By Joyce Manowska
WHAT is the story behind that beautifut shrine a Our Lady in
Brompton Oratory, where so many of London's Polish community go to worship? It is a story so remarkable, in its evidence of faith and courage, and devotion to the Blessed Mother, as to equal that of Adam Kossowski, whom she brought out of loathesome confinement to make the ceramics for Aylesford; as wonderful in its way, as the time when King Ladislaus brought the famous Black Madonna picture from BeIz in Russia to his home town of Opala in Silesia, and the picture chose its own permanent resting place at Czestochowa on the way.
When Russia invaded Poland in 1939, several Polish army officers and others were captured, and taken to the little town of Kozielsk, which was thus turned into a concentration camp. Here they lived and worked, and from here they were taken out, in batches, into the woods to be shot —those terrible massacres whose grim secret was laid bare by the discovery of the mass graves many svars later.
VAR from home and hope of deliverance, these Polish prisoners. among whom were some members of a very active Catholic Action group, kept alive within themselves their hereditary faith in, and devotion to, the Blessed Mother of God, and with the passing of time, decided that they must have a Likeness of her to lighten their darkness.
At first neither artist nor materials seemed to be forth coming, and then the near-miracle, the comforting evidence of their Mother's w at chf ul solicitude, occurred.
On the wall of an old building which the officers had been set to clean out, and which must once have been used as an Orthodox church, a fresco of Our Lady came to light.
Soon, everything else needful came to light as well. A broken board, which, when mended, made an excellent background; paints and brushes. distributed among inexplicably-eager volunteers to build a camp cinema.
Last hut not least, a man, a very uncongenial fellow-prisoner who had hitherto held himself aloof and appeared to have Communistic leanings, suddenly revealed himself as an artist, as having the necessary materials with him— and. as being absolutely determined to tackle the job.
I N the end, two images of Our Lady of Kozielsk were made, and smuggled at different times out of that unhappy place.
Colonel Kosiba took one of them with him when he went to join the Polish Second Corps in Italy, and it is that very one which now stands, among such splendour and adulation, in the Brompton Oratory.
The other Our Lady of Kozieisk, hardly distinguishable in design and treatment, had an even more devious journey.
Through the hands of one officer after another, she travelled first to Northern Siberia, and then to the Middle East, Italy, England, and finally to the Polish Hospital in Wales.
It is this copy which now has a roving commission, to visit in turn all the Polish parishes and communities in Great Britain, to remind them of the courage and steadfastness of a handful of Polish officers in hazard, and of the unfailing love of the Mother of God who watches over them.