Capital city of province of same name in south central Poland on the Warta River in the Kraków Częstochowa upland, 220 km from Warsaw. It is famed for its possession since 1382 of an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, venerated under the titles "Our Lady of Częstochowa," "Our Lady of Jasna Góra," and the "Black Madonna," the most famous icon in the country. The icon is housed in a basilica on a limestone hill known as the Jasna Góra (Bright Mountain) above the city. The complex of sacred buildings surrounding the icon constitutes one of the major shrines and pilgrimage centers in Christendom. The spire of the basilica church on Jasna Góra is the highest in Poland, 106.3 km, visible from a distance of several kilometers.
Legends abound regarding the origins of the icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa, the most popular of which attributes the painting to St. Luke, who worked on wood from the table of the Holy Family. Historians date it to the Byzantine period, sixth or seventh century, from the region around Constantinople. Measuring 122.2 cm (48.11 inches) high, 82.2 cm (32.36 inches) wide, and 3.5
cm (1.38 inches) thick, the holy image was painted on wood covered by a tightly woven canvas. The Blessed Virgin Mary is represented in the hodegetria pose, pointing to the Christ Child, who sits erect not like a suckling infant but as the Christ-Emmanuel full of wisdom. After 500 years at the Castle of Selz in Ukraine, the icon was brought to Poland in 1382 by Prince Ladislaus of Opole, who entrusted it to the care of the Pauline Hermits at the monastery he had built for them atop Jasna Góra in Częstochowa. The same order of hermits remains its custodian today. In 1430, the icon was vandalized and desecrated by robbers, whom some historians believe were Polish nobles associated with the Hussite movement. The scars on Mary's cheek date from these events. Two large parallel scars slash vertically, while a third wider scar cuts horizontally across them. The darkened skin tone derives from a chemical reaction to fire, aging of the pigment, and centuries of votive candle smoke.
After the Swedish invasion of Poland was repulsed at Częstochowa in 1655, King Casimir proclaimed Our Lady of Częstochowa "Queen of the Realm of Poland," and from this dedication the icon attained a new status as the symbol of Polish nationalism, unity, and liberty. Through subsequent centuries of invasion, partition, Nazi occupation, and communist oppression, Poles regarded Częstochowa as the touchstone of their national identity. As part of the Great Novena of nine year's spiritual preparation for the millennium of Christianity in Poland in 1966, Cardinal Stefan wyszyŃski circulated a special copy of the icon throughout Poland. In the 1980s, the leaders of the Solidarity movement wore small icons of the Częstochowa Virgin on their lapels. Solidarity's founder Lech Walesa donated his 1983 Nobel Peace Prize to Czstochowa, where it remains enshrined.
Votive offerings fill the treasury of the Jasna Góra monastery. The icon itself is heavily decorated with bejeweled attire and crowned with diadems that date to the official papal coronation of the icon in 1717. Pope Paul VI sent a golden rose to the shrine at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in honor of the millennium of Poland's Christianity celebrated in 1966. Pope John Paul II sent his white sash, bloodstained from the 1981 assassination attempt. It is kept in a sealed box near the icon.
The most famous tradition associated with Częstochowa is the "Walking Pilgrimage" that dates from 1711. About 50 pilgrimage routes throughout Poland converge on Częstochowa. The walk from Warsaw takes nine days, from Kraków six days, from Gdansk 13 days. For the feasts of the Assumption (August 15) and Our Lady of Częstochowa (August 26), more than one million pilgrims walk, and this religious movement grew throughout the 1990s in conjunction with several visits of Pope John Paul II to the shrine. Six million visitors a year visit Częstochowa.
Bibliography: a. gieysztor, s. herbst, and b. lesnocorski, Millenium: A Thousand Years of the Polish State (Warsaw 1961). m. helm-pirgo, Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland (New York 1957); our lady of czĘstochowa foundation, ed., The Glories of Częstochowa and Jasna Góra (Stockbridge, Mass. 1981). z. roznow and e. smulikowska, The Cultural Heritage of Jasna Góra (Warsaw 1974). j. st. pasierb, j. samek, et al., The Shrine of the Black Madonna at Częstochowa (Warsaw 1980). m. zalecki, Theology of a Marian Shrine: Our Lady of Częstochowa (Marian Library Studies, n.s. 8, Dayton, Ohio 1976).
[j. e. mccurry]