360 years since the Swedish siege of Czestochowa, and 11 years since a 60th wedding anniversary celebrated there (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
My female relative, her grandparents, and I had finally reached Czestochowa by about 4 P.M. (on July 10, 2004).
Without stopping to rest or snack, and leaving the dog tied up in the yard, we had to rush by car to the famous Jasna Gora Pauline monastery complex, where a commemorative ceremony had been reserved at the main sanctuary, before the famous icon, the so-called Black Madonna. This was actually the first time in my life that I would be at the shrine.
We drove up around the monastery walls to the huge parking lot at the back, at which we were fortuitously able to find a parking spot, owing mainly to my relative's skill. I noted that various small shops selling devotional materials had been built right into what had once been the fortress walls of the monastery. Even in the short time we were there, we saw a fair number of large tour-buses going up the drive. We then walked along through a large gate-tower towards the main chapel where the Black Madonna resides. My relative's grandfather had put on his partisan fighter veteran's uniform with its many medals. He had been severely wounded in the fighting during the war, and, in fact, his first wife had been killed by the German occupiers.
One of my first impressions of the buildings was that they are in fact rather small and intimate, rather than ponderous and overwhelming – which is perhaps somewhat unexpected from such a world-famous site. Although one of the sharp steeples of the monastery complex can be seen from virtually anywhere in the town, the feeling of actually walking around in the monastery complex is rather human-scale.
As we walked into the sanctuary proper, we noticed a marriage ceremony going on directly before the Black Madonna icon. Of course, the icon always has a jewel-encrusted robe for public viewing, so it looks rather different from the unadorned painting. The priest, his attendants, and the young couple were obscured and separated from the main crowd in the chapel by a huge ironwork grille that looked somewhat like an iconostasis in an Eastern Orthodox church.
Pilgrimages were continually streaming into the sanctuary, and joining in the ongoing prayers and singing of the wedding service.
Unfortunately, it turned out that we had missed our cue and arrived about fifteen minutes too late, whereas the wedding anniversary commemoration had been allotted little more than fifteen minutes. However, we participated in the prayers and singing. It was rather disappointing to have missed a 60th wedding anniversary commemoration.
Being very tired, I ducked out to the church which sits directly beside the sanctuary-chapel, where I could admire the magnificence of the Baroque altar. Despite my near-exhaustion I appreciated the uplifting beauty of the holy site.
To be continued.
(This series is based on the author's article that originally appeared in Chronicles (Rockford, IL) (December 2005), pp. 38-39.)
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.