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Header-Our Lady of Czestochowa: Marvelous Story of an Embattled Icon

 

In the monastery-fortress of Jasna Gora, in Czestochowa, Poland is venerated an ancient icon of Holy Mary and the Infant God, with a fascinating history. Tradition has it that it was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist on a table built by Our Lord Jesus in St. Joseph’s workshop. Empress Saint Helena who found Our Lord’s cross, also discovered this icon in Jerusalem, and took it to Constantinople where her son, Constantine, built a church to enshrine it. 

Jasna Gora Fortress todayThe image remained in Constantinople for 500 years until, through dowries, it was taken to Russia to a region that later became Poland.

This icon, now known as Our Lady of Czestochowa, has an embattled history.

While still in Constantinople, placed on the wall of the city, the icon so frightened an army of besieging Muslims that they took flight.

 

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Under a Holy King

Interior of the Basilica of CzestochowaIn the 15th century, the polish king Saint Ladislaus installed the holy image in his castle. Tartar invaders besieged the castle and an arrow pierced the image in the region of the throat, leaving a scar.

Interestingly, repeated attempts to repair the damaged painting failed. The scar always reappears.

Wishing to protect the icon from subsequent attacks, Saint Ladislaus took it to his town of birth, Opala.

On the way, he stopped at city of Czestochowa to rest, placing it in the wooden church of the Assumption in the nearby place of Jasna Gora (Bright Hill).

In the morning, the horses pulling the carriage containing the icon refused to move. Taking this as a sign, St. Ladislaus re-installed the image in the church of the Assumption and confided sanctuary and monastery to the Pauline Fathers.

It was on this day, August 26, 1382 that Saint Ladislaus established the feast of the Madonna of Czestochowa and it is still observed today.

 

 

Vandalized

Next, the Hussites, followers of the heretic John Hus from Prague, attempted to harm the holy icon. In 1430 they stormed the monastery and stole the image. Placing it in a wagon, they were carrying it away when the vehicle stopped and could not be moved. The attackers hurled the image to the ground, breaking it in three pieces. One man pulled his sword and struck the image twice on the cheek leaving two deep scars. On attempting to slash it thrice, the man went into agonizing convulsions and died.

The two scars on the holy image as well as the one on the throat have always reappeared after attempts to repair them.

 

Besieged

King John KasimirThe holy icon’s great epic was the Siege of Czestochowa in 1655 when an army of 12,000 Swedish Protestant invaders led by a General Miller, attempted to take the monastery-fortress of Jasna Gora. The year before, a vision of a scourge in the face of the sun had been seen over the area. Indeed, King Karl Gustav, and the Swedes invaded and conquered most of Poland with the help of Calvinist Polish nobles, ousting King Jan Kasimir.

One monastery, led by a heroic prior, Fr. Augustine Kordecki, refused to surrender. Taking in five Catholic Polish nobles, the monastery resisted with only 300 men. The besieged faced treason, threats, and numerous assurances of the enemy’s “good will” in attempts to seduce them into an inglorious “peace”.

But placing their full trust in Our Lady, whose image they guarded, the monks answered, “Better to die worthily than to live impiously.” Thus began the 40-day siege, and nothing was spared to bring down the walls of Jasna Gora.

Meanwhile, the forty monks and the besieged prayed before the Holy Icon of Czestochowa. They prayed and fought, fought and prayed. And a mysterious “Lady”, dressed in a white or blue mantle, whom the Swedes called a “witch” began to appear on the ramparts, herself supplying the canons. The sight of her terrified the invaders.

A mysterious fog also enveloped the holy hill, which at times gave the illusion of the monastery-fortress being higher, at others lower, the result being that the canon-balls missed their target.

Finally, the mysterious lady appeared in the night to General Miller himself. After procuring a copy of the icon of Czestochowa, Miller said, "It is absolutely not comparable to that virgin who appeared to me; for it is not possible to see anything comparable on earth. Something of the celestial and divine, which frightened me from the beginning, shone in her face."

Fr Augustine leads the defense of Jasna GoraIn the end, spooked and discouraged by these supernatural occurrences, the Swedes lifted the siege. From the victory of Czestochowa, the Poles again took heart, and rallying around King Jan Kasimir, took back their country.

(For the full account of the siege of Czestochowa Click here)

The next year, in the presence of the clergy, nobility and people, King Kasimir solemnly proclaimed Our Lady of Czestochowa Queen of Poland. Recognizing that Poland had been chastised for its sins, and oppression of the less fortunate, He promised to rule with equity.

In 1920, when the Russian army assembled at the River Vistula, the Polish people had recourse to their Madonna. The Russians quickly withdrew after the image appeared in the clouds over Warsaw.

In Polish history, this is known as the Miracle of Vistula.

During the Nazi occupation of Poland in WW II, Hitler ordered all religious pilgrimages closed. In a demonstration of love and trust in Our Lady, half a million Poles defied Hitler’s orders and visited the shrine. Following the liberation of Poland in 1945, a million and a half people expressed their gratitude to their Madonna by praying before the miraculous image.

Twenty eight years after the first attempt to capture Warsaw, the Russians took the city. That year 800,000 visited the Lady of Czestochowa in defiance of the invader.

And today, free from Communism, Czestochowa continues to be the religious heartbeat of Poland. To the miraculous, fearless Lady of Jasna Gora, the Polish go with their needs and petitions, their sorrows and their joys. Indeed she is their embattled, victorious, miraculous queen.

Pilgrims visiting Jasna Gora

 


By A.F. Phillips

 

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 27, 2020

There must be a war in this life. In the face of so many ene...

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November 27

 

There must be a war in this life. 
In the face of so many enemies it is not possible
for us to sit with our hands folded.
 
There must always be a concern regarding
how we are proceeding interiorly and exteriorly.


St. Teresa of Avila


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Francis Anthony Fasani

The poor children of Lucera ran through the streets, crying...

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St. Francis Anthony Fasani

This son of the soil became one of the most illustrious preachers in the history of the Franciscan Order.

Born Donato Antonio Giovanni Nicola Fasani on August 6, 1681 to poor peasants in the Neapolitan town of Lucera, he lost his father at the age of nine. “Giovanniello”, or “Johnnie” as he was commonly called, was sent by his step-father to the Conventual Franciscans in his native town for his education. At fifteen, he entered the Franciscan novitiate at Monte Gargano taking the founder as his patron.

Remarkable among the young friar’s most cherished devotions was his tender love for the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary – not a dogma of faith at the time – his childlike affection for the Infant Jesus and his ardent devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist.

In 1703 Brother Francis Anthony was sent to Assisi to continue his studies and two years later he was ordained to the priesthood. In Rome he received his doctorate in theology at the College of St. Bonaventure. First appointed lector of philosophy at the Franciscan college in Lucera, he was successively promoted to regent of studies, guardian and, ultimately, provincial superior, an office he held from 1721 to 1723. He later served as master of novices and then as pastor of the Church of St. Francis in his native town. When a bishopric was offered to him, he declined it.

A true shepherd of souls, his apostolic zeal was firmly grounded on an intense and deep interior life. His life of prayer was fortified by mortification, severe penances, and long hours spent in Eucharistic adoration. He was beloved by the poor, spent much time in visiting the sick and the aged, orphans and the imprisoned. Among the latter, his apostolic zeal embraced in a particular manner those condemned to death, whom he accompanied to their execution. He was much in demand as a confessor, spiritual director and preacher for which his ardent and filial love for the Blessed Mother was the inspiration. He gave retreats, led Lenten devotions and novenas and collected gifts for the children at Christmas.
Widely regarded in his own lifetime as a second St. Francis of Assisi, he died in 1742 just as he was beginning the solemn novena for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Upon hearing of his death, the poor children of Lucera ran through the streets, crying "The saint is dead! The saint is dead!" In this humble Franciscan they had lost a true father and protector.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared stan...

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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