A trip to Poland: July 24 to August 6, 1998
Our day trip to the Aushwitz camps ended with a meal at a restaurant called the Skorpion, decent pierogis with sauerkraut and mushrooms can be bought here. The food was delicious after a long day without eating much else than rogolaki and kielbasa from the train station deli store.
The next day (and it happened to be Sunday) we set out for Jasna Gora, another 2 hour train ride from Krakow. Jasna Gora is located in the town of Czestochowa. The Polish national shrine of the monastery of Jasna Gora owes its' fame to the painting Matka Boska Czestochowska (Black Madonna of Czestochowa). This city, population of approximately 250,000 attracts some of the largest pilgrimages in the world.
The city is clean, orderly, and the avenue to Jasna Gora is lined with trees, boutiques, stores, cafes, and restaurants. The avenue leads to the monastery on the hill, you really can't miss it. In front of and at the base of the hill of the monastery there is a pretty tree filled park. It was about a 20 minute walk to Jasna Gora, the day was sunny, bright, warm and crowded with pilgrims. At first I was impressed with the cleanliness of the train station, than the cleanliness of the town, than I was very impressed with the number of people that were making the pilgrimage up to the monastery, only then did I realize almost everything was closed, today is Sunday and this is one of the remaining places in Poland that still adheres to stores closed on Sunday rule. This didn't exactly thrill Duane either because neither of us is particularly religious and other than the monastery and a cafe or two, we would have nothing to do until 4:30 p.m. (oh yeah, the train arrived at 8:30 a.m. with the next outgoing to Krakow at 4:30 p.m., so much for going to the Wieliczka Salt Mines today!?!).
We arrived at the monastery after climbing the large hill and being as short of breath as smokers that smoke 4 packs a day trying to rock climb. The climb was something else but boy was it pretty up there. The monastery is colossal, obviously there is more than just a painting up here. From here I did notice that there were quite a few religious stores that were open, I guess religious stores don't have to adhere to the closed on Sundays rule, :-) .
The legend of Matka Boska Czestochowska (Black Madonna)
The object of devotion for hundreds of thousands of visitors yearly is a painting of 122 x 82 cm on a wooden panel. The painting portrays the Virgin Mary with the Christ child. In appearance the painting appears to be Byzantinian, but it's not known when and where the original was created. The time frame of its' creation is placed between the 6th and 14th centuries and theories of its provenance range from Byzantium and Red Ruthenia to Italy and Hungary. The icon was damaged in 1430 by the Hussites, they slashed the face of the Madonna and broke the panel. The picture was repainted afterwards but the scars on the face of the Virgin Mary were left as a reminder of the sacrilege.
Since the 1600's the painting has been dressed with richly ornamented robes and crowned; these days the Madonna has a wardrobe of robes and crowns and both are changed regularly and on religious holidays.
The monastery of Jasna Gora began in 1382 with the arrival of monks from the Pauline Order from Hungary. The monks founded a monastery on the hill in Czestochowa known as Jasna Gora (or Bright Mountain). In 1384 the painting of the Black Madonna was presented to the Pauline Monks and soon the painting began attracting believers.
Growing in size because of wealth and notoriety associated with it, the monastery was extended over a period of time and turned into a fortress with thick-set defense walls. This is one of the few places in Poland that was able to withstand the Swedish sieges of 1656-1657; the miraculous survival of the fortress and monastery being attributed to the painting of the Black Madonna.
During the Communist era, industry development was intensified in the area in hopes of diminishing the city's religious status. Among chimney stacks of industry stands the proud structures associated with the monastery of Jasna Gora.
The monastery of Jasna Gora. You can climb the tower that overlooks the city if you so wish.