Czestochowa is a city known all over the world for the miraculous icon of the Black Madonna housed in the Pauline Monastery of Jasna Gora. The city is located in south Poland, 125 km (approx. 77 mi) from Krakow.
Czestochowa has medieval origins. In 14th century the town became an important trade centre on the route from Russia to Lower Silesia and Saxony. Nevertheless, its development has been always related to the Pauline Monastery of Jasna Gora (Bright Hill) founded in 1382 by the Polish Piast prince of Upper Silesia, Wladyslaw Opolczyk. When the monastery received the famous painting of the Black Madonna it became an important religious and pilgrimage centre. In the 17th century the monastery was turned into a fortress and played a vital role during The Deluge in 1655 when it proved to be an efficient point of Polish resistance against the Swedish invasion. The Black Madonna was credited with miraculously saving the monastery and since it actually changed the course of the war, King John Casimir Vasa declared Our Lady of Czestochowa a Queen and Protector of Poland and “crowned” the icon. At the beginning of 19th century the Holy Virgin Mary Avenue was constructed, around which new houses and shops were built and which is now the main arterial road of the city. Nowadays, Czestochowa is a cultural centre and one of the main tourist attractions of the area. Besides the monastery, there are also museums, theatres, libraries, historical monuments and ruins of a medieval castle in Olsztyn located around 25 kilometres (ca. 16 mi) from the city centre. The town attracts millions of tourists and pilgrims every year.
The main purpose for visiting Czestochowa is certainly the presence of the Black Madonna icon in the Monastery of the Pauline Fathers of Jasna Gora. The altar of the gothic chapel houses a miraculous painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus in her arms. The Virgin is dressed in a blue veil covered with golden fleur-de-lis. The origins of the icon are still being discussed. The painting was possibly brought to Czestochowa from Jerusalem via Constantinople and Belz by Wladyslaw Opolczyk. Other hypothesis states that it could have been brought by the Pauline monks from their founding monastery in Hungary. There are several legends concerning the Black Madonna. One of them explains the darkened complexion of the Virgin’s face: once the church got on fire, the flames however did not manage to destroy it thanks to the presence of the holy painting; they only affected Madonna’s face. According to another legend, the two scars on the Virgin’s right cheek appeared as a result of the Hussites plundering of the sanctuary in 1430. One of the robbers struck the painting twice with a sword but the face of the Black Madonna started to bleed. Terrified he ran away (or fell to the ground and died, optionally).
The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa has been a destination of numerous pilgrimages from all over the world. An average of 4-5 million pilgrims come each year with their thanks, pleas and prayers, many of them on foot. There are several pilgrimage routes in Poland, of which the longest one is over 600 km (approx. 373 mi) long and it takes 20 days to cover the distance. The oldest pilgrimage in Poland arrives from Warsaw every August 15th, on the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A few days later, on August 26th, all other pilgrimages arrive to celebrate the day of Our Holy Mother of Czestochowa. Many Polish Catholics make a pilgrimage there every year.