The Characteristics of The Black Madonna

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The term black Madonna refers to the paintings and statues of the Virgin Mary, and sometimes the infant Jesus, depicted with dark or black skin. The paintings and statutes are mostly wooden but in some cases made of stone. They are usually classified into two categories, seated figures on a stone or free standing upright figures (Erdmans ,47). There are many black Madonna’s all over the world, however for this paper emphasis will be on the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.

Our Lady of Czestochowa

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa also referred to as our lady of Czestochowa is an icon of the Virgin Mary that is housed at Jasna Gora Monastery in Poland. The icon is one of Poland’s most important and holiest relic; it is a four-foot high painting in which the Virgin Mary is depicted directing attention away from herself gesturing towards Jesus with her right hand as the source of salvation. The Infant, on the other hand, is seen extending his right hand towards the viewer as a way of blessing them while holding a book in his left hand.

The icon’s origin is highly contested by a majority of scholars due to difficulty in dating the painting since the original image was repainted after raiders had badly damaged it in 1430 where scars were left on the art. The canvas was slashed and the wooden board that backed the painting broken.

For the past 600 years, the icon has been intimately associated with Poland, it is said to have been painted by St. Luke from the house of the holy family on a cedar table top and while he was painting the picture, Mary told him about Jesus’s Life which inspired him to write the gospel. St. Helen is said to have found the painting and presented it to Constantine, the great his son.

Stories Related to the Icon

There are a lot of tales associated with the icon, when St. Helen presented the painting to his son, it was placed in Constantinople in a shrine. During a fight, the picture was placed on the city’s walls and the army is said to have fled. The icon is said to have saved the city from being destroyed. The painting is said to have arrived in Poland when St. Ladislaus stopped in Jasna Gora for a night and placed the image in a small church. The following day, the portrait was placed on a wagon, and the horses refused to move. In 1430, looters invaded the church and one of them struck the painting twice with his sword, before he could strike it the third time, he fell on the ground with pain and agony and died (Kirby). The painting was left in a puddle of blood and mud. When monks removed the icon from mud, a fountain appeared miraculously which they used to clean the painting. The two scars, one on the throat and two on the chicks have repeatedly been repaired but they reappear all the time.

Many miracles associated with the icon occur on a public scale. In 1655 a small group of polish defenders managed to drive away a much larger group of invaders from the Swedish army. In 1920 there were Russians at Warsaw’s gate, a lot of people walked to Czestochowa to ask the Virgin Mary for help. As a result, the polish defeated the Russians; school children famously know the victory as ‘The Miracle of Wisla.’

The Icon’s Reflection of Culture

    The Black Madonna of Czestochowa reflects the culture of the people of Poland regarding religion. Majority of the people in Poland are Christians, the largest group coming from the Roman Catholic Church. Catholicism plays a crucial role in the lives of Catholics in Poland, throughout history, Catholicism has been the dominant religion in the country (Alvis). Examples of how the icon reflects the culture of the people of Poland include the depiction of Mary and infant Jesus who are highly associated with Christianity. Catholics placing higher importance on Mary than in any other Christian denomination. The icon, therefore, shows the culture of the people as being Christians in nature with a majority of them being Catholics.

On the painting, infant Jesus is seen holding a book in his left hand, a book which can be perceived to be the Bible further proving the culture of the people as being Christians. There is also visible reddish scars on Mary’s right cheek. The wounds are as a result of Hussite wars that took place in the country in the 15th century. The icon, therefore, serves as a reminder of a part of Poland’s rich history.

Characteristics of the Icon

One of the most essential features of the image is the fact that the pictures of Mary and the infant Jesus depicted are black in color. The image is black as a result of soot residue that discolored the painting. The soot is a result of the painting being exposed for a long period of time with candles and votive lights (Cvetnić).

The other crucial feature of the painting is that on the right, they are almost two parallel slashes that run towards her neck. The cuts are as a result of invaders who wanted to loot the church in 1430 with one looter striking the painting two times; it is said that on the third time he fell in pain and agony and died.  There have been attempts to fix the scar artistically which have always failed.

    The other characteristic of the painting is that Mary is seen raising her right hand pointing at infant Jesus, whom she is holding with her left hand. Infant Jesus, on the other side, is seen holding a book that is closed with his left hand and his right hand extending a gesture which can be interpreted as a blessing gesture.

    The icon can be used as a form of identity for worshipers since the image of Mary and Jesus are depicted in the painting.  The two are normally associated with Christianity making it easy for a Christian to identify and relate to the icon easily. Though the cuts are not originally part of the icon, they have been there for an extended period to the extent that they are now regarded as part of the painting (Ferreira ,172). The cuts assist in reinforcing the faith of the worshippers due to the story that is associated with them and the fact that they could not repair.

The relevance of the Icon in Contemporary Society

    The Black Madonna of Poland speaks volumes in contemporary society. The painting depicts the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus together with darkened skins which are not the norm since Mary and Jesus had lighter skin colors compared to the paintings. There is a lot of discrimination regarding skin color right now in the world. People with darkened skin colors are met with a lot of hate. What if the painting is a way of showing us that the color of the skin does not matter and should not be used as a basis for discrimination? The skin color of the painting can be used to represent people with dark skin colors and help them realize that even Mary and Infant Jesus were black too in color.

The painting has a lot of rich history since the time that it was painted, it can, therefore, be used as a reminder of Poland’s rich history.  Through the painting and in particular the two cuts on Virgin Mary’s chick’s people can learn about the history of Poland and the various places that the art passed through.

There are a lot of Christians that are losing their faith in the belief in God. In some parts of the world, people are even ashamed to proclaim their religion for fear of discrimination and in some extreme cases the fear of persecution. The miraculous stories behind the Black Madonna of Poland can be used to assist people that are drifting away from their Christians beliefs not to lose faith. The stories can be used to strengthen the faith of other Christians as well.

Works Cited

Alvis, Robert. "White Eagle, Black Madonna: One Thousand Years of the Polish Catholic Tradition." Oxford University Press, (2016).

Cvetnić, Sanja. "Transformation of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa: from the Queen of a Polish Kingdom to a Haitian Voodoo Warrior-Mother Ezili Danto (r)." In The Seventh Early Modern Symposium: Recasting Reproduction. (2017).

Erdmans, Mary Patrice. "Poland on My Mind and Polish in My Belly." Polish American Studies 74, no. 2 (2017): 44-49.

Ferreira, Marcos Alan SV, and Renan Honorato. "Pope John Paul II discourses and Poland's national symbols during the political transition (1978-1989)." Religare: Revista do Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciências das Religiões da UFPB 14, no. 1 (2017): 163-192.

Kirby, Michael. "North Korea and the Madonna of Czestochowa." U. Notre Dame Austl. L. Rev. 19 (2017): 1.

August 01, 2023

Art Culture Religion

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