Icon History

History of the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa

Tradition has it that the picture of the majestic Mary with Jesus on her left arm, providing Him with a throne from which to bless the world, was painted on a cyprus panel, which had been the table top used by the holy family at Nazareth. It is sometimes identified with the Icon, Hodegetria (Our Lady of the Way), long honored in Constantinople and often carried by the Christian armies into battle.

It was moved from Jerusalem to Constantinople and was given in 988 to Princess Anne of Kiev in Ukraine. Charlemagne gave it to Prince Leon of Ruthenia, who enshrined it in his castle at Belz. It remained there for 500 years. In the 14th century, when the country was overrun by invaders, Prince Ladislav Opolszyk, brought the icon to Czestochowa in Poland for safekeeping in 1382. On the way to his destination, the horses stopped at a place called Jasna Gora (White Mountain), and refused to move on. Taking this as a sign from heaven, the Prince delivered the icon to the Order of St. Paul, the First Hermit and built a chapel and monastery there to protect the religious artwork.

The icon was desecrated in 1430, when the Hussites attacked Czestochowa and plundered the shrine. They tore the picture from its frame and tried to destroy it. One of the soldiers hacked at it with his sword, the after the second slash, he dropped dead. The invaders fled and when it was recovered, the icon drew even greater veneration. This is neither the first nor the last of the miraculous events associated with Czestochowa.

Through the years, the icon was adorned with precious metals, and votive offerings. Because the face and hands of the Virgin and Christ are dark, it came to be known as the "Black Madonna." Our Lady of Czestochowa is one of five ancient images painted with dark or black pigments for the Virgin and Child. This tradition of Black Madonnas may be rooted in Scripture "I am very dark, but comely..." (Song of Solomon).

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