Eighteen years since a 60th wedding anniversary celebrated at Czestochowa, Poland (Part Two)
By Mark Wegierski
We then continued towards Piotrkow Trybunalski, a historic town which was the seat of Poland’s Royal Tribunal for hundreds of years (before 1795). It was also an occasional point of assembly for the Polish Sejm (or Parliament), whose members were elected from and by the nobility. The traditions of the Sejm stretched back to the Renaissance period. Given that the noble class numbered around ten percent of the population in Old Poland – unlike in most other European countries, where it was only one or two percent -- this meant that historically a far larger proportion of the population had full political participation than in some other countries in Europe, such as the French monarchy, where meaningful politics in fact usually revolved around a fraction of a percentage of the population. After the death of the last Jagiellonian King in 1572, Old Poland also had the system where a King was elected for life by the electoral Sejm – rather than having a hereditary dynast -- hence it could be called a Royal Republic. Indeed, it was referred to in European diplomacy as “Serenissima” – which could be rendered in English as “the Most Serene Republic” – a term which had also been used in reference to Old Venice. In the U.S. Constitution of 1787, the office of the President of the United States (which, it may be remembered, was not originally subject to term limits), may have been partially inspired by the Polish elected monarchy.
Turning towards the east, we whipped across 80 kilometers to reach Zarnow, a small town whose earliest building (the church) dates back to the tenth century. Zarnow is where her grandparents were living at that time, in a decidedly modest house of a few rooms. I was told that when her grandparents were digging a well, they encountered a very hard wall of rock – which might have been remnants of early medieval walls. Unfortunately, with a very overstretched government budget, in a country which is – outside of Warsaw and a few other large centers – subject to considerable, often grinding poverty – funds for exploratory archeological digs are very limited.
We quickly loaded the grandparents into the car, which was a rather tight fit for four people and an increasingly nervy dog, and our problems became exacerbated when the grandmother began to suffer from motion sickness. Nevertheless, we persevered and finally reached Czestochowa by about 4 P.M. Her immediate family – including her mother, sister, and one brother, lives in a fairly large house with a large yard, on the outskirts of the city.
Without stopping to rest or snack, and leaving the dog tied up in the yard, we had to rush by car to the famous Jasna Gora Pauline monastery complex, where a commemorative ceremony had been reserved at the main sanctuary, before the famous icon, the so-called Black Madonna. This was actually the first time in my life that I would be at the shrine.
We drove up around the monastery walls to the huge parking lot at the back, at which we were fortuitously able to find a parking spot, owing mainly to my relative’s skill. I noted that various small shops selling devotional materials had been built right into what had once been the fortress walls of the monastery. Even in the short time we were there, we saw a fair number of large tour-buses going up the drive. We then walked along through a large gate-tower towards the main chapel where the Black Madonna resides. My relative’s grandfather had put on his partisan fighter veteran’s uniform with its many medals. He had been severely wounded in the fighting during the war, and, in fact, his first wife had been killed by the German occupiers.
One of my first impressions of the buildings was that they are in fact rather small and intimate, rather than ponderous and overwhelming – which is perhaps somewhat unexpected from such a world-famous site. Although one of the sharp steeples of the monastery complex can be seen from virtually anywhere in the town, the feeling of actually walking around in the monastery complex is rather human-scale.
As we walked into the sanctuary proper, we noticed a marriage ceremony going on directly before the Black Madonna icon. Of course, the icon always has a jewel-encrusted robe for public viewing, so it looks rather different from the unadorned painting. The priest, his attendants, and the young couple were obscured and separated from the main crowd in the chapel by a huge ironwork grille that looked somewhat like an iconostasis in an Eastern Orthodox church.
Pilgrimages were continually streaming into the sanctuary, and joining in the ongoing prayers and singing of the wedding service.
Unfortunately, it turned out that we had missed our cue and arrived about fifteen minutes too late, whereas the wedding anniversary commemoration had been allotted little more than fifteen minutes. However, we participated in the prayers and singing. It was rather disappointing to have missed a 60th Wedding Anniversary commemoration.
Being very tired, I ducked out to the church which sits directly beside the sanctuary-chapel, where I could admire the magnificence of the Baroque altar. Despite my near-exhaustion I appreciated the uplifting beauty of the holy site.
(Partially based on the author’s article that originally appeared in Chronicles (Rockford, IL) (December 2005), pp. 38-39.)
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher. He was born in Toronto of Polish immigrant parents.