Main Attractions in Czestochowa

A description of Czestochowa would be incomplete without a historical account of the Jasna Gora church and monastery and its world famous icon, the Black Madonna. Founded in 1382, Jasna Gora has been more than a spiritual home - It has also served at various points as a Polish stronghold against attacks by the Swedes and Russians.

In fact, in the first half of the 17th century, the Basilica was part of a fortification to protect Poland's frontiers, in which it was enclosed, against continent-wide political and religious conflicts. It proved its worth in 1655, when under the heroic leadership of the Prior of the Monastery, Father Augustine Kordecki, the Shrine withstood the attacks of the Swedish invasion. This victory was in a large way responsible for boosting the Polish morale and kick started a remarkable national fight back against the enemy who had occupied the country under little resistance.

Following this amazing turn of events, King Jan Casimir, in 1965 declared the Virgin Mary icon, installed in the Shrine at 1384 and ensconced inside to be the "Queen of the Polish Crown" and the Shrine of Jasna Gora to be the "Mount of Victory" and a spiritual capital for Poland.

What started as a small wooden church, led to the subsequent development of the present day Basilica of St. Virgin Mary as we know it today.

As the legend goes, the painting of the Blessed Mother and Child Jesus or The Black Madonna, which is housed in the Shrine and which symbolizes the spiritual core of the nation, is supposed to be the work of St. Luke the Evangelist, who used a board from the table of the Holy Family in Nazareth. Another myth that surrounds the painting is that in the mid-15th century, thieves tried to steal the revered icon. As they made their get away, the painting grew too heavy in their hands and they were forced to leave it behind. In frustration they slashed the painting, and from those gashes the Madonna began to bleed. Subsequently repaired in Karkow, the Madonna bears the scars of this desecration till today.

Today, this world renowned icon, receives more than five million visitors a year who come to pay their homage to the Queen. Indeed its not a place that one can respond to impassively - it's hard not to be moved by the murmuring of prayers as worshippers look on with veneration at the painting they have waited a lifetime to behold. The crowds especially swell during the feast days of the Great Festival, and surprisingly many teenagers are to be found in attendance. Copies of the Black Madonna are widely found in Poland and even outside the country.

Other than Jasna Gora there are few sights to interest the regular tourist. The town itself though is quite picturesque with broad tree lined boulevards, which impart a Parisian feel to the heart of the city. In continuation of the ecclesiastical theme one can visit the same St. Barbara's Church which has a decidedly Baroquian charm, and supposedly the place where the Black Madonna was slashed. There is also the St. James Church, a Czarist era Orthodox building which was subsequently converted to a Catholic church after Poland gained independence in 1918.

If history interests you, then you should pay a visit to the archeology reserve near Rakow, where excavated graves from the Lusatian culture of the 6th and 7th centuries can be found.