August 26 – Feast Day of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa

Posted on August 26, 2018

The Christian religion began when some people, a couple of thousand years ago, started following a tradition about a Jewish carpenter and itinerant preacher named Jesus (or, in Greek Iēsous; in Hebrew Yeshua or Joshua). The events of the Jesus story occurred in a Middle Eastern land ruled by the Romans - then called Judea and now called Israel. 

Because of that geography, most scholars believe that Jesus - and his mother and the rest of his family, of course - looked Semitic, which is a word for the people who live in the Middle East and speak either Hebrew or Arabic. Semitic people tend to have brown skin and dark hair and eyes, so it would seem that Jesus (and his mom / family) would have that coloring.

However, over the centuries, people have depicted Jesus and Mary, especially, in many different ways. I have often heard criticisms of artists who depict Jesus and Mary as fair-haired or blue-eyed people who look like they originated from Northern Europe rather than the Middle East. 

Some people point out that making Jesus into a "white dude" instead of a Person of Color, a Jewish man with little money, brown skin, and a penchant for making friends with those who were down and out, is part of a widespread problem: that too many people twist Jesus's message into something unrecognizable.

There have also been depictions of a "black" (by which I mean quite dark brown-skinned) Jesus and Mary, and there tends to be outcry against these paintings and statues. 

Today's feast day isn't an outcry against a black or brown Mary and Jesus; instead, it is a celebration of them! This is the feast day of Our Lady of Częstochowa, a version of Mary, the mother of Jesus, that is sometimes called the Queen of Poland or Our Lady of Sorrows.

The reverence of this version of Mary is based on an "icon," a religious object that is a painting of Mary holding the baby Jesus; scholars estimate that it was made sometime in the 1300s. It was painted on wood and decorated with metal and jewels. Various items have been swapped out, over the centuries - like a crown made out of sheet iron was replaced by a gold crown. Also, when the painting was badly damaged, it was repainted.

At some point the painting 
was carried from Constantinople to Częstochowa, Poland.

The painting, often called Our Lady of Częstochowa but also known as the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, was supposed to have helped save a monastery and to have prevented its own theft. 

It's interesting to me to consider that Polish people often have very fair skin and hair and blue eyes, yet the painting that Poland honors depicts a dark skinned Mary and Jesus. 

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