Wounds on the face of Our Lady of Jasna Góra

Black Madonna Icon Faces

This is translated from Polish that appeared on jasnagora.com and titled ‘Rany na Obliczu Matki Bożej Jasnogórskiej’

Visible features in the representation of Mary’s face. Painting, tempera on board, 15th century, Pauline Monastery of Jasna Gora.

The painting of Our Lady of Jasna Gora presents in its subject matter one of the fundamental truths of the Catholic faith, namely the Divine Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus Christ in the form of the Child as God-Man is in his Mother’s arms, positioned according to the basic requirements of iconographic painting. It is thus a painted record from which we read the truth of faith about God’s exaltation of Mary in the saving work of Redemption.

The Second Vatican Council explains this mystery as follows: “Mary, by the grace of God, exalted after the Son above all angels and men, as the most holy Mother of God who participated in the mysteries of Christ, rightly receives special veneration from the Church. Since ancient times, the Blessed Virgin has been venerated under the honoured name of the Mother of God (…), especially since the Council of Ephesus (431)”.

Although the Icon of Jasna Gora is a synthetic transmission of biblical and theological truths, what strikes us above all is the prominence of Mary’s figure, with her Face particularly prominent. Our Lady’s face is the dominant pictorial motif. This significant moment was pointed out by Jan Długosz, who wrote at the end of the 15th century, among other things: “The (Jasna Gora) Monastery also has a brick chapel on the north side, in which there is an Image of the Glorious and Only Virgin Mary, Lady – Queen of us and the World, made with an extraordinary and rare painting technique having a pleasing appearance from whichever side you look (…). It fills you with reverence as if you were looking at it alive”. The aesthetic-religious experience, so strongly emphasised by Jan Długosz, is essential in prayerful contact with the Icon of Our Lady of Jasna Góra. This image, marked by a gentle austerity and a sublime tone of balanced asceticism with its maternal goodness, and at the same time lingering as if waiting, with a unique power arrest the attention of the person looking and, as it were, enslaves him to concentration and contemplation.

The painter, whose name is unknown, has depicted in this Face what is purest and most sublime in man – his spiritual reality and inner beauty. At the same time, the iconographer also revealed in this Face what is closest and most personal to every human being. From this Face, together with kindness, gentleness and sorrow, emanates suffering, marked by a profound acceptance of the glorious Cross, glorified for us in Jesus Christ, who ‘was delivered for our sins and rose again for our justification’ (Rom 4.25). Mary’s gaze penetrates and seems to touch the essence of the unfathomable mystery of pain. The source of that pain is her Divine Maternity, finalised by her participation in the Passion and death of her own Son on Calvary. So succinctly described by John the Evangelist: “And standing beside the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister Mary Cleophas and Mary Magdalene” (Jn 19,25nn).

This painful expression, discreetly ‘noted’ by the painter-iconographer on Jasna Gora’s Face of Mary, is further emphasised by the sword cut marks. They intensify the expression and raise questions about the meaning and significance of these unusual scars and their origin. It must be explained that these cuts are painted, gouged with a special stylus and filled with dark red dye. They commemorate a robbery attack on Jasna Góra in 1430. During the restoration of the Picture in Krakow in 1434, they were exposed in this way for unknown reasons. There are theories related to the circle of legends according to which the injury marks on the Holy Images belong to an intrinsic iconographic tradition.

Ten of these sword marks are painted on the Face of Our Lady of Jasna Gora. There are six on the neck, two of which are well visible, the other four much less so, while the three major scars are clearly visible on Mary’s right cheek. Two run parallel, extending towards the neck, and the third runs along the nose line, crossing it transversely. The cuts on the neck and the two long lines of scars from the cheek in their final section are hardly visible, as the decorative votive elements of the so-called dresses of Mary and the Child Jesus partially obscure them. It is understandable, therefore, that many people do not know about them. Hence, a kind of ‘discovery’ has been made recently about the long scars on the Face of Our Lady of Jasna Gora. This is unsubstantiated, frivolous and bordering on morbid manifestations of sowing confusion and unrest, most likely serving to ridicule Marian devotion in Poland and elsewhere.

The Image is under the constant control of a high-class specialist, a formed Commission, which has found no such phenomena or changes in the Jasna Gora Image. Therefore, it is regrettable that we naively and easily give in to many such absurd and ridiculous suggestions.

 The scars on the Face of Our Lady of Jasna Gora have for centuries been an inseparable sign and symbol of the mystery of the Cross and suffering. In the consciousness of Poles, these scars identify with the Image of the Queen of Poland. They are an integral part of it. They identify with it. It is a matter too profound and holiness too high to become an object of manipulation and ridicule. At times of particular hardship for the nation, these signs of suffering and redemption have inspired hope for survival and have become a help.

In recent times there have also appeared various artistic and painted compositions in which are situated the Picture, or the very face of Our Lady of Jasna Gora against the background of the borders of Poland, served to extend these cuts from the Face to the whole country. Perhaps such compositions contributed to the spreading of rumours that the wounds in the Jasna Gora Picture were elongated, thus creating confusion in the minds of believers.

Let us conclude by listening to one of the most beautiful poetic interpretations that have survived, namely Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska’s two-profile piece entitled ‘Black Portrait’. ‘Black Portrait’:

Madonna of ebony with two scars on her face! 
Thy face is glowing,
Hatefully cut.
And no heart of gold, silver, platinum,
Alive or made of precious stones,
Will soothe, quiet the wonder
That shimmers in Thy eyes.

Father Stefan Rożej, Pauline Fathers, Cracow

The above text was delivered on Vatican Radio on 18 September 1986 and published in the monthly magazine Jasna Góra. Year V. No. 2(40), February 1987, p. 9n.

“Blinds” of the Jasna Mountain Madonna


She let me touch
with my fingers
Two heart-shaped scars on her face

Anna Kamienska

“Scars” visible on the face of the Jasna Gora image of the Mother of God often become a unique motif of religious experience in moments of encounter with the miraculous image. An undoubted reflection of such situations are poetic works for which this motif is sometimes a source of inspiration. The anthology of poetry dedicated to Our Lady of Jasna Gora, compiled by Fr. Stefan Jan Rożej, OSPPE, provides eloquent examples of associating personal or national dramas with the ‘scars’ of the Madonna of Częstochowa. However, considering their reminiscences in poetic works may seem inadequate as an introduction to an essentially technical study. Therefore, it should be made clear that a reading of the mentioned anthology inspires it and that the introduction is intended to consciously emphasise the importance of the issue raised and the unique sensitivity of the range of feelings accompanying them.

The motif of ‘scars’ is intertwined with suffering, usually experienced in its tragic human dimension. But, unfortunately, history has not spared us any possible experiences; the most common is the soldier’s plight.

I offer the bloody soldier’s wounds
to the scars on your face,
shot with bullets, cut with a sabre
Standing boldly
before you for
Thou art also wounded…

The pain that is the essence of the quoted fragment of Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna’s poem can become, as in the words of Wojciech Żukrowski, the expression of a soldier’s glory:

Behold, a line of scars glows on your bloodied cheek,
and with what pride you bear the marks of madness and the slashing,
Mother of the brave, …

Scars are associated with martyrdom and struggle – two intrinsic attributes of our history. It is for this reason that this type of association occurs most often in works where religious experience reaches into our fate and history. However, it does not always touch the strings of heroism; it also usually stops at reflection, for example, as S. Pius Trzebinska does:

You don’t talk about
what hurts,
but in the heart
feels bitter.
Just like the wounds
on your cheeks
forever bound
with Thy image.

The above-quoted excerpts from the poem emphatically testify to the exceptional significance that these few scratches on the cheek of Our Lady of Jasna Góra have in the consciousness of Poles. The powerful charge of emotions released by the contemplation of Mary’s wounded face has also inspired artists beyond poetry, finding expression in art and music. The contemplation of this bizarre combination of art and history (which cannot be unambiguously verified in artistic or historical terms) was often accompanied by emotions. Emotions that became a source of new strength, enabling the whole nation to survive historical cataclysms and individuals to survive their tragedies. Therefore, it is understandable that the ‘scars’ of the Jasna Gora Madonna, this document of the violence inflicted on national sanctity, occupy an influential place in the social consciousness outside the sphere of creative activities. For this reason, the nature of the cuts and how they are inflicted are important, for the authenticity of the object of veneration is not indifferent to emotional involvement.

There is great interest in the current state of the ‘scars’. A series of enquiries have been made to the Conservation Commission (which has direct access to the Jasna Góra image) as to whether they are undergoing changes that might give the impression of elongation. The answer is unequivocal. Nothing of the sort is happening on the surface of the image that would alter the ‘scars’ in the slightest. The differences observed may be due to subtle changes in the lighting directed at a slightly different angle on the irregularities of the painting’s surface or to its cleaning after a prolonged period of dust and dirt settling. Such cleaning increases the legibility of the whole image, and thus also of the four ‘scars’, which become slightly more apparent and visible. This is especially true of the two shorter incisions, crossing in the dark parts of the neck the other, longer ones, going from the middle of the nose obliquely down to the Madonna’s robes.

It should be noted here that the ‘scars’ were never fully visible along their entire length. Their legibility is given by highlighting them with red running only through the cheek and neck. Left unpainted, below these fragments of the complexion, they follow, however, further; they cross the galloon (lace) below the neck and onto the mantle and, turning slightly to the left (from the viewer), they break off at the border of the loss of the former paint. This defect, later filled in, was created along the joint between the boards of the ground broken into three parts during the attack on Jasna Góra in 1430. The unpainted fragments indicate the earlier occurrence of the “scars”, regardless of the decision to emphasise them later with red, which (apart from the robes) was introduced only on the cut complexion to emphasise with the colour of blood the drama of the sacrilege performed. Highlighting this fact is critical to clarify the situation in which the “scars” were created, as several years ago, the credibility of the traditional account of the damage to the image of the Jasna Gora, which, according to Dlugosz, occurred during the attack on the monastery in 1430, was questioned. Leaving aside the details, the new version of the origins of the ‘scars’ assumed that they were the result of an intentional scratch, made by the artist or restorer, on the previously painted face of the Mother of God, which was supposed to make it resemble an earlier, currently still unidentified original, which also had some ‘scars’. This may have been inspired by the legends of miraculous wounded images popular in the Middle Ages, dating back to the iconoclastic period. Proof of the above claim is to be found in the information contained in the oldest (pre-1430) text on the miraculous image (‘Translatio Tabulae…’), where reference is made to an earlier injury to it. In light of this document, Dlugosz’s version would only constitute a deliberate manipulation of the facts to update the earlier sacrilege and shift responsibility to his contemporary Hussite robbers.

Leaving aside a whole series of objections of a technical nature, questioning the possibility of the scars being made in the manner described above by a medieval painter obliged to observe the workshop canons rigorously, it is worth returning to the aforementioned incompatible length of the cuts on Our Lady’s cheek with the emphasis made in red. Had they been made not spontaneously, during the assault, but fully consciously, their length would have corresponded to the intended colour version, not to mention the completely different character of the line. On the whole, the sense of the scratches later covered up by the paint job, which could have been done without them if only to accentuate the legend, is objectionable. In addition to the “scars”, the surface of the oldest parts of the painting contained a further 25 different types of scratches and incisions as evidence of the robbery. The number mentioned refers only to those best visible in the X-ray. In reality, it is much higher. All these damages, like the cuts on the cheek, are of a spontaneous nature, and this spontaneity is entirely incompatible with a creative act, especially one conceived in a medieval manner; instead, it falls wholly into the categories of vandalism, analogous examples of which to works of art can, unfortunately, easily be found.

Given the situation in which the “scars” were created, one cannot completely exclude the possibility of an accidental scratch on the face of the Mother of God during the robbery of the silver plates decorating the painting. From the nature of the cuts, however, it can be concluded that they were an act of hatred and were deliberately inflicted with light and sharp weapons, as their form suggests, and not with a sword, as Dlugosz’s account incorrectly translates. Even later, when the ground, which had been broken into three parts, was glued together and the painting was restored, retouching its numerous scratches, the cuts on the face were left as a memento and document of the sacrilege which had occurred, intensifying their visual effect by emphasising them with the colour of blood. The source of this decision to preserve the authentic trace of the iconoclastic blow – is to be found in the old legends about wounded miraculous images.

In doing so, the threads of image damage from the two different transmissions should not be combined: “Translatio Tabulae …” and Długosz’s record of 1430, for they discuss two entirely separate matters: the stabbing of the image with a Tartar arrow and the cutting of Mary’s face with a blade. The separation of these two oldest pieces of information is confirmed by subsequent accounts, which mention and describe two different cases of damage separately. The matter of the miraculous image itself confirms all these descriptions. In addition to the already discussed cuts on the face of the Mother of God, on her neck, on the right (from the viewer) side, there is a rather extensive cavity and depression, which may correspond to the oldest information (“Translatio Tabulae…”) about the arrow, also confirmed by later accounts. According to this information, the place where the arrow was stuck, Władysław Opolczyk, “… had it joined and pressed with plates of ornamental gold and precious stones…”. There are no traces of such decoration on the Madonna’s cheek, which excludes her face from the arrow story. On the neck, such decoration, especially in the gallon part, could have been made. The large loss of the former painting in this place is probably a remnant of the pulling out of the expensive stones in 1430. It is worth emphasising that the ‘joining of the wound inflicted on the image’, performed on the order of Władysław Opolczyk, should be considered the oldest conservation treatment documented in the history of the Jasna Gora Madonna, still in the 14th century, as it was performed before the arrival of the image to Jasna Gora in 1382. It is highly probable that the use of “golden plates” during this procedure – laminis aurea, is simply the simple supplementing with gold flakes of the damaged gilded galloon on the neck of the Mother of God, where there are the already mentioned traces of defects and repairs.

The damage to the painting, and perhaps even more so the fact that the damaged area was decorated, supports the thesis that the image arrived in Częstochowa already with the idea of being ‘wounded’. The existence of old legends mentioning such facts was, therefore, rather known in the circle of people interested in creating the sanctuary at Jasna Gora. Their knowledge and proper evaluation were no less than half a century later when in 1430, the monastery was attacked, the miraculous image robbed and broken, and Mary’s cheek cut. No wonder, then, that the reaction to this sacrilege was a very rational change from the old, martyrological attribute with which the image appeared in Czestochowa, not a fresh one, absolutely true and timely in the age of Hussiteism. Besides, the load of drama contained in the act of direct assault and deliberate infliction of a blow was incomparably more significant than an accidental stabbing with an arrow. This is probably why the cuts, emphasised during the restoration by the colour of blood, completely dominated the former “wounding” of the neck, which, incidentally, was deprived of the precious stones from the ornament of Władysław Opolczyk during the robbery. The memory of the arrow slowly faded. It was preserved only by subsequent descriptions of the history of the miraculous painting, thanks to which it did not disappear entirely under the influx of new matters, of which “scars became the sign and interpretation”.

Among the more significant issues of this kind were undoubtedly the religious tensions in neighbouring Bohemia, not without influence on the deepening of the traditionally strong cult of the Virgin Mary in Poland. The Sacrilege of 1430, associated with the Hussite movements, intensified the nation’s emotional ties with Jasna Góra, making it a highly sensitive place in the consciousness of Poles. And such a sensitive place it has remained to this day, as evidenced by the fragments of poetry quoted at the outset, which is, after all, the best reflection of how the nation feels and what it desires. These poems contain the desires of entire generations gazing with the same hope into that one face mutilated by anger. And its scars are often indeed elongated beyond measure; they even penetrate our hearts, but this is most often, unfortunately, due to us. The only remedy for this state of affairs is to contemplate the face of Mary, as Wacław Oszajca does:

with sad eyes a
face cut with
from behind black varnish
you are trying to tell me something
what Mother…”

Wojciech Kurpik Warsaw

* The problems raised in the article may be further reached by the reader by though the following items:

 S. J. Różej, ZP (compilation), Panno Święta co Jasnej bronisz Góry. Antologia polskiej twórczości poetyckiej o Matce Bożej Jasnogórskiej, 1982; R. Kozłowski, Historia obrazu jasnogórskiego w świetle badań technologicznych i artystyczno-formalnych, W.: Roczniki Humanistyczne KUL XX zeszyt 5, 1955; E. Śnieżyńska-Stolot, Geneza, styl i historia obrazu Matki Boskiej Częstochowskiej, In: Folia Historiae Artium IX. 1973; Z. Rozanow, Analysis of previous artistic and formal studies on the image of the Virgin Mary of Częstochowa, In: Roczniki Historii Sztuki X, 1974; H. Kowalewicz (compilation), The oldest stories about the picture of the Virgin Mary of Częstochowa XV and XVI century. 1983; A. Różycka-Bryzek, J. Gadomski, The image of Our Lady of Częstochowa in the light of art history research, In: Studia Claromontana 5.1984.

Text published in: Thou art the great glory of our nation, Collected work, ed. by Fr. Kostancjusz Kunz, OSPPE. Czestochowa-Jasna Góra 1991, pp. 428-433.

What Does the Wounded Face of Jasna Gora, Mother of god, Say?

The news of the attack on Jasna Góra on 16 April 1430 shocked contemporaries. According to Dlugosz, King Jagiełło was close to initiating military action in connection with the incident when suspicion fell on the Silesian Hussites.

The robbers were attracted by the publicity and the votive offerings, which led to the profanation and destruction of the Icon of the Virgin Mary, which was torn from the altar, carried outside the chapel, chopped up with sabres and finally pierced with a sword. Hussites carried out the attack from the borderlands of Bohemia and Moravia, led by the Volhynian prince Fedor (Frederick) Ostrovsky and two Polish noblemen, Jakub Nadobny of Rogów of the Działosza coat of arms and Jan Kuropatwa of Łańcuchów of the Śreniawa coat of arms.

On the face of it, this attack was purely a religious incident. Still, we must remember that it also had a political basis, as the Duke of Volhynia was in close contact with Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania and later his successor Svidrigail. At that time, they were in a sharp dispute with Jagiełło over the Lithuanian crown. Therefore, it can be assumed that the robbery was a desire to start political unrest. However, robberies were also not alien to the bandits.

Under such circumstances and with such motives, the cut face of Our Lady of Czestochowa shows how the image was, at the same time, close to the affairs of the state from the very beginning and how deeply it was connected to them. Mary, to whom Queen Jadwiga sacrificed her heart by choosing Jogaila to bring the Cross – baptism – to Lithuania, and the brotherhood that flowed from this, now did not become an occasion for division, but on the contrary, became a source of unity to an even fuller extent, as the pilgrimage movement increased decisively from all directions and states, not only from the country.

The damaged Icon was soon transported to Krakow, where it underwent completely exceptional, for medieval times, restoration treatments. We learn from texts of the time that the Icon of Our Lady was exhibited in the Krakow Town Hall and entrusted to the care of the City Council. Its conservation took place there as well. And here, we come across an intriguing fact. It seems that the reason for placing the image in the town hall was the decision to hold a trial against the iconoclasts. In this sense, the holy image was not only material evidence but a kind of accuser, according to the understanding of law in the Middle Ages. The painting itself was severely damaged, while the circumstances of its repair were mysterious. According to the texts, Ruthenian painters first repaired it at the Jagiełło court. However, they applied the paint to the damaged areas three times, and each time they found it “running off the painting” the next day. “The cuts and wounds could not be painted over,” says a text by the Pauline writer from the early 16th century, Risinius (Peter of Rozprza). At the time, Jagiełło ordered imperial painters to be brought in, probably from the Habsburg court, probably of Bohemian origin. Taking a cue from the ineptitude of their predecessors, they also tried their art twice without success. According to legend, it was only the third time that the painting was restored, after which King Jogaila adorned it with valuables and gilded metal sheets and ceremoniously brought it to Jasna Gora (1434).

The image – its religious action and objective religious content

The Blessed Mother is the Sister of each of us. Taken from the earth by her parents, she learned, worked, suffered and rejoiced on earth.

And that God chose her and singled her out, her cares, her thoughts, her life focused on this unique, only Son, Jesus the Saviour, this was the pure grace of God Most High. But her absolute fidelity to God’s grace, God’s generosity towards her, meant that if we exerted our hearts and used all the faith God had given us, then we would experience that she touched, as it were, the limit of God. These are the expressions of the saints, the expressions of the Popes, that Her holiness, Her closeness and Her union with God exceeds everything that can be thought and understood. And that is why the Image of Jasna Gora, the Image of Mary with the Child, contains such a charge of God’s Presence, beauty, Majesty and goodness.

In this arrangement of Mother and Child, we find, as it were, the purest source from which man can draw God’s presence, where we can experience an encounter with Jesus and where the Eucharist, the words of Scripture, take on some additional efficacy. The image is striking in its majesty, it reveals this separateness of Mary from us sinners, but the Image attracts and opens to the love of the heart.

The cuts on my face seem to embolden: I am not an inaccessible Miracle Worker. The hands of sinners have touched me, but they do not injure my Son with infidelity – sins.

In the Jubilee years, the wounded Face seems to be saying – don’t hurt me with your practical materialism (consumer lifestyle); don’t be afraid of political atheism, overcome it on the path of fidelity to Christ present in your life; engage in defending the values that are the power of the nation – and in this way, you will most fully express thanksgiving for my presence also with those who hurt my Face.

Fr. Zachariah S. Jablonski, OSPPE

Text published in: Thou art the great glory of our nation, Collected work, ed. by Fr. Kostancjusz Kunz, OSPPE. Czestochowa-Jasna Góra 1991, pp. 434-436.