By Sarah Richthammer, Franciscan University
Our Lady of Czestochowa has impacted me in a very special way. I first came to know her while fundraising and praying with my pilgrimage group for World Youth Day 2016. One of our first group meetings served to get to know each other, but also to get to know Our Lady of Czestochowa. Our youth minister gave us a brief overview of her and presented us with the symbol of the 2016 World Youth Day in Poland. She explained that the red and blue in the symbol represented the Divine Mercy of Jesus. One of the sites we had the privilege of visiting during WYD was the Divine Mercy Shrine located next to the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy where the original image of Divine Mercy is kept. This is the same chapel where Sr. Faustina had visions of Jesus and received His message of mercy. Mary is regarded as the queen of Poland not only for her title of Our Lady of Czestochowa, but also for being known as the mother of Mercy.
The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa is housed in Jasna Góra monastery in Czestochowa, Poland. “Jasna Gora” translates to “luminous mount.” It is unclear who created this image of Mary, but it is believed to have been drawn by St. Luke, the first Christian iconographer. St. Helena found this icon when she visited the Holy Land and the image remained in Constantinople from the fourth century to the fifteenth century, when the image came to Poland. The Jasna Gora monastery was founded in 1382 by Duke Ladislaus of Opole. Pauline monks came from Hungary to live at Jasna Gora. When the image of the Madonna and Child were brought in, they oversaw the care of the image.
Not much is known about the history of the image except the story of the scars on Mary’s face. In 1430, the Hussites robbed Jasna Gora and a soldier slashed the image across the face and neck. The icon was brought to King Laudislaus’ court but after many attempts to fix the painting the scars remained on Mary’s face. In 1656, King John Casimir of Poland made the Mother of Jasna Gora the Queen of Poland after it was saved from a Swedish invasion of the monastery. Smoke from the candles near the image blackened the face of Mary, creating the effect that led to the image being referred to as the Black Madonna. The icon depicts Mary tenderly holding her son, Jesus. Mary leads us to her son and wants us to follow him, showing that Mary is a mother to all people.
Many pilgrims come to Jasna Gora to pray and to bring their needs to their heavenly mother. There are rosaries and other sacramentals around the chapel of the miraculous image. There are also crutches left behind of people who have been healed by the mercy and love of God through devotion to his mother Mary. Usually, the image is unveiled at 6 a.m., where pilgrims can come in to see the image. However, sometimes the veiling and unveiling of the image occurs at different times due to the large number of pilgrims. For instance, during World Youth Day the times were different to accommodate the three million people coming to venerate the image and pray in the chapel. The pilgrims from the Diocese of Pittsburgh travelled together and our Bishop, David Zubik, said Mass in English from the chapel where the icon is held. There were people from all over the world packed into the chapel for Mass. It was incredible to see the universality of the Catholic Church, coming to Jesus through Mary at this historical pilgrimage site in Poland.
God’s mercy is revealed in many ways to his children. I am thankful that I was able to appreciate the way that God touched other people while I was there. I am grateful for having had the ability to see this image in person. Over the years Our Lady of Czestochowa has taught me a lot about Mary’s desire to bring her children to Jesus. The scars on Mary’s face reveal to us that crosses are inevitable in our faith journey, but God does not allow those crosses to be the end of the story. Mary shows us how to carry our crosses out of love to be united with Jesus in a more intimate way.
Our Lady of Czestochowa, pray for us.
Fongemie, Pauly. “History of the Image.” Our Lady of Czestochowa, 2011, catholictradition.org/Mary/czesto.htm.
 Pauly Fongemie. “History of the Image.” Our Lady of Czestochowa, 2011, catholictradition.org/Mary/czesto.htm.