The origin of this miraculous image is unknown, but a charming legend has prevailed through the ages. It reveals that after the crucifixion, when Our Lady moved to the home of St. John, she took with her a few personal belongings - among which was a table built by the Redeemer in the workshop of St Joseph. When pious virgins of Jerusalem prevailed upon St. Luke to paint a portrait of the Mother of God, it was the top of this table that was used to memorialize her image. While applying his brush and paints, St. Luke listened carefully as the Mother of Jesus spoke of the life of her Son, facts which the Evangelist later recorded in his Gospel.
Legend also tells us that the painting remained in and around Jerusalem until it was discovered by St. Helena in the fourth century. Together with other sacred relics, the painting was transported to Constantinople where her son, Emperor Constantine the Great, erected a church for its enthronement.
The portrait of Mother and Child was revered by the people, but not so by the Saracen tribes who besieged the city. History records that during the seige the senators and citizens carried the precious image in procession through the streets and around the dikes. The Saracens are said to have been frightened by what they saw and fled in dismay.
Later, during the dreadful reign of Emperor Izauryn, who was embittered against holy objects and destroyed many by fire, the image was saved by his wife, the Empress Irene. She displayed remarkable cunning by hiding it in the palace of the Emperor – the very place where Our Lady’s enemies would never think of searching for it.
The portrait remained in Constantinople for 500 years, until it became part of several dowries and eventually found its way to Russia — in a region that later became Poland.
After the portrait came into the possession of Polish prince St. Ladislaus in the fifteenth century, it was installed in a special chamber of his castle at Belz. Soon afterward, when the castle was besieged by the Tartars, an enemy arrow entered the chapel through a window and struck the painting, inflicting a scar on the throat of the Blessed Virgin. The injury remains to this day, despite several attempts through the years to repair it.
Chroniclers tell us that St. Ladislaus determined to save the image from the repeated invasions of the Tartars by taking it to the more secure city of Opala, his birthplace. This journey took him through Czestochowa, where he decided to rest for the night. During this brief pause in their journey, the image was taken to Jasna Gora (meaning “bright hill”). There it was placed in a small wooden church named for the Assumption. The following morning, after the portrait was carefully replaced in its wagon, the horses refused to move. Accepting this as a heavenly sign that the portrait was to remain in Czestochowa, St. Ladislaus had the image solemnly returned to the Church of the Assumption. This occurred on August 26, 1382, a day still observed as the feast day of the painting. Since it was St. Ladislaus’ wish to have the portrait guarded by the holiest of men, he ordered the building of a church and monastery for the Pauline Fathers, who have devoutly ensured the security of their charge for the last six centuries.
Having escaped the rampage of Emperor Izaulyn, and damaged by a Tartar’s arrow in the area of the Blessed Virgin’s throat, the portrait was next placed in peril by the Hussites who embraced extravagant heresies. They invaded the monastery of the Pauline Fathers in 1430 and plundered the richly decorated sanctuary. Among the items stolen was the portrait of Our Lady. After placing it in a wagon, the Hussites proceeded only a short distance before the horses refused to move. Recalling that a similar incident had occurred to Prince Ladislaus some 50 years before — and realizing that the portrait was the cause — the heretics threw it to the ground. It broke into three pieces. One of the robbers drew his sword, struck the image and inflicted two deep gashes. While preparing to inflict a third gash, he fell to the ground and writhed in agony until his death.
The two slashes on the cheek of the Blessed Virgin, together with the previous injury to the throat, have always reappeared – despite repeated attempts to repair them.
The portrait again faced danger in the year 1655. At the time 12,000 Swedes confronted the 300 men who were guarding the sanctuary. Though vastly outnumbered, Our Lady’s defenders were successful in bitterly defeating the enemy. The following year, the Holy Virgin was acclaimed Queen of Poland.