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The History of the Czestochowa Icon of the Mother of God

Miraculous Icon of our Lady of Czestochowa

what is the story of our lady of czestochowa

The history of venerating the icon of the Mother of God, brought at the end of the 14th century to the Polish city of Czestochowa, remains underexplored. Ancient Russian calendars and menologies do not mention it. According to printed Orthodox calendars of the 19th century, the feast of this icon is celebrated on March 6 (19), while according to Catholic calendars, Our Lady of Czestochowa icon is commemorated on August 26. Apparently, the celebration of the icon was established in Russia due to the fact that in 1813, after the capture of Czestochowa by Russian troops, a copy of it was placed in the Kazan Cathedral of St Petersburg. Establishing the celebration on March 6 (19) was most likely in memory of the events connected with the acquisition of the Holy Cross by the Equal-to-the-Apostles Empress Helena in Jerusalem.

History of the ancient icon

Tradition attributes the authorship of the Czestochowa Icon of the Mother of God to St. Luke the Evangelist. In 66, the Romans besieged Jerusalem, and the image was hidden by the Christians in a cave near the city of Pele. Three hundred years later, the icon was presented as a gift to the holy Empress Helena and thus made its way to Constantinople. This event took place on March 6 (March 19 according to the new calendar) which remains the icon's feast day until present time.

Patriarch Photios (mid 9th century) has testified about this image of the Holy Virgin, paying tribute to its artistic merits. Presumably, the original name of the icon was "Mother of the Word". Regardless of whether it is true, the initial name was certainly not “Czestochowa”.

Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Empress Helena

Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Empress Helena

What is the story of Our Lady of Czestochowa on the Slavic lands?

Currently, there are three versions of how the icon came to the Slavic lands. According to one of them, Patriarch Photios gave it to the Sts. Cyril and Methodius for the blessing and enlightenment of the Slavic peoples, and thus the icon came to southern Poland.

Another version says that the icon was brought to Kiev by the Byzantine princess Anna, the bride of the Holy Prince Vladimir. The icon stayed in the Church of the Tithes for some time, and then came to Southwestern (often referred to as Red) Russia (Latin Russia Rubra, Ukrainian Chervona Rus, Polish Ruś Czerwona) .

According to the third version, the miraculous image was brought from Constantinople to the castle of Belz in the Galicia-Volyn principality by Prince Leo (Lev) I of Galicia, the cousin of Alexander Nevsky and the son of Prince Daniel of Galicia, founder of the city of Lvov (Lviv, Lemberg).

Belz Castle

Modern look of Belz Castle

In 1340, the Polish king Casimir III invaded Galicia and seized the icon along with many other sacred objects. In 1377, Prince Władysław Opolczyk moved the icon to Lvov, and in 1382 he decided to transport it to the Vilna region, known as the centre of Latinism. On August 9, 1382, on the way to Vilna, the prince stopped in the village of Czestochowa near Jasna Góra and placed the icon for the night in the Dormition church. Returning in the morning, the Prince was unable to withdraw the icon, for the Mother of God Herself wished to remain in that place.

From that time onwards, the icon came into the possession of the Roman Catholic monastic order of the Paulines and permanently lost its original name, becoming Czestochowa ( Polish Matka Boska Częstochowska).

“Matka Boska Częstochowska”

In 1430, the Jasna Góra Monastery was plundered by Taborite iconoclasts (followers of Jan Hus) who seriously damaged the icon and split the board.

where is our lady of czestochowa

Jasna Góra Monastery, Czestochowa, Poland

After that, in 1434, Our Lady of Czestochowa was brought to Krakow for restoration at the court of the Polish king Władysław II Jagiełło.

Initially the restoration work was carried out by certain painters working in the Greek manner. Most likely, these were craftsmen from Ukrainian and Belarusian lands who had previously been invited to the Kingdom of Poland. In 1418 they painted a church in the Lublin Castle, at the beginning of the 15th century - collegiate churches in Wiślica, and in Gniezno. However, this time their rigorous attempts to paint the icon following the remaining contours, did not give any results: the colours that they applied came out bloated and sloughed. (A. Rogov The Czestochowa Icon of the Mother of God as a Monument of Byzantine-Russian-Polish Relations // Ancient Russian Art. Arts and culture of pre-Mongol Rus. Nauka, 1972, pp. 319-320.)

Apparently, discouraged by their failure to correct the icon, the Western Russian craftsmen gave way to others. It is difficult to say where these new painters came from. One thing is clear - they were not representatives of the Byzantine, but rather of the Western school. These people completely scraped off the icon, including even the ground layer, and created a new image in the spirit of Gothic painting of that time.

Here are some expert opinions on this matter:

“... It can be said that the Częstochowa icon no longer exists as a monument of Byzantine and Old Russian painting. In 1434 it was effectively painted anew on the old board. Under the now-existing pictorial image, as shown by the research of the restorer R. Kozlovsky, there is not the slightest trace of the original painting. Even the ground coat was applied anew to the board. Only after applying a new ground layer, the icon painters were able to repaint the icon.” (History of Old Russian Art. Nauka Publishing House, 1972, pp. 316-321).

“The appearance of the ancient original has not been preserved. The icon, which is now in the Jasna Góra monastery in Poland, was 'repainted' in 1434 following a Western manner." (Masterpieces of Ukrainian Icon Painting of the 12th-19th Centuries, Mystetstvo, 1992, p. 176).

The Czestochowa Icon of the Mother of God in the Jasna Góra Monastery

The Czestochowa Icon of the Mother of God in the Jasna Góra Monastery

“... According to Peter Rinus (1523), the restoration of the icon was carried out in Krakow at the court of King Władysław II Jagiełło. The artists applied new colours several times, but the paint did not hold and was quickly sloughing. Today we know that the difficulties of these restorers were caused by the fact that they painted with tempera paints over an image made in wax (Encaustic) technique. Unable to cope with the task, the artists scraped off the remnants of the original image from the wood base and rewrote it. The sabre cuts on the most holy face of the Mother of God were marked with a chisel as traces of the barbaric deed." (Jasna Góra. Sanctuary of the Holy Virgin, p. 6. Narni-Terni (Italy), 1992)

Researchers differ in their opinions, trying to identify the style of the painting school, to which the present-day icon should be attributed. М. Walicki thought that the icon was influenced by Louis I of Hungary while S. Tomkowicz saw in it features of the Roman school, and K. Peradzska believed it was inspired by the Sienese artists.

One way or another, the icon stylistically moved far from the Byzantine and Old Russian traditions. At the same time, it should be noted that the general layout of the icon reproduced the iconographic type of the lost original. Even in its modern form, it can still be defined as an icon of the Hodegetria type.

Iconographically, the Czestochowa icon is especially close to the icon of the late 10th - early 11th century, located in the Roman church of Maria Maggiore, and the mosaic icon of the 12th century from the Serbian Hilandar monastery on Athos.

Similarly to other Hodegetria icons, the infant Christ on the Częstochowa icon sits on the left hand of the Mother of God, raising His head towards Her. In the hand of the Child is a book, which is not typical for purely Byzantine and Russian images of Hodegetria.

Such versions are more common in the West. Among them is the aforementioned icon in Rome, as well as the 13th century fresco in the church of Santa Maria del Sarbo in Compignano, the 16th century icon in Viterbo, or, for example, the 1679 icon by Konstantinos Tzanes kept in the church museum of Dubrovnik.

In 1717, the icon was crowned by the nuncio of Pope Clement XI, and the monks themselves crowned the icon with the Polish coat of arms. In 1796, Pope Pius VI granted the monastery a perpetual right to sell indulgences to everyone who attended eight festive services in a year.

In 1863, the monastery became a centre of the Polish uprising against the Russian Empire and printed medals with images of the Czestochowa icon and the inscription "God save our land" (from the Russians).

Częstochowa Icon in Orthodoxy

Some Orthodox believe that the history of the icon bifurcated in the 15th century. In their opinion, the Orthodox icon disappeared after the restoration of 1434 and its name has been lost. However, the veneration of it continues under a new name derived from the new Latin icon, which is not connected with the Orthodox original in any way.

Others recognise the succession between the ancient relic and the modern-day image of Our Lady in the Monastery on Jasna Góra.

The Częstochowa Icon of the Mother of God

The Częstochowa Icon of the Mother of God, painted in the Orthodox tradition

In the 19th century, copies of the Czestochowa icon again appeared in Rus'. In 1813, the Russian army drove Napoleon's troops out of Russia, and pushed the invaders further, deep into Europe. After storming Warsaw, the commander-in-chief, Prince M. Kutuzov sent the corps of Baron Osten-Saken to capture the Czestochowa monastery fortress as "hostile to the Russian Tsardom".

After the bombardment began, the commandant of the fortress surrendered with the entire garrison. The Pauline monks came out to meet the victors and presented them with a copy of the Black Madonna icon as a gift. [Ed: The answer to the popular question “why is Our Lady of Czestochowa called the black Madonna?” lies in the dark facial tones and dark green background of the image.]

By order of the Russian Emperor Alexander I, this gift, along with the keys to the Czestochowa fortress (as well as to 28 other cities and fortresses), was placed in the Kazan Cathedral of St. Petersburg, where an unquenchable lamp was lit in front of the icon. Alexander I donated a silver frame with precious stones to decorate the image.

Since that time, copies of the Częstochowa icon have spread across Russia.

More than a dozen of such copies are known, including the giant miraculous copy located in the St. Nicholas Church in the village of Yermolino near Vidnoe, Moscow district. During the First World War, under the care of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, the nuns of the Krasnostok Monastery were evacuated here from near Grodno in Western Belarus (now the territory of Poland).

Surprisingly, of the seven churches of the Vidnoe deanery, St. Nicholas was the only one that has never been closed by the authorities. The church has been operating since 1830. The Yermolinskaya Częstochowa Icon is revered as the main relic of St. Nicholas Church. It is particularly popular among married couples praying before it for help in family matters.

A copy of the Czestochowa Icon of the Mother of God

A copy of the Czestochowa Icon of the Mother of God
in St. Nicholas Church of Yermolino village

Another revered copy of the icon is kept in the Transfiguration Monastery in the village of Khmelevo (Brest region of Belarus). A solemn service and procession is held here annually on March 19.

A copy of the Czestochowa Icon in Khmelevo

A copy of the Czestochowa Icon of the Mother of God at the Transfiguration Monastery
of the Savior in Khmelevo, Brest region, Republic of Belarus

The Czestochowa image is also deeply revered in Ukraine, namely in the St. Cyril Church in Kiev, Khoroshevo Convent in Kharkov, St. Nicholas Cathedral in Kremenets, Sokolsky Transfiguration Monastery in the Poltava region, and the church of the Smolyan village near Volyn, where there are venerated copies of this icon .

There is also a church in honour of the Czestochowa Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos in the Holy Ascension Monastery near the village of Khorosheye in the Luhansk region.

In the Tver region, there is a chapel in honour of the Czestochowa icon at the St Nilus Monastery on Stolobny Island, where a copy of the icon is also kept.

It should be noted that in Russia many copies of the Częstochowa image are called "The Softening of Evil Hearts" or "Invincible Victory" and in Poland the miraculous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa  is also called "The Queen of Poland". 

Troparion and Kontakion of Our Lady of Czestochowa

Invincible Victory, Queen of Czestochowa, / The witness of ancient mercy towards us, / Guardian of future salvation, / Make us new through repentance before the coming King.

O protection of Christians that cannot be put to shame, / Mediation unto the Creator most constant: / O despise not the suppliant voices of those who have sinned; / But be thou quick, O good one, to come unto our aid, who in faith cry unto thee: / Hasten to intercession, and speed thou to make supplication, / Thou who dost ever protect, O Theotokos, them that honor thee.

March 19, 2023
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1 year ago

Priest Peter Fermeglia

1 year ago
Please note that an "indulgence" is NOT an 'absolution of sin' as you wrongly claim in the article.
In Catholic theology, sin has a spiritual and temporal value. Priestly absolution removes the spiritual
effects of sins, but one is required to make up the temporal, that is earthly effect of our sins to
set aright the balance ruined by our sinful actions. For example, if I steal $200 from a brother I can
be absolved by a priest for this sin, but justice demands RESTITUTION. In other words I still owe my brother
$200. Often in our lives we never get to the point of making a perfect restitution to others we have offended by
our selfish sinfulness. If we die without having made restitution, then time is spent in purification after death, i.e., Purgatory, or better still the "TOLLHOUSES" we Orthodox go on about. An indulgence is Oeconomia. An indulgence usually is a prayer or good work applied to make earthly restitution for our sins while still on earth and before our repose. When payment is involved, it is money spent so others may pray for us. It is an earthly means we are accustumed to, like trebi for a pannikhida or paying for candles to be lit. Hence, "Indulgence" is NOT "absolution" and you need to change this in your article! -Blessings-Priest Peter Fermeglia, Concord, CA.
1 month ago

Joan abbatecola

1 month ago
Thank you for the story. I love our Mother. Asker Her please to pray for me and bless me to be closer to God. Amen.
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