochowa
Based on a Homily-Litany by the Martyred Polish Priest Jerzy Popieluszko
(For private recitation)
Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy. *
Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy.
Christ, hear us, Christ, graciously hear us,
God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the World, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Mother of God and our Mother, pray for us.
Mother of those who place their hope God's providence, pray for us.
Mother of those who are deceived, pray for us.
Mother of those who are betrayed, pray for us.
Mother of those who are arrested in the night, pray for us.
Mother of those who are imprisoned, pray for us.
Mother of those who suffer from the cold, pray for us.
Mother of those who live in fear, pray for us.
Mother of those who were subjected to interrogations, pray for us.
Mother of those who are subjected to interrogations, pray for us.
Mother of those innocents who have been condemned, pray for us.
Mother of those who speak the truth, pray for us.
Mother of those who cannot be corrupted, pray for us.
Mother of those who resist evil and tyranny, pray for us.
Mother of orphans, pray for us.
Mother of those who have been attacked or taunted because they wore thy image, pray for us.
Mother of those who are forced to sign declarations contrary to their conscience, pray for us.
Mother of mothers who weep, pray for us.
Mother of fathers who have been so deeply saddened, pray for us.
Mother of suffering Poland, pray for us.
Mother of always faithful Poland, pray for us.
We beg thee, O Mother in whom resides the hope of millions of people, grant us to live in liberty and in truth, in fidelity to thee and to thy Son.
Father Jerzy Popieluszko - Messenger of Truth
Questions Which You Might Like to Ponder
- How important are religious feast-days to your life?
- Do you celebrate in an outward fashion with special meals, decorations or prayers?
- If they are important, what is the most important feast-day of the calendar year to you?
- Do you think an article of this kind is important to Hubpages content and community?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Georgene Moizuk Bramlage
Your opinion about religious feast days and this Hubpage. Let me know what you think...I'm listening!
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on April 04, 2020:
Besarien, Thank you very much for your comments about the article and Our Lady of Czestochowa. I was pleased to hear that her likeness is in history books!
Besarien from South Florida on July 29, 2019:
Really enjoyed this article. The Black Madonna is gorgeous and so mysterious. Though I cry when art gets vandalized, I think she might be even more beautiful because of her scars. They make her seem more human, more a loving mother than an exalted deity, I guess. Her ritual robe is lovely but I prefer the image without overlay, maybe because that is how I first saw her in my art history book.
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on May 03, 2019:
Barbara Vojtko Thank you very much for visiting this article and leaving a comment.
Barbara Vojtko on April 01, 2019:
I visited JasnaGora a few years ago. Very beautiful and moving. I would love to go back. ❤️
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on April 01, 2019:
Audrey Ehlert Thank you so much for your comments.
Audrey Ehlert on April 01, 2019:
Really enjoyed reading this. Always knew of her, but no information or history. Thank you very much.
Johnb634 on April 30, 2015:
I truly prize your function, Wonderful post. dffgdekeddbd
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on July 05, 2014:
@ecogranny: Thanks so much for visiting this lens - one of my favorites. And many thanks for your book suggestion - I'm not familiar with it, but will check it out. Yes, everyone wants to "blame: the smoke for the coloration of the skin. I guess I'm too much of a practicalist, but I think that perhaps the darkening might be due to aging of whatever pigment was used for the skin tones. There is a history of European black Madonnas (example: Einsiedeln (Canton of Schwyz): Our Lady of the Hermits) so perhaps the same pigment(s) were commonly in use at the time the icons were painted (12th to 15th centuries)..
Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on July 05, 2014:
Beautifully done page!I had read of the Polish Black Madonna in China Galland's book, *The Bond Between Women: A Journey to Fierce Compassion*. In that book, she tells quite an interesting story of her pilgrimage to see it, and several other madonnas.
Curious about the explanations for the dark skin tones of the mother and child, I wonder why, if smoke caused their hands and faces to darken, their golden haloes were not similarly darkened. Isn't that odd?
Even as a child, I wondered about the honey-colored hair and pale skin tones of the picture of Jesus that graced our home. As an adult I discovered that Jews from that time period and region more likely than not were of dark complexion rather than light. It would seem that we Anglos like to make God in our image!
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on February 14, 2014:
@reasonablerobby: Thanks so much for stopping by my Madonna lens, reading it and leaving comments! I appreciate all very much. Yes, it is indeed a fascinating story and a traditional belief which has kept Poland (the Polish people) together for centuries.
reasonablerobby on February 14, 2014:
really fascinating - love the iconography - and the tradition and story very interesting
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on January 26, 2014:
@Heidi Vincent: Thank you very much for taking the time to visit this favorite lens. The Black Madonna is very important to the Polish people, both spiritually and as a symbol of their unity.
Heidi Vincent from GRENADA on January 24, 2014:
Dziekuje bardzo (Thank you very much!), Cercis for sharing the story of the Black Madonna with us :)
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on September 07, 2013:
@MariannesWhims: Thank you very much for visiting and for your gracious comments. Both are very much appreciated. I am so glad you were able to learn something from what I wrote. Best to you!
Marianne Gardner from Pacific NW, USA on September 06, 2013:
A wonderful lens. I learned a lot about the Black Madonna Icon I never knew. Very interesting history of who may have painted it, and how the slash scar came about. Thanks. It's very beautiful. God bless.
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on December 17, 2012:
@Redneck Lady Luck: Hi and thanks so much for stopping by. I so appreciate your remarks about my research. This is also very important to me here at Squidoo and elsewhere
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on December 13, 2012:
You have discussed the Black Madonna of Czestochowa so beautifully. I love that you show the source of your images. It is so important to do this now when working online. Fantastic work. May your holiday feasts be overflowing with wealth and friendship.
Delia on November 14, 2012:
Great lens! although I'm a Christian but not Catholic, I have a collection of Polish and Russian Icons (yep another collection)...I'm glad you wrote a lens on YOUR interest and can be educational for everyone in learning something new...no one 'has to' come here, it's a choice!
I enjoyed it:
~d-artist Squid Angel Blessing~
AnnaMKB on November 14, 2012:
I think they are some of the most beautiful and meaningful traditions we can carry on. Our world is a better place for them.
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on October 05, 2012:
@siobhanryan: THanks so much for your comment and blessing. I do love the history and admire the feelings this icon stirs in the Polish people,
siobhanryan on October 04, 2012:
I love the history of how the icon survived through the ages-Blessed
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on September 29, 2012:
@norma-holt: Hi! and many thanks for your comment. I am aware of the similarity. Facts like these just make my (intellectual) life more interesting. A dear friend is an academic expert on Indian mother goddesses and we've had lots of stimulating discussions. I also have a lovely statue of Kuan-yin which was a gift. It sits with my small collection of RC madonna statues. BTW, I look at the adoption as adaption.
norma-holt on September 29, 2012:
The Catholic Churh adopted every form of religious icon and feast day as its own, including the Indian mother of Chrishna from which the black Madonna arose. She was name Ma-ai which is close to Mary, as well. I am amazed at how people get taken in by such idolatry.
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on September 03, 2012:
@Willim: Willim, Thanks you very much for your gracious comments. I appreciate them very much.
Willim on September 03, 2012:
Very beautiful lens. i like this lens
it was full of meaning of religious
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on September 02, 2012:
@TeacherSerenia: Serenia, Hi and thanks for visiting my Black Madonna of Poland lens and your very honest comments. I am glad to know that you "love" and appreciate the work of the icon painters. I will check out your Rublev lens. And thanks so much for adding this lens to yours as a related lens.
TeacherSerenia on September 02, 2012:
I dislike all religions and religious celebrations. Those feast days, saint days, and other over the top celebrations for dead people are not necessary or required for any religion. BUT I LOVE the art work of the icons. I wrote one lens about Andrei Rublev, a famous Russian medieval Icon Artist. I will add this lens to my Rublev lens as a related lens.
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on August 31, 2012:
@ComfortsOfHome: Hi! Thanks for visiting, commenting and squidliking this lens. I also read The Secret Life of Bees and was intrigued by the significance of the icon showing up in the novel. I hope the lens answered some of your questions! Have a great weekend!
ComfortsOfHome on August 31, 2012:
I've been fascinated by the idea of the Black Madonna ever since I read the book The Secret Life of Bees, so I really enjoyed reading this and learning something about the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. Thank you!
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on August 30, 2012:
@Rosetta Slone: Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving your gracious comment. This lens is special to me, so I am happy that it is appreciated.
Rosetta Slone from Under a coconut tree on August 29, 2012:
What a beautiful, unique lens. And that purple star suits you!
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on August 29, 2012:
@Gypzeerose: Hi Rose, Thanks so much for visiting, squidliking and blessing this lens. It was a labor of love and so your gracious interaction is very much appreciated. The celebration of all Black Madonna at the Christmas Revels sounds fascinating. As a side to learning about the Polish Black Madonna I learned a great deal about others throughout Europe...fodder for another lens ;+)
Georgene Moizuk Bramlage (author) from southwestern Virginia on August 29, 2012:
@WriterJanis2: Thank you very much for visiting and squidliking this lens and most of all your gracious compliments. This is a lens that is near and dear to me.
WriterJanis2 on August 29, 2012:
Very beautiful lens.
Rose Jones on August 29, 2012:
One of the most amazing times in my life was spent at Christmas Revels in Oakland CA when they celebrated all the black Madonnas - through out the world. And now I know about the Polish Black Madonna! Great lens! blessed.........