The Black Madonna of Częstochowa
Wax and tempera on wood. approx. 300-1000 A.D.(restoration attempts in 1400s prevent precise date)
4’ 0” x 2’ 8” x 0’ 1” (1.22 m x 82 cm x 3 cm)
Jasna Gorna Monastery, Częstochowa, Poland.
The origins, artist, and date of this particular piece are hotly contested, but none can deny its importance. According to legend, this piece was discovered by St. Helena and taken to Constantinople, where it resided from the 3rd to 8th century, after which it was taken away from religious and political turmoil and hidden in the wilds of Poland, where it resides to this day.
It is considered by the Catholic faith to be one of the holiest relics in Europe:
The Polish nation attributes its very existence to the help of the Virgin of Czestochowa. The veneration of the picture of the Madonna is the expression of the Polish nation’s faith and gratitude. …the safety of the shrine of Czestochowa is identified with the very safety and independence of the whole nation.
Although many legends also attribute the Virgin’s darkened skin to smoke from fires of various wars and invasions (the Hussites stormed the monastery in 1430, causing the two slashes to her cheek), there is no evidence that this is the case. The encaustic method used to paint the image resisted any attempts to paint over it. Restoration attempts to paint over the Virgin with lighter skin failed. In subsequent copies, the Virgin’s skin tone is always faithfully replicated.
Reproductions of the Black Madonna have had far-reaching influences in both Voudoun and Santería, and has strong ties with Erzulie. It is said that in 1791, she appeared before devout Haitians and urged them to kill the French, resulting in the Haitian Revolution and independence in 1804.
The Black Madonna (left) and Erzulie (right).