We didn’t know it what we decided to stay here but Czestochowa is one of the big pilgrimage centers for Catholics because it is home to Jasna Gora. Jasna Gora is a huge abbey and basilica where the Black Madonna is housed. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have given mass here. Masses at which tens of thousands of Poles attended. It was outdoor and photos show the entire park and street around Jasna Gora crammed full of worshipers.
Outside the abbey I am struck by the number of statues honouring the men of religion. My Polish language skills are nil so I cannot read the signs on the statues to say who exactly they were but it seems like the words ‘Arkbishop’ and ‘Dioses’ are common, indicating that they are archbishops and the like. This man in particular fills me with mixed emotions because his statue is so large and I cannot make out whether he is pious or benevolent. He does certainly cut a striking figure and probably dissuades unruly sightseers from entering the abbey.
It’s the low season for tourism in Poland so there are not many people at Jasna Gora. I have read that in the summer it might be necessary to queue for entry. I don’t know whether entry is free or whether you are supposed to purchase a ticket. We just walked in and no one stopped us. But something in my Poland travel app (have I mentioned yet that there is a fantastic free travel app for Poland that is just called .pl) indicates that there are ticket vendors.
The abbey is comprised of a number of buildings. The main one is the basilica. Inside the basilica is a symbol of religious wealth. I cannot describe the way it made me feel. I didn’t feel at all closer to God here. I felt a little disgusted at the ostentatious decorations. I know this isn’t correct for all. I am not against religion but I have seen so much poverty the past two years that this wealth in a place that asks people to donate money seems so disconnected. This is just the riches in the basilica. Later we went to the treasury where photos are forbidden. The jewels on the priest clothes and the rings and other valuables there would be worth more than it probably costs to feed the whole of Africa for a lifetime. Well, maybe not that much … but it’d come close to relieving world hunger.
Jasna Gora is also home to the Black Madonna. She is said to perform miracles, particularly healing miracles. This is one of many copies of the Black Madonna that are housed in the abbey. The original is locked away in the treasury. Many people pray to the Black Madonna in her own chapel. The walls are lined with crutches and other medical aids that people are said to have been cured from needing. A service starts while we are there but I don’t feel the need to stay. It sounds like it is being given in Latin though it is probably more likely to be in Polish.
We explore the abbey some more, including the treasury and museum. The museum houses items such as ivory tusks given as gifts to Pope John Paul II and the battle armor of soldiers from the middle ages. It just continues my sense of discontent with this place. The carved ivory tusks (and there are at least three of them here) symbolise elephant poaching while the armour symbolises the connection between Catholicism and war (something that contemporary society criticises Islam for). I cannot help but feel torn because I have a strong faith and belief in God but I cannot connect that faith and belief with what I am seeing here today. Even ten days later as I write this post I am still quite confused as to how I feel about the religion in which I was raised (all-be-it raised by non-practicing parents).