The year 1410 saw one of the greatest battles of the Middle Ages under the command of Polish King Władysław Jagiełło(1386–1434) when he defeated the troops of the Teutonic order at the Battle of Grunwald. The King’s banner in battle was adorned with the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa. On the lips of Polish soldiers was the song Bogurodzica (Mother of God), becoming the first act of giving Poland’s armed forces to Our Lady of Częstochowa.
Our Lady of Częstochowa on roadside shrine. Łysaków, Poland. Edward Knab photo.
In the time of the “Deluge” when Swedish armies invaded the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and it was thought that the country was lost to the foreign invaders, the one place that still resisted the Swedes was the holy monastery at Jasna Góra- the most sacred place in Poland containing the icon of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Częstochowa.
Close up of depiction of Seige of Jasna Góra in 1655 by Polish artist Janaury Suchodolski. 1845. Wikipedia photo.
On 1 April 1656, during a Mass in the Latin Cathedral (also known as Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in Lwów (today Lviv, western Ukraine),King John II Casimir entrusted the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he announced as The Queen of the Polish Crown and of his countries. ” Great Mother of God, Most Holy Virgin. I, Jan Kazimierz, for the love of Your Son, King of kings and my Lord and Your merciful King, having fallen at Your Most Holy feet, I choose You today as my Patroness and Queen of my countries.” Polish troops went on to victory.
King Michała Korybuta Wiśniowski ( reigned 1669- 1673) vowed the same at Jasna Góra on December 7, 1669. In his war against the Ottoman empire, he begged the mother of God “Support me and this Kingdom – not mine, but yours, in all troubles.”
When King Jan Sobieski III (reigned 1674-1696) began his fight against the Turks at Vienna in 1693, he also entrusted his kingdom to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and saved Europe from Muslim domination. With Mary's name on their lips, and her likeness painted on their armor and flying high on their banners, the kings and knights of Poland fought against the Tartars, the Turks, the Swedes and all foreign invaders.
King Jan Sobieski wearing a ryngraf, originally used as plate armour worn in battle to protect the throat. Wikipedia photo.
During the 123 years of partitions of Poland, when Poland as a country was erased from the maps of Europe, Our Lady of Częstochowa at Jasna Góra became a symbol of identity and unity. Poles in all three partitions regarded Jasna Góra as a symbol of their national sovereignty and in spite of the political situation, remained alive in the nation’s collective consciousness. “Our Lady” was the sovereign of the country, the Queen of Poland and the Grand Duchess of Lithuania and nothing could change that.
During the Uprising of 1863-1864(also known as the January Uprising), an insurrection principally in the Russian partition to restore the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, every insurrectionist wore a small scapular with the picture of Mary as a reminder that through her intercession, Mary was the nation’s hope for regaining its freedom and becoming an independent nation again.
In 1920, during the Polish-Bolshevik War with the Red Army, Polish soldiers again asked the Mother of God for help, and ended with a sensational victory in Warsaw called “Cud nad Wisła, the “Miracle on The Wisła.” According to the soldiers' reports, it was the intervention of Mary and her appearance over the site of the battle that caused the victory. In memory of the event which took place August 13-25, Polish Army Day was established in 1923, to be celebrated on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven, the day she was to have appeared in the battle. In 1950, the communist authorities changed the date to October 12, but in 1992, in a free and independent Poland, August 15 again became Polish Army Day.
In 1939 with the outbreak of World War II, Poland’s men and women went underground, became a resistance force called Armia Krajowa (the Home Army, abbreviated AK) and fought the German occupiers throughout the five-year struggle. Their vow begins with: “In the face of Almighty God, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Polish Crown, I swear to be faithful to my homeland…”
In 1944, in the battle for Monte Cassino in Italy, considered to be among the most important land battles of World War II, it was the soldiers of the 2nd Polish Corps, led by General Władysław Anders, who ultimately opened the way for the Allies to march on Rome. An image of Our Lady of Częstochowa was on the field altar for holy masses after the battles.
Throughout the centuries, the protection of Our Lady of Częstochowa has been sought by knights, confederates, insurgents, legionnaires, scouts, partisans, and soldiers in the fight for a free and independent Poland. She was their constant source of support and hope. She was their supreme hetman, the spiritual high commander, of Polish armies in battle.
Some of the above are excerpts from forthcoming book titled Spirit of Place: Roadside Shrines of Poland. Available October 2022.
You can listen to Bogurodzica, Poland’s oldest hymn here www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziCfs5tES_Y
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.