Secrets of the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa – part 1

Secrets of the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa – part 1

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit it every year. Although it seems well known, it hides puzzles that have not been solved to this day. The most famous image in Poland is a Byzantine icon, painted with tempera on a linden board, measuring approximately 122.2 cm x 82.2 cm x 3.5 cm. Despite numerous studies, the author of the work, place, and date of creation could not be determined. The fact that the picture has been repainted several times makes the analysis difficult. Some specialists believe that the work was created in Byzantium. Others believe that the image was created in the Rus, the Balkans or Italy, which at the beginning of the Middle Ages was influenced by Byzantine art.

 

Legend of the Miraculous Image 

According to Western tradition, the image of Our Lady of Jasna Góra was painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist – in the house of Mary in Jerusalem, on the board of the table at which the Blessed Family prayed and ate meals. St. Luke was to make two paintings of the Mother of God, one of which arrived in Italy and is still worshiped in Bologna, while the other was transported by Emperor Constantine the Great from Jerusalem to Constantinople and placed in the local temple there.

However, according to Eastern tradition, the image could have been created in Jerusalem, in a place called the Upper Room, associated with the Last Supper. In 66-67 AD, during the Jewish War, the image of the Mother of God together with other sacrednesses was to be hidden from Romans in a cave in the city of Pella. Six centuries later, while serving in the imperial army,Ruthenian Prince Lew, captivated by the beauty of the picture, wanted to transfer it to Ruthenia. At the insistence of the Prince, the Emperor gave him the miraculous image and, since then, the image was surrounded by great reverence in the Rus.

Then, during the battles led by Casimir The Great and Louis The Hungarian in Rus, the picture was hidden in the castle in Belz. In 1382 prince Władysław Opolczyk found it there. Having received the grace of armed victory over the enemy, the Prince took the picture and brought it to Częstochowa, where he gave it to the Pauline people. Such a story of the image of Our Lady of Jasna Góra is provided by the oldest manuscript “Translatio tabulae”, of which a copy from 1474 is kept in the Jasna Góra archive.

Historical and Scientific Facts 

Woodcut showing the assault on the monastery of Jasna Góra and cutting of the miraculous image in 1430.

Research indicates the possibility of the Byzantine origin of the image – from the period between the VI and IX centuries. The date of offering to the Jasna Góra monastery is 1384, given by Petrus Risinius in the work “Historia pulchra et stupendis miraculis referta Imaginis Mariae.” The first Polish message about the history of Our Lady of Częstochowa we owe to Jan Długosz. It does not specify when the miraculous image was imported, but presents an extensive account of the destruction of it by the Hussites during the iconoclastic assault on the monastery on April 16, 1430. The chronicler informs that the picture was torn out of the altar, carried out in front of the chapel and chopped with sabres, and finally pierced with a sword and abandoned near the church of St. Barbara. The heavily damaged painting was transported to Krakow and placed in the town hall, then King Władysław Jagiełło ordered its repair. A similar account is given by Mikołaj Lanckoroński in his work entitled “History venerande imaginis Beatae Mariae Virginis quae in Claro Monte in magna veneratione habetur.”

King Władysław Jagiełło, drawing by Jan Matejko

Painters brought by the king tried to restore the icon to its original state. They laid paint using the tempera technique, which the old image did not accept. They did not know about the old encaustic technique used in old Christian and Byzantine paintings, which is how the original icon was made. The work could take up to two years. Ultimately artists left traces of wounds inflicted on the Mother of God. They also preserved a linden board on which the original was painted. However, the garments were changed. Lilies were painted – a symbol of purity, innocence and infinite beauty. Lilies on Mary’s mantle also refer to the Coat of Arms of the Andegawen family, from which Saint Queen Jadwiga came from. Probably at that time, the Book of the Gospel was added to the Infant.

King Władysław Jagiełło was the first to award the crowns. He also offered, preserved until today, silver and gold sheets that covered both the background and the circular nimbus surrounding the heads of Mary and the Child (nimbus is a luminous wrap around the presented figure, while the halo is a line around the nimbus). Nimbus decorated the frieze with radiant glory – from a characteristic number of 56 rays in the halo of Mary (corresponding to the traditional earthly life of the Mother of God) and 33 in the halo of the Infant (years of earthly life of the Christ). The background of the upper part of the picture was filled with four sheets, depicting scenes: Annunciation and Adoration of the Child and two passion scenes: Whipping and Mocking of the martyred Christ. Such adornment of the image was made to the shape of Byzantine basma, looted during the Hussite attack.

The research of Prof. Rudolf Kozłowski shows that from the original image only the canvas board and small fragments of the painting survived while the majority of the icon is an exact reproduction of an earlier original made during renovation in the years 1430-1434.

 

by Tomasz Niemas

translated by Filip Szary

Article in Polish HERE

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