Jasna Gora Monastery and Return to Warsaw

Trip Start Jun 17, 2009
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Trip End Jul 18, 2009


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Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Czestochowa – July 15, 2009

We left Wroclaw this morning by bus and it was to be a long day. I went for a run along the Oder River just before 6 a.m. and returned to the hotel and had breakfast. We loaded the buses and departed at 8 a.m. and took a "shortcut", as Andrejsz told me in jest, to the town of Czestochowa, to the northeast of Wroclaw. Our schedule had us going on a tour of the Jasna Gora Monastery, lunch, and then we would spend the second half of the day on the bus to Warsaw. The roads were awful, the bus rattled and shook, and it took nearly 3 hours to get to Jasna Gora.

I was not prepared for what I saw at Jasna Gora Monastery. I learned that the patron saint of Poland for many is Saint Mary, and in this case, the Black Madonna and Child. The monks who live here believe that St. Luke the Evangelist painted the portrait of the Black Madonna and Child and they have been its caretakers since 1382. Our guide for our nearly four hour tour was Father Simon Stefanowicz, a 74-year old priest who did a wonderful job of leading us, at a very fast pace, to nearly every corner of the monastery during our tour.

When I wrote earlier that I was not prepared for what I saw at Jasna Gora, I mean I was not prepared for the scale of what I saw. Jasna Gora is the site of pilgrimages for thousands of Poles during the summer months. People from villages all over Poland walk to the shrine over the course of days, most take about 10 to 12 days. They pitch tents and camp out along the way and when they arrive here. Men, women, children, teenagers, the elderly, and people in wheelchairs, the village priests – everyone goes on the pilgrimage. The scene was not unlike that of a pregame tailgate atmosphere at a Penn State football game, only without the actual tailgate amenities and perhaps only about 25,000 people, rather than over 100,000. However, it was impressive to see so many people of faith going to the shrine with their families and friends. Over 98% of the population in Poland is Roman Catholic.

We waited outside in the heat and humidity, one of the warmest days we have experienced in Poland. As we waited for our guide, Father Simon, we heard and saw singing groups of people with their village and church banners walk into the central gate, singing and praying, and then they proceeded into the shrine, which is an ornate, and elaborate cathedral built in the Baroque style from several hundred years ago. Father Simon took us along a perimeter path in the shrine, weaving in and out of literally thousands of pilgrims praying and singing. It was very interesting to say the least. Photos were not allowed in the shrine, but you can imagine that it is very beautiful, ornate, and a place taken very seriously by the Polish faithful.

After the tour of the shrine, we visited the museum on site, and then we went into the monastery itself on a special tour. We entered the monastery library, which was breathtaking. In it were books and works of art from centuries ago. The guest book, which we signed, was open on the library table, and we were encouraged to flip through it. I saw signatures of people I have read about in history classes over the years: Heinrich Himmler, JFK, RFK, and many others. Father Simon pulled a book off the shelf, turns out it was one of many bibles translated into Polish over 700 years ago. Pretty impressive room, beautiful frescoes on the walls and ceilings, and trimmed in gold.

We had lunch outside the monastery in a private room of the restaurant at the gates to the monastery. Then we boarded the bus and headed back to Warsaw. We arrived at our same hotel we started at here in Poland, the Novotel Centrum. It was great to be back in Warsaw, and hard to believe we are headed home already. Four members of the 16 in our Fulbright group are staying another week for traveling in other parts of Europe, but the bulk of us are heading home to the U.S. on Saturday. Stay tuned music fans, we are going to the birthplace and home of Frederic Chopin today, then we are supposed to have some time off this afternoon. I could use it, I am tired.
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Comments

cacevedo
cacevedo on

Have a safe trip back
Pete,

I'm looking forward to hearing all about your trip. We've enjoyed the photos and stories you've posted. Our students will learn so much from your experience.

Have a safe trip. Look forward to seeing you on Monday.

Chris

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