by JOHN BURKE
The Jasna Gora icon
OVER a million pilgrims converge on Czestochowa, the spinning and smelting centre in "black" Silesia. throughout August every year. They are led by cross. banner and statue bearers in the midst of white-clad girls linked by snowy ribbons.
Czestochowa has been the national shrine of Poland for seven centuries. Overshadowed by Marian counterparts in western Europe, it cannot boast of apparitions or miracles, yet there is intense adoration of the Byzantine icon in the Catholic monastery of Jasna Cora (mountain of light). The monastery dominates Czestochowa and its brick tower is at 348 feet, the highest in Poland. There is a fine view from the top and the original — burnt down — was a watchtower when Jasna Gora doubled as a fortress. Tsar Alexander of Russia dis'mantled the defences in 1813, but the moat remains.
The monastery is reached from the city centre by a bus which climbs to the end of Najswietszei Marii Panny (Our Lady's A v enu e). Opposite the terminal is the Lubomirski Gate of 1723. — bearing a relief of the Virgin Mary and statues of Ss. Anthony, Michael and Paul.
Further in are the gates of Stanslaus Augustus and Our Lady of Sorrows. Then on both sides of the Renaissance Bastion Gate are walks along the ramparts, around which stand sculptured Stations of the Cross erected on massive stone plinths in 1912.
The following, decade saw the last restoration of the socalled Church of the Holy Cross and of the Mother of God at Czestochowa—which has the status of "little basilica." Its high altar, showing the Assumption, was done by Buzzini in 1728 after the rest of the church had been completed under' the Jagellon dynasty.
It was founded in 1382 by the Count of Oppele, whose courtiers two years later gave the famous icon to the church's Pauline mdnks.
Legend ascribes it to St: Luke, but the work actually belongs to the Hodegetria school of Constantinople. i'he most striking aspect of the picture, which portrays Our Lady with the Child Jesus on her left arm, are the darkened hands and faces. Yet the Madonna's countenance is clear enough for the eye, aided by a myriad of votive candles, to see two long scratches on her right cheek.
The icon was sought as booty in 1430 by Hussite soldiers, whose vain attempt to remove the 12-square-foot panel provoked one of them to slash at it with his sword. Blood is supposed to have flown from this face of painted limewood, though a more plausible "miracle" belongs to the time of Swedish wars.
In 1655 Czestochowa was the first place in Poland to resist King Charles Gustavus whose 10,000 men besieged the fortified monastery. The resistance of its 70 monks and 150 soldiers underPrior Kordecki was ascribed to the icon's powers and this inspired the, entire nation to drive the Lutheran invaders out!
Enthroned above an oaken altar, most of the painting— once studded with gems—is now draped in a bejewelled blue mantle for the Madonna and an equally ornate red robe for the Infant. This custom dates from the 17th century and the latest vestments came with the millennium of Polish nationhood and Christianity in recent years. One crown was donated by Clement XI in 1717 and the other by Pius X in 1910.
There are gifts from Pope John XXIII in the treasury, which is one of the richest in Poland. But it also displays pathetically improvised Mass utensils from Auschwitz. Also worth seeing at Jasna Gora are the 11,000 books in the library, whose frescoes date from the XVII century, and the murals of 1670 in the vaulted refectory as well as the scenes from Polish history in the Hall of Knights.