Sixteen years since a 60th wedding anniversary celebrated at Czestochowa, Poland (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
Jasna Gora has had a very long history in the Polish nation. Its central fame derives from the time of the so-called Deluge. In July 1655, Sweden, then a militant, aggressive, Protestant power, invaded Poland from the north, quickly seizing most of the country. Poland (in union with Lithuania) was at that time a large, sprawling, but poorly organized state whose borders stretched to Riga in the north-east, and Kiev in the south-east. It had been wracked by the Dnieper Cossack rebellion, and continual wars with Muscovy. On November 18, 1655, the Swedish general Miller laid siege to the recently-fortified monastery with 3,000 soldiers, against a garrison of 170 soldiers, 20 noblemen, and 70 brothers. The indomitable Father Augustyn Kordecki decided to resist despite being massively outnumbered. After forty days of siege, the Protestant Swedes had failed to take the “fortress of Mary” – and abandoned their efforts. The failure of the siege was seen as a “miracle” brought about by the Virgin Mary’s intercession. It was a huge symbol that galvanized resistance to the Swedish occupation across all of Poland. On April 1, 1656, the Polish King, John Casimir, proclaimed the Virgin Mary the Patroness and Queen of Poland. The defense of Jasna Gora has been a symbol that continues to live even today. Indeed, the 350th anniversary of the siege (in 2005), and the 360th anniversary of the siege (in 2015), both brought distinctly patriotic politicians and parties to power in elections held in Poland.
In their rising against Russian domination of a weakening Poland, the Confederates of Bar (including Casimir Pulaski, who would later become a hero of the War of American Independence) seized and then defended the sanctuary between 1769-1772. The Confederates of Bar (konfederaci barscy) – named after a small south-eastern town where they had initially gathered – who also called themselves “knights of Mary”, or “soldiers of Mary” – have been dubbed by some historians as “the Polish Jacobites.” (The Jacobites were the doomed Scottish insurgents led by Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 1745 Rising.) Although their political aims had been rather confused – combining both sincere patriotism and a resistance to reforms which the Polish political system at that time desperately needed – they set an example of self-sacrifice for future generations. They were crushed by the Tsarist Russian armies that were tromping through Poland at that time. Indeed, they were one of the first of many generations of Polish freedom-fighters who would frequently end up in exile in Siberia or other remote regions of Russia.
Among the very first prominent Poles to be exiled to Siberia were the noble Senators who were resisting the onslaught of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Indeed, it could be argued that the First Republic had largely lost its sovereignty already by that time. Nevertheless, a massive patriotic renewal movement endeavoured to restore the polity, the culmination of which was the Constitution of the Third of May in 1791. One of the first written Constitutions in history, it was effusively praised by Edmund Burke, one of the leading statesmen of the era. Unfortunately, the Partitioning powers killed the First Republic at the threshold of its possible revival. The Partition period in Poland extended from 1795 to 1918 – 123 years of often harsh foreign occupation by Tsarist Russia, Prussia/Germany, and the Habsburg Empire.
Adam Mickiewicz, the great Polish national poet, who was one of the central creators of Romantic and modern Polish nationalism, mentions Mother Mary and Jasna Gora near the very beginning of his great lyric poem, “Pan Tadeusz”. One of the three books in the famous Trylogia of the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz (winner of the 1905 Nobel Prize in Literature, mainly for his Christians-in-Nero’s-Rome novel Quo Vadis) deals with the Swedish Deluge (Potop), and much of the narrative is focussed on the siege of Jasna Gora. One of the last official acts of Pope John Paul II – which had obviously been planned before the onset of his terminal illness -- was an exhortative letter delivered to the Prior of Jasna Gora on April 1, 2005, along with some new “crowns” for the Black Madonna icon.
We eventually returned to the car and drove back to the family house. The charge for the parking is just whatever you wish to donate.
The anniversary banquet was finally served at a large table in the house at 8 P.M. I pounced on all the delicious food, such as pork cutlets and roast beef, which I washed down with mineral water and some celebratory champagne. There were about fifteen people at the table, including cousins from various branches of the family. There was a separate table for the children in an adjoining room. The Westie got well fed too, especially enjoying tidbits given from the dinner table.
I enjoyed the boisterous conversation at the table, and I was told by my relative’s grandfather (probably with some exaggeration) that his branch of the family was a ducal house renowned in Polish history. I was also joking with a young male cousin about the brand of mineral water we were quaffing, which was being promoted at that time by an advertising campaign with Cindy Crawford, the American supermodel, who says four words in Polish in the television commercial.
The conversations continued at a rapid clip until about 11 P.M., when my relative drove me to the Ibis Hotel in Czestochowa, as staying at the full house was impossible. I checked into the hotel, thanked my relative profusely, and made my way to the comfortable room. I was dead tired and enjoyed the long, hot shower immensely, subsequently quickly falling asleep in the comfortable bed. This day of July 10, 2004, had been one of the longest and most event-laden days of my life.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.