By Michael H. Brown
Miraculous Madonna From Poland Bears ‘Remarkable’ Links To Guadalupe Image
You’ve seen it everywhere. The Black Madonna. The Madonna of Czestochowa. There is Mary in a solemn Byzantine pose, pointing the way to the Infant she holds, Jesus.
Legend has it that this is an actual portrait of the Virgin Mary done by Saint Luke on a cypress tabletop from the House in Nazareth. In actuality, the current Czestochowa image is thought to be a repainting that is backed by wood from the original but now age-faded image.
“The wooden icon is said to have miraculous powers and has been the object of veneration for centuries,” notes one website. “According to tradition, the icon was taken from Jerusalem to Constantinople, and in the late tenth century was given to Princess Anna, wife of Vladimir of Kiev. It was brought to Czestochowa in 1382 by Prince Ladislaus Opolszyk from his castle in Belz in the Ukraine. The prince founded a monastery of Paulite monks to care for the icon, and the original shrine church on Jasna Góra (“Bright Hill”) was built in 1386.”
This is a spot that has been crucial in the current Pope’s devotion to Mary. “The great events in the life of Poland have always been tied to this place in some way,” wrote John Paul II in Crossing the Threshold of Hope. “Both the ancient and modern history of my nation have their deepest roots on the hill of Jasna Gora.”
Soon after its arrival in Czestochowa, the icon began attracting pilgrims. “Cuts on the Virgin’s right cheek are said to have resulted from desecration in 1430 by thieves who became enraged when they found the icon becoming heavier and heavier as they tried to carry it away,” we are told. “Another version of the legend says that a Hussite soldier, unable to dislodge the picture, slashed the face with his sword, whereupon blood issued from the wounds.”
Whatever the case, there are striking similarities between that image (the feast day of which is today, August 26) and the famous image of Guadalupe, Mexico. Like Guadalupe — which came later — the Czestochowa rendition features a fleur-de-lis pattern on the robe.
One could also say that the image has the same hooded eyes and narrow nose and overall demeanor — nearly like Czestochowa is a frontal (if less rounded) image of the same woman.
“But an even more remarkable similarity between Our Lady of Czestochowa and the image of Guadalupe lies in the darkness of the Virgin’s complexion,” notes scientist Jody Bryant Smith, who has closely studied the images. “The tradition of the ‘Black Madonna’ has roots in its discovery by an Italian monk in the middle of the fourth century of three statues of Mary. He distributed these statues to churches in Italy and Sardinia.”
While the darkness of the image at Czestochowa has been attributed to the soot from burning charcoal or devotional candles, Dr. Smith points out that a 14th-century Byzantine historian named Necephorus Callistos once claimed he saw several paintings made from nature by Saint Luke, in which the color of Mary’s skin was the color of wheat — which is probably to say that when wheat is ripe it tends to be brownish or a chestnut color (in the words of another scholar named Vincent Sablon).
For centuries, Mexicans had considered this same brownish skin to be the identifying characteristic of the Guadalupe Virgin and even call her La Morena — which means “the dark-complexioned woman.”
As 19th-century writer Anna Brownell Jameson said: “It is the dark-colored ancient Greek Madonnas such as this which all along have been credited miraculous. To this day, the Neapolitan lemonade-seller will allow no other than a formal Greek Madonna, with olive-green complexion and veiled head, to be set up in his booth.”
It is remembered that Mary was a Jew — and that Jews from the Holy Land may have been similarly dark-complexioned.
“Just as I was completing the research for this study, I found myself paging through a compilation of old Hebrew themes, newly translated from ancient sources,” writes Smith. “My eyes focused on a tiny footnote translating, from the Aramaic Babylonian Talmud, a statement about the supreme beauty of Queen Esther, of Old Testament fame. I was astonished: ‘Her skin was greenish, like the skin of a myrtle.’ Precisely the same can be said about the skin tone of the Virgin of Guadalupe.”