Częstochowa - the religious capital of Poland
Czestochowa, inseparable from Jasna Gora, is the sacral capital of Poland where the lovely image of Our Lady with the characteristics of a Hodegetria icon is kept and which thought to be a guide that points the way. There is a beautiful legend that the painting was the work of St. Luke the Evangelist that was painted on wood taken from the table of the Holy Family. Research, however, has determined that the painting originated from the 13th century and also that before Czestochowa picture was in a Balkan iconostasis. This does not change the fact that the Black Madonna of Czestochowa is a national place of worship for future generations of Poles. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the image in Czestochowa was ranked as one of the most important and most venerated relics of Christianity, next only to images of Christ "that was not created by human hands”. Even the scar on the face of Madonna, left after its first known restoration, financed by King Wladyslaw Jagiello, bears the marks of wonder. The damage occurred in 1430, during a break-in by robbers into the Czestochowa shrine. The renovation, by royal intervention, is the oldest documented restoration of a painting in Poland.
Jasna Gora took on special meaning for Poles in 1655, during the Swedish invasion. On 16th March 1657, King Jan Kazimierz prayed on Jasna Gora to rescue the Polish Republic from the Protestant Swedish and Hungarian armies. His prayers were answered. The miraculous power of the Black Madonna is also confirmed in the votive, “crutches of those that have began to walk as well as jewellery and votive tablets”. The significance of the iconic image for Poles can be seen in the custom of dressing it in precious robes. Starting from the second half of the 17th century, the image of Czestochowa has received seven robes, including the most beautiful one, made from rubies, diamonds, garnets, turquoise and pearls.
Architecturally, the main part of the monastery at Jasna Gora is the most interesting, namely the Basilica of the Discovery of the Holy Cross and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary that is located between the portico leading to the chapel of St. Anthony of Padua and the main courtyard of the monastery. Only the chancel has remained of the brick Gothic church from the 15th century that was on this spot till the fire in 1690. The rest was rebuilt as a three-nave basilica and bedecked in a rich Baroque style.
The monastery fortress is surrounded by walls with just one entrance, through a gate, originally called “Wjazdowa” but today named Pope John Paul II. Through the gate are two courtyards. The main courtyard leads to the John Paul II Hall, to the Basilica through the chapel of St. Anthony, to the Upper Room, to the ramparts and to the tower. The royal chambers, the arsenal, the Father Kordecki Hall and the museum can be accessed from the larger practical courtyard. The Vault of Jasna Gora, which was not emptied by either the partitions or any war, was used to store such items like ceremonial maces of Polish kings and leaders as well as captured trophies of war. The walls of the St. Roch Bastion with the entire preserved fortifications built between 1631 and 1636, withstood the Swedish siege in 1655. Traces of bombardment by Swedish cannon balls can be seen on the walls to this day! www.jasnagora.pl
Czestochowa is not just Jasna Gora. The Avenue of Our Lady can be likened to a French boulevard. A wonderful spring gushes next to the adorned Baroque church of Saints Andrew and Barbara and the Church of St. Jacob is a former Orthodox Church building from the 19th century.
Due to its sacral traditions, Czestochowa is responsible for the organisation of the International Festival of Sacred Music “Gaudemater”. Apart from the Festival of Good Songs, “Kalinowe Nights, Kalinowe Days”, the Cultural Night Festival is organised in Czestochowa which is a joint venture by cultural institutions, non-government agencies and private entrepreneurs.
Outside the sacred sphere, in Czestochowa’s Rakow district there is an archaeological reserve of the Lusatian culture. The cemetery with graves containing skeletal and burnt remains is impressive by its sheer size and state of preservation.
The Iron Ore Mining Museum can be found In the Stanislaw Staszic Park in Czestochowa where the old mine workings and mining equipment from the Szczekaczka Iron Ore Mine is exhibited. www.kopalnia.muzeumczestochowa.pl . 7 Kamienic Street is close to the park, which is 600 metres long and built in the first half of the 19th century. The street's name is derived from the original seven houses that were built there.
In the still operational Match Factory in Czestochowa nothing has changed since the wild times of the 1930’s. The rebuilt and modernized plant opened again in 1930 after a fire but this time outfitted with the innovative Durlach machinery. Production of matches still continues on the historic machines. The factory is unique as the museum and the manufacturing plant are both in the same building. A pair of elderly Durlach machines is used to dry the wooden matchsticks and automatically produce the finished matches. The museum has a permanent exhibition of sculptures from a single match by Anatol Karon made without tools and only using his fingers and teeth. A phillumenist exhibition is also very interesting and illustrates the change in matchbox labels from nearly a century of manufacture. In the museum, it is possible to buy matches worthy of a true cowboy, the ones that light when struck on the sole of a shoe! www.zapalki.pl
Art lovers will be interested in the Poetry House, the Halina Poswiatowska Museum where we can learn about the life, work and premature death of the poet. The presentations at the museum are so delicate, colourful and natural, as Halina Poswiatowska was herself. www.poswiatowska.muzeumczestochowa.pl
The Municipal Art Gallery in Czestochowa holds a permanent exhibit under the name of the Museum of Zdzislaw Beksinski. Beksinski’s surreal works are accompanied by the music that was composed specifically as the background for the presentation of his work. The exhibition is completed with the film of the artist’s video-diary about the creation of his images and the author’s commentary as well as a video-album of Beksinski’s works that are not on display. www.galeria.czest.pl
A magical place in Czestochowa is the Museum of the Imagination, the Dream Factory of Tomasz Setowski. The artist shares with us "his excursions into the realm of fantasy", which for him are like "looking for treasure”. Setowski’s paintings, prints, sculptures and gouaches are a true journey into the world of dreams. www.setowski.art.pl
Czestochowa shows us the way.