360 years since the Swedish siege of Czestochowa, and 11 years since a 60th wedding anniversary celebrated there (Part Four)
By Mark Wegierski
Jasna Gora, the monastery at the heart of Czestochowa, has had a very long history in the Polish nation. Its central fame derives from the time of the so-called Deluge. In July 1655, Sweden, then a militant, aggressive, Protestant power, invaded Poland from the north, quickly seizing most of the country. Poland (in union with Lithuania) was at that time a large, sprawling, but poorly organized state whose borders stretched to Riga in the north-east, and Kiev in the south-east. It had been wracked by the Dnieper Cossack rebellion, and continual wars with Muscovy. On November 18, 1655, the Swedish general Miller laid siege to the recently-fortified monastery with 3,000 soldiers, against a garrison of 170 soldiers, 20 noblemen, and 70 brothers. The indomitable Father Augustyn Kordecki decided to resist, despite being massively outnumbered. After forty days of siege, the Protestant Swedes had failed to take the "fortress of Mary" – and abandoned their efforts. The failure of the siege was seen as a "miracle" brought about by the Virgin Mary's intercession. It was a huge symbol that galvanized resistance to the Swedish occupation across all of Poland. On April 1, 1656, the Polish King, John Casimir, proclaimed the Virgin Mary the Patroness and Queen of Poland. The defense of Jasna Gora has been a symbol that continues to live even today.
In 2005, on the 350th anniversary of the siege, the Poles elected a staunchly patriotic President (Lech Kaczynski), and a strongly patriotic majority to the Sejm (National Assembly) as well as to the Senate (an Upper Chamber revived in 1989). In 2015, the Presidential and Parliamentary elections will also be occurring in the same year, and might hopefully bring a more patriotic President, and the more patriotic parties, into power.
In their rising against Russian domination of a weakening Poland, the Confederates of Bar (including Casimir Pulaski, who would later become a hero of the War of American Independence) seized and then defended the sanctuary between 1769-1772. The Confederates of Bar (konfederaci barscy) – named after a small south-eastern town where they had initially gathered – who also called themselves "soldiers of Mary" – have been dubbed by some historians as "the Polish Jacobites." (The Jacobites were the doomed Scottish insurgents led by "Bonnie Prince Charlie" in the 1745 Rising.) Although their political aims had been rather confused – combining both sincere patriotism and a resistance to reforms which the Polish political system at that time desperately needed – they set an example of self-sacrifice for future generations. They were crushed by the Tsarist Russian armies that were tromping through Poland at that time. Indeed, they were one of the first of many generations of Polish freedom-fighters who would frequently end up in exile in Siberia or other remote regions of Russia.
Among the very first prominent Poles to be exiled to Siberia were the noble Senators who were resisting the onslaught of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great at the beginning of the eighteenth century. (In the Old Poland, there was also an Upper Chamber – the Senate. In 1989, as Communism was collapsing in Poland, a Senate was revived as part of Poland's parliamentary evolution.)
Indeed, it could be argued that the First Republic had largely lost its sovereignty already by that time, the beginning of the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, a massive patriotic renewal movement endeavoured to restore the polity, the culmination of which was the glorious Constitution of the Third of May in 1791. One of the first written Constitutions in history, it was effusively praised by Edmund Burke, one of the leading statesmen of the era. Unfortunately, the Partitioning powers killed the First Republic at the threshold of its possible revival. The Partition period in Poland extended from 1795 to 1918 – 123 years of often harsh foreign occupation by Tsarist Russia, Prussia/Germany, and the Habsburg Empire.
To be continued.
(This series is based on the author's article that originally appeared in Chronicles (Rockford, IL) (December 2005), pp. 38-39.)
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.