‘Black Madonna’ icon to visit Macon this weekend

lfabian@macon.comJanuary 3, 2014 

A replica of the famous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, or “Black Madonna,” will stop this weekend at St. Joseph Catholic Church in downtown Macon.

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A sacred image of Mary holding baby Jesus will visit Macon on its trip around the world.

The replica of the famous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, or “Black Madonna,” will stop this weekend at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Poplar Street.

In summer 2012, a group of Catholic and Orthodox worshipers began the “Ocean to Ocean Pilgrimage” in the defense of life and family.

The journey that crossed Russia and Europe came to the United States in August.

The icon has already traveled more than 40,000 miles in 24 countries.

Although stories of its origin vary, tradition holds that St. Luke, author of the third book of the New Testament, “wrote” the image, said the Rev. Peter West, who is traveling with the icon.

He did not say paint because believers see the rendering as the written gospel in picture form, West said.

“Mary is pointing the way to her son Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life,” he said in a telephone interview while on his way to Macon.

Taking icons on caravans is based on the Old Testament tradition of carrying the Ark of the Covenant into battle.

The original image is in the Monastery of Jasna Góra. It is believed to have been created on a cypress table in the home of Jesus’ family.

Tradition dictates that in the 4th century, St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, found it during a trip to the Holy Land and brought it back to Constantinople.

Charlemagne eventually owned it and presented it as a dowry to Prince Lev of Galicia in the Western Ukraine. After six centuries in the royal palace at Belz, invaders attacked the fortress and in 1382 the icon was taken for safekeeping to the Polish town of Czestochowa.

In 1430, the painting was damaged by Hussite raiders who slashed it and tried to burn it, giving it a darker appearance referred to as the Black Madonna.

“In a sense, she is a symbol of Poland herself, scarred but persevering in faith,” stated the icon’s history on the website of Human Life International, the organization of missionaries sponsoring the pilgrimage.

On Aug. 24, the painting arrived in St. Clements Island, Md., where English Catholics sought refuge in 1634.

West said the reception of the icon across 13 states has been wonderful.

“I think it surprises a lot of people, including the pastors, who are surprised at the outpouring of veneration and devotion people have for the icon,” he said. “I think people see it as a spiritual presence of the Blessed Mother and Jesus.”

Pastor of St. Joseph, the Rev. Allan McDonald, said icons play a greater role in the Eastern Orthodox rite than in Roman Catholicism.

“It is a window into the sacred and the mystery of God,” McDonald said. “This image has some pro-life symbolism in terms of respect for humanity and God’s call to love others.”

The icon will be processed into the downtown Macon church before Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. Mass.

At the end of each Mass through Sunday evening, worshippers will be allowed to approach the icon and venerate it by touching, kissing or bowing to it, McDonald said.

Sunday’s Mass times are 7:45 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 12:10 p.m. and 5 p.m.

The image will continue to travel the South during the winter with scheduled stops in Lawrenceville on Jan. 10, Woodstock on Jan. 11-12 and Savannah on Jan. 13.

The icon also will go to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life on Jan. 22, head to the Midwest in spring and out West in summer.

The U.S. tour ends in Arizona in November before the icon heads to Mexico, Central and South America and beyond.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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