On the limehills extending from Krakow to Wielun ("land
of the eagle's nest") on the River Warta, rises the city of
Czestochowa, the capital of the province of the same name. It is
believed that the name of the city derives from its founder, a Slav
called Czestoch. In 13th century documents, it is mentioned as a
village of horsemen called Czestochowa and at the end of the 14th
century, it received its charter.
In the western part of the city, known as "old
Czestochowa" in the 14th century, a 293-metre high hill was handed over
to the Pauline Monks from Hungary in 1382. A sanctuary and monastery
were built on the site, surrounded by a wall and garden and it bore the
name Jasna Góra (Bright Hill). The name was taken from that of their
Mother House at Buda, St. Lawrence in Claro Monte Budensi.
The Pauline Monks belonged to the Order of St. Paul the
First Hermit, founded at the beginning of the 13th century in Hungary
in the wake of the great Hermit movement that swept Europe between the
12th and 13 th centuries. The Order's founder, the Blessed Eusebius,
Canon of Esztergom, founded the first community of Paulines by uniting
all the hermits who lived in the forests of Hungary and Croatia. They
modelled their monastic life on St. Paul of Thebes, the First Hermit,
as their Patriatch.
Born in Thebes probably in the year 230, Paul fled into
the surrounding desert when he was only 16 years old during the
persecutions of Decian. According to the tradition passed down from St.
Jerome, he lived in the desert for 90 years on a diet of bread, brought
to him by a raven. St. Jerome tells us that at the end of his life, St
Anthony, abbot had sought him out and, according to legend, buried
Paul's body in a grave dug by two lions. This is why the symbol of the
Order of the Pauline Monks shows a palm tree, two lions and a raven
with in its beak. It was Prince Ladislaus of Opole, the plenipotentiary
of King Louis of Hungary for Polish territory between 1367 and 1372 who
summoned the Pauline Monks to Poland. They arrived given a small church
where they kept which the Miraculous Painting of Our Lady which the
Prince had brought from the city of Belz in Ukraine.
There are two version of the history of the Jasna Gora
painting. There is a traditional version, steeped in legend and an
historical one, reconstructed by art critics whose attention was drawn
to this extraordinary image and its origins.
According to the traditional version, the painting was
created by St. Luke the Evangelist on a table top from the house of the
Holy Family. St. Luke was said to have painted two images of Mary, one
of which found its way to Italy and was kept in Bologna where it is
still venerated. The other was said to have been removed from Jerusalem
and brought to Constantinopole by the Emperor Constantine and placed in
a church. Six centuries later, the Russian Prince Lev obtained the
painting from the emperor of the time in acknowledgement of his
During the wars in Rus, Prince Ladislaus of Opole found
the painting in the castle at Bełz and discovered it was being
venerated as if it were miraculous. After the victory over the Tatars,
he brought the painting to Czestochowa, entrusting it to Pauline Monks
for safekeeping. This information is contained in a manuscript - one of
the oldest - entitled "Translatio Tabulae", a copy of which, dated
1474, is conserved in the Jasna Góra archives.
According to art critics, the Jasna Góra painting was
originally a Byzantine icon (of the Hodigitria type), dating between
the sixth and ninth centuries.
The growing fame of the miraculous image of the Mother
of God meant that in a short time, the monastery became the site of
constant pilgrimages and the costodian of numerous, priceless votive
offerings. But, unfortunately, such valuable gifts led to greed. On
Easter Day April 14 1430, a gang of robbers from Bohemia, Moravia and
Silesia attacked the monastery.
They burst into the Chapel of the Mother of God and
grabbed the image from the altar. They then stole all the painting's
valuable gift offerings and disfigured it slashing it with their swords.
They threw the painting to the ground and it broke in
three places, according to the account of Piotr Risinus in the 1523
volume "Historia Pulchra".
The painting was restored at Kraków, at the court of King Ladislaus
Jagiełło. Restorers tried repeatedly to spread colour on the panel but
the shades kept vanishing. Today, it is known that in the Middle Ages,
restorers had difficulty working on an ancient icon because of the
application of tempera colours on an image obtained with shades diluted
with fused wax. Because the restoration operation was a total failure,
the restorers scraped away the ancient image and painted a completely
new one over the miraculous panel. They marked the sings of the
robbers' outrage on the face of the image with a pen, inmemory of the
After the painting's profanation and restoration, the
sanctuary's fame grew even more. There were more and more pilgrimages
to the site and soon the original gothic church proved too small to
cater for the vast numbers of faithful. So in the 1460s, building was
begun beside the Chapel to Our Lady on w new gothic church with three
In 1466, the monastery was attacked again, by the army
of the Bohemian King. These raids and the need for a protective bulwark
near the border with Silesia convinced King Ladislaus IV to erect a
wall round the monastery. Work was begun in 1638 transforming the Jasna
Góra sanctuary into a Marian Fortress - Fortalitium Marianum. But it
would not be put to the test again. At about 1655, a plan for attacking
Poland was devised and on July 21 that year, the Swedish Army marched
on the country. Warsaw, Poznań and Kraków soon fell. The Polish
nobility, divided by internecine disputes, refused to fight and the
whole country fell under Swedish dominion. On November 18, 1655,
General Muller's army of 3,000 men reached Jasna Góra demanding the
sanctuary's immediate surrender. Nevertheless, Jasna Góra's Prior,
Augustine Kordecki decided to defend the holy site. He could count on
170 soldiers, 20 noblemen and 70 monks, too few to stand up to the
3,000 Swedish invaders.
When the monks refused to surrender, the Swedish army
opened their attack which was to last 40 days but which would end in
victory for Mary's army. The victory secured by the tiny Jasna Góra
fortress, which General Muller scathingly called the "henhouse", proved
to be of great religious and political importance. The attack on Jasna
Góra was considered a violation of religious sentiments and political
importance. The attack on Jasna Góra was considered a violation of
religious sentiments and the victorious result was ascribed not to the
military skill of the soldiers nor to the solidity of the fortress but
to protection by the Mother of God herself, guardian of the site. After
the Jasna Góra victory, the whole country rose up against the Swedish
On April 1, 1656, in the cathedral of Lvov, King John
Casimirus solemnly pronounced his vow to consecrate the country to the
protection of the Mother of God and proclaimed Her the Patron and Queen
of the lands in his kingdom. the nation's destiny was entrusted to the
Most Blessed Virgin from that moment. Jasna Góra became a symbol of
religious and political liberty for the Polish people. But the
fortifications of the Marian bulwark would have to stave off more
attacks, in 1565, 1702, 1704 and 1705.
From 1711, Poland lived in relative peace. It was the
time to crown the Effigy to Our Lady. the faithful had been requesting
this for a long time and a crown had been placed on the image as far
back as the sanctuary's foundation according to lithographs of the 16th
On the occasion of the Apostolic Nuncio, Benedetto
Odescalchi, the Pauline monks made enquiries about organising the
crowning of the image. They had drawn favourable replies and formally
presented their request to the Vatican Chapter. In 1716, Pope Clement
XI signed the Act of Incoronation and it took place on September 8,
1717 in presence of about 200,000 faithful.
Halfway through the 18th century, the precarious
political system, the growing power and dominion of the Polish
aristocracy and misguided foreign policy led to the decline of the
republic. Neighbouring states - Russia and Prussia - took advantage and
on the pretext of protecting Poland, the army of the Russian Empress
Catherine II marched in. On January 29, 1768, a Confederation of Polish
aristocrats was formed to combat King Stanley Poniatowski who fostered
Russia's interests. Casimir Pułaski, one of the Confederation's
leaders, occupied the Jasna Góra fortress and for three years, he
defended it against Russian attacks. When the Confaderation disbanded
in September 1772, King Stanley Poniatowski ordered that the fortress
be handed over to the Russians. It was the first time an enemy army
ever penetrated the walls of Jasna Góra. Poland was partitioned a short
time afterwards. In 1795, Poland was partitioned for third time by
three inveders - the Austrians, the Prussians and the Russians - and
for over 120 years Poland was cancelled from the map of Europe.
During this unhappy period, Jasna Góra was a point of
reference for the divided nation. It made Poles aware that they were
sons of one land and inspired hope for liberty in their hearts. The
image of Our Lady thus became a pledge for a free Poland.
At the time of Napoleon I when Warsaw was a
principality, Jasna Góra became a military fortress for the last time.
It was called to defend the liberty of the Polish people who resisted a
series of attacks by enemy armies between 1806 and 1813.
When Napoleon fell, the Russian army again occupied the
fortress of Jasna Góra and the Tsar Aleksander I ordered that its walls
be demolished. It was only in 1843 by order of Tsar Nicholas I that the
walls were rebuilt, although to different plans.
By issuing such an order, the Tsar hoped that he would
appear tolerant and benevolent towards the Church in the eyes of all
Europe. But all three invaders feared Jasna Góra because of its special
role as defender of the faith and homeland. They therefore fobade
Polish people to make pilgrimages to Częstochowa and called Our Lady of
Jasna Góra "the biggest revolutionary of them all".
In such a climate, insurrecton came soon, in January
1863, with the aim of liberating Poland. The rebels carred banners
bearing the image of Our Lady of Jasna Góra but the insurrection was
repressed and the whole nation later suffered the consequences.
Many Pauline monks were also accused of collaborating
with the rebels and deported to Siberia. In 1864, Tsar Alexander II
ordered that the printing house, the pharmacy and all the religious
offices of Jasna Góra be closed. He stripped the monastery of its land
and set limits on the number of monks who could live there. Even the
right to retreat was repressed and the Czar's men harassed the monks
continually. On the night of September 22, 1909, the pearl vestment and
two gold crowns, which were papal gifts, were stolen from the
Miraculous Painting. When Pope Pius X heard about the theft he offered
two new crowns to the Jasna Góra painting. The new incoronation took
place on May 22, 1910 and although the partition of Poland was again
under way, it was celebrated amid the same splendour as the 1717
Jasna Góra emerged unscathed from World War I and from
then until World War II, it would again be the focal point of important
historical events. On July 27, 1920 with the Russian Bolshevik scourge
close at hand, the Polish Episcopate met at Jasna Góra and again
proclaimed Mary, Queen of Poland. When the Red Army reached Warsaw,
thousands of Poles travelled to Jasna Góra to their Queen to beg her
for victory, which duly came on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption.
This victory, called the "miracle of the Vistula" was attributed to Our
Lady's intercession. In 1932, the 550th anniversary of the transfer of
the Effigy of Mary from Bełz to Jasna Góra was celebrated. That year,
750,000 pilgrims travelled t the sanctuary. In May 1936, 20,000 Polish
students consecrated their lives to Mary vowing to build with Her a new
Poland. In August the same year, the first plenary synod of the Polish
Episcopate met at Jasna Góra. With the start of World War II, the whole
country was put to a bitter test and Jasna Góra was no exception.
Part of the monastery was invaded by Nazi troops who
remained there until January 16, 1945. Although organised pilgrimages
were prohibited, those who managed to reach the sanctuary were
comforted by messages of hope from the pulpit. At Jasna Góra,
partisans, prisoners and Jews found succour.
On January 16, 1945 while monks were secretly holding
lessons for young people, the sanctuary was suddenly attacked by the
Red Army. The Germans who had taken possession of the sanctuary
panicked and fled. They had had no time to spirit its treasures away or
destroy the monastery.
After the War, Jasna Gora was once more the nation's
spiritual capital. In September 1946 before half a million faithful,
the then Polish Primate August Hlond censecrated Poland to Mary's
In 1948 when Communist ideology threatened, the
Primate's message on his death-bed would prove to be prophetic.
"Victory when it comes, will be a victory of the Most Blessed Mother",
was the message which would be the ingeritance of the new Primate,
Jailed by Communists in a Stalinist prison, Cardinal
Wyszyński would draw inspiration from the gesture of King John
Casimirus and composed a prayer to the Virgin in which he expressed his
gratitude for all the grace received. He incorporated a prayer for a
free Poland and an immaculate life in thanks for liberty. On August 26,
1956 the 300th anniversary of King John Casimir's vow, the cardinal's
prayer was read publicly for the first time, at Jasna Góra before a
milion faithful. Cardinal Wyszynski, who was in jail at that time, was
finally released on October 26.
In 1957, Pope Pius XII blessed a copy of the Jasna Gora
effigy that to be taken from parish to parish throughout the nation. It
travelled the country for 25 years and was to bring about numerous
conversions. On May 3, 1966, the occasion of the millenium of Poland's
conversion to Christianity, the whole Polish Episcopate ratified the
Act of the Consecration of Poland "In Service to Mary, Mother of the
Church, for the Liberty of the Church of Christ". Pope Paul VI
expressed his desire to visit Jasna Góra on the occasion of this Act to
honour the sanctuary with the gift of golden rose. But the Communist
regime would not allow it.
One June 4, 1979, the first Polish Pope, John Paul II,
visited Jasna Gora and began his pilgrimage with these words: "Mary's
will is being fulfilled. Here I am... I have come and I recall an old
song of the Bar confederates: "We are servants of Christ, sevants of
Mary..." The servant called from this land, summoned from the foot of
Jasna Gora where I used to stop like you do and where I used to kneel
on the bare ground like you often do for hours and hours ..." During
his three-day visit, the Pope encoutered three and a half milion
faithful. John Paul II declared the faith of the Universal Church, of
his homeland, of all mankind and of himself in the Virgin and
proclaimed: " Mother, I am yuors and all that I have is yours". He made
on offering of a golden rose and set it on the altar of the Mother of
The sanctuary celebrated its 600th anniversary in 1982
although on December 13, 1981, relations between the government and the
population worsened after the Communists declared a state of nartial
law. This meant the Holy Father could not be present at the Jubilee
Year and he would not return until June the next year. It was a visit
that brought hope and comfort to the Polish people in their struggle
for freedom. Jasna Góra would host the Pope a third time, in 1987 on
the occasion of the Polish Eucharistic Congress.
The Holy Father often prayed that the precarious
politico-economic situation in Poland would not dampen the people's
hopes for a better future. The Polish people's faith in the
intercession of Virgin of Jasna Góra has continued to find expression
in the increasing number of pilgrims to the sanctuary. In the past few
years, over four million pilgrims have travelled to Jasna Góra, about
350,000 of them on foot.
The last decade bears witness to the Polish people's
deepending devotion for Jasna Góra. The failure and fall of Communnism
called the "new miracle of the Vistula", were planned in prayer before
the face of Our Lady. For the faithful who strive to put Mary's
testament into practice. "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it" (John
2:5), Mary is the protagonist of Poland's revolution of love. Thanks to
her presence and her maternal intercession, Christ lives in history.
The Jasna Góra sanctuary, situated on a plain, its
belltower dominating the city of Czestochowa, is visible form tens of
kilometers away. It occupies an area of five hectares. A park surrounds
the monastery on three sides while the fourth opens onto a large square
for crowds of pilgrims at major liturgical functions. A public park
extends from the square down the valley to the city forming a natural
barrier to preserve the spiritual, prayerful atmosphere of the
sanctuary. The Jasna Góra complex was built over five centuries but is
The walls of the fortress ensure the safekeeping of the
treasures of faith and Polish culture conserved in the Jasna Góra
monastery. Four doors, built between the 17th and 19th centuries,
provide access to the monastery proper. The central part of the
buildings is the oldest and others were built around it down the
centuries in a type of circle.
The Chapel of the Virgin (between the 17th and 20 th
centuries), the Basilica (between the 15th and 17th centuries) and the
Cenacle (20th century) from the heart of the monastery.
Beside the holy site are the so-called King's Chambers
(17th century), the royal apartament for monarchs on pilgrimages to the
The monastery comprises two square buildings (15th and
17th century) interconnected by a 17th century wing, which hosts priest
on pilgrimages today, and the old arsenal (17th century).
fortress' walls, are the splendid and modern
Stations of the Cross.