This is translated from Polish that appeared on a now-deleted page on jasnagora.pl that can be accessed via web.archive.org and titled ‘Cudowny Obraz Matki Bożej Jasnogórskiej’
The greatest treasure of Jasna Góra is the Miraculous Picture of Our Lady. Thanks to it, Jasna Góra became in the 15th century one of the most significant Marian sanctuaries in Poland. Neither the legend, which attributes the authorship of the Icon to St. Luke the Evangelist, nor the patronage of the royal couple of Jadwiga and Władysław Jagiełło explains why it happened. The reason for the uniqueness of that place must be more profound. Still, it must be emphasised that no Marian apparitions were ever recorded at Jasna Góra as in other sanctuaries. The power and the mystery that attracts pilgrims to the feet of Our Lady of Jasna Góra is Her Miraculous Image. Without it, Jasna Góra would be only a collection of buildings, souvenirs and works of art, maybe beautiful and rich but a dead museum.
Jan Długosz gives the oldest description of the Image of the Mother of God in his Liber Beneficiorum: “An image of Mary Most Glorious and Most Gracious Virgin and Lady, Queen of the World and Our Queen (…) made in a strange and rare style of painting (…) with a superb expression of face, which pervades those who look at it with a special devotion – as if you were looking at a living face”. The painting belongs to the type of representations called Hodogetria. The name means “she who guides”. It shows Mary as the Mother of God, but also the Mother of every man.
We do not have certain and strictly historical information about the beginning of the Picture and its history up to 1382 – only tradition and various pious legends. According to tradition, the Picture of Our Lady of Jasna Góra was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist while the Blessed Virgin was still alive. The same tradition even states that he painted the Picture on the top of the table used by the Holy Family in Nazareth.
In the 4th century, St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, is said to have brought this Image with her to Constantinople. There it was held in great veneration and was a help in times of great misfortune, such as contagious diseases, epidemics, etc. Then, around the 9th or 10th century, the Icon travelled to the north, where it finally came to rest permanently in Belz castle, northeast of Lviv in Red Ruthenia.
In 1382 Wladyslaw, the Prince of Opole ruled in Rus on behalf of King Louis of Hungary. The prince wanted to protect the Icon against possible desecration by pagan Tatars (once, during the siege of Belzec castle, a Tatar arrow falling through the window of the chapel hit the neck of the Mother of God), decided to transport the Icon to Opole in Silesia. While on his way, he stopped for a short rest in Czestochowa at the foot of the church at Jasna Góra. The Mother of God was to let him know Her will that She wanted to stay there. So Opolczyk left the picture on Jasna Góra, giving it to the care of the white Pauline Fathers brought from Hungary in 1382.
Pieces from the History of the Miraculous Picture of Our Lady of Jasna Góra
The picture is painted on three linden boards of total dimensions: height 121.8 cm, width 81.3 cm, and maximum thickness 3.5 cm. It depicts a half-figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary standing with the Infant Jesus in her arms. Mary faces the viewer, while the Infant’s face is turned towards the viewer, although he does not stop to look at him. Both faces are united by an expression of thoughtfulness as if a certain absence and solemnity. The right cheek of the Mother of God is marked with two parallel running lines, crossed with the third on the line of the nose. There are six cuts on her neck, two of which are quite visible, while the remaining four are less visible. The Infant, clad in a carmine-coloured robe, rests on Mary’s left arm, holding a book in his left hand and raising his right hand in the characteristic gesture of a teacher, ruler, or blessing. Mary’s right hand rests on her breast, pointing to Jesus, the world’s only Saviour. Our Lady’s blue robe and cloak are decorated with golden lilies of the Anjou dynasty. Above the forehead of the Virgin, there is a six-pointed star. The image of the Mother of God is painted on a background of blue-green colour, which changes into the shade of the sea wave. The dominant element of the Icon is the gilded halos around the heads of Mary and Jesus – the symbol of God the Father, which merge into one composition, forming a distinctive detail, contrasting with the dark complexion of the faces of the saints. Hence, sometimes the Mother of God is called the “Black Madonna”.
In 1430 at Jasna Góra, costly votive offerings were robbed from the chapel, and the Miraculous Picture was damaged. After the robbery, the Picture was cut with a sabre and broken. According to the tradition, it was found where St. Barbara’s Church with the Miraculous Spring stands today, not far from Jasna Góra. The Pauline Fathers brought the damaged Picture to Krakow, to the court of King Władysław Jagiełło, who, together with his wife St Jadwiga, founded the oldest part of the chapel of Our Lady at Jasna Góra.
King Władysław Jagiełło himself took charge of the restoration of the Picture. There were many difficulties connected with the painting technique of the Icon of Jasna Góra. It was probably so damaged that it was decided to put new canvases on the boards, which had been regarded as relics and to repaint the Image according to the drawing seen on the old damaged canvases, pieces of which were left under the new ones. A permanent trace of the destruction of the image in 1430 is the scars on the face of the Mother of God.
The characteristic feature by which everyone recognises the Icon of Jasna Góra is the scars on the face of Our Lady. The Icon of Jasna Góra bears the marks of wounds and pain. There are many of these wounds and cuts on the Picture (on the neck, face and two under the right eye). It is as if Our Lady wanted to tell us that she is the Mother and the Queen of our tormented and afflicted Nation. As the seven swords of sorrow pierced Her heart under the Cross, so now the signs of sorrowful wounds she bears on Her Jasna Góra Face.
On the left side of the image are the insignia of Our Lady, Queen of Poland, a sceptre and an apple, made in 1926 from the foundation of Polish women by the Warsaw firm of “Lopienski Brothers”. On the right side of the image are a golden rose and a golden votive offering in the shape of a heart with the inscription “TOTUS TUUS” – given by the Holy Father John Paul II in 1979 and 1982.
An unusual and shocking votive offering left by St. Pope John Paul II, now displayed in a special case on Our Lady’s altar, is the belt of his cassock, shot through and bloodied during the assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.
A silver panel covers the image of the Mother of God from 1723 with an allegorical composition referring to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A bordure surrounds the veil from 1763, which was a donation of the Dzialynski family. From the very beginning, the painting of Jasna Góra was famous for its miracles, which made the Marian sanctuary in Czestochowa famous and brought pilgrims from all over Poland and, in the following centuries, from more distant European countries to come to Jasna Góra. Jan Długosz, who died in 1480, wrote: “From all over Poland and the neighbouring countries, namely from Silesia, Moravia, Prussia and Hungary, pious people gathered for the feast of the Holy Virgin Mary, whose rare and devout image is to be found here, to witness the astonishing miracles brought about by our Lady and Advocate”. Numerous votive offerings to Our Lady were a sign of the pilgrims’ faith. Even today, their value should be defined first and foremost by their pure and noble intention and not by their cost or the person of their donor.