FEAST DAY: August 26
DAY OF THE WEEK: Friday
CANDLE COLOR: Blue and Green
LEGEND: Also known as Our Lady of Czestochowa and one of the many Black Madonnas that have sprung up over the world. Saint Barbara Africana is a painting of the Madonna and Christ Child which legend states was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist. St. Luke is believed to have used a tabletop from a table built by the carpenter Jesus. It was while Luke was painting Mary that she told him about the events in the life of Jesus that he eventually incorporated in his gospel. The painting shows up again in 326 AD when St. Helen located it in Jerusalem while on a pilgrimage there. She gave the painting to her son, Constantine, who had a shrine built in Constantinople to house it.
In a critical battle with the Saracens, the portrait was displayed from the walls of the city and the Saracens were subsequently routed. The portrait was credited with saving the city.
The painting was eventually owned by Charlemagne who subsequently presented it to Prince Leo of Ruthenia (northwest Hungary). It remained at the royal palace in Ruthenia until an invasion occurred in the eleventh century. The king prayed to Our Lady to aid his small army and as a result of his prayers a darkness descended on the enemy troops who, in their confusion, began attacking one another. Ruthenia was saved as a result of this intervention. In the fourteenth century, it was transferred to the Mount of Light (Jasna Gora) in Poland in response to a request made in a dream of Prince Ladislaus of Opola.
This legendary history becomes better documented with the painting’s ownership by Prince Ladislaus. In 1382 invading Tartars attacked the Prince’s fortress at Belz. In this attack one of the Tartar arrows hit the painting and lodged in the throat of the Madonna. The Prince, fearing that he and the famous painting might fall to the Tartars, fled in the night finally stopping in the town of Czestochowa, where the painting was installed in a small church. The Prince subsequently had a Pauline monastery and church built to ensure the painting’s safety. In 1430, the Hussites overran the monastery and attempted to take the portrait. One of the looters twice struck the painting with his sword but before he could strike another blow he fell to the floor writhing in agony and died. Both the sword cuts and the arrow wound are still visible in the painting.
Later, in 1655, Poland was almost entirely overrun by the forces of Sweden’s King Charles X. Only the area around the monastery remained unconquered. Somehow, the monks of the monastery successfully defended the portrait against a forty day siege and eventually all of Poland was able to drive out the invaders. After this remarkable turn of events, the Lady of Czestochowa became the symbol of Polish national unity and was crowned Queen of Poland. The King of Poland placed the country under the protection of the Blessed Mother. A more recent legend surrounding the painting involves the threat of a Russian invasion. In 1920, the Russian army was seen massing on the banks of the Vistula river, threatening Warsaw, when an image of the Virgin was seen in the clouds over the city. The Russian troops withdrew on seeing the image.
There have been reports for centuries of miraculous events such as spontaneous healings occurring to those who made a pilgrimage to the portrait. It is known as the ‘Black Madonna” because of the soot residue that discolors the painting. The soot is the result of centuries of votive lights and candles burning in front of the painting. With the decline of communism in Poland, pilgrimages to the Black Madonna have increased dramatically.
This image is used in both Haitian Vodou and Dominican Vodou to represent the Loa Erzuli Danto.
PRAYER TO SAINT BARBARA AFRICANA
Holy Mother of Czestochowa, Thou art full of grace, goodness and mercy. I consecrate to Thee all my thoughts, words and actions, my soul and body. I beseech Thy blessings and especially prayers for my salvation. Today, I consecrate myself to Thee, Good Mother, totally, with body and soul amid joy and sufferings to obtain for myself and others Thy blessings on this earth and eternal life in Heaven.
NOVENA MASS TO OUR LADY OF CZESTOCHOWA