History of the crowns

Zofia Rozanow

The famous Miraculous Picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa has a long and rich history. And so have the robes that have adorned Jesus and Mary for ages. On 4 September 2010 new crowns and robe as the votive offerings of the nation on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the re-coronation of the Miraculous Picture will be placed on the Picture. In this issue of ‘Niedziela’ we are writing about the old crowns and in the next issues we will present the new crowns and the robe.
The royal attributes of the Picture of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, i.e. the crowns, have been put since the 1570s. They became constant elements of the icon in the 16th century. Till the end of the Middle Ages the crown was put only on the head of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the first crown on the Infant’s head was put only in the 17th century.

The oldest crowns

The first crowns show the three graphic images of the Icon: the wood engraving from Krakow placed in the texts describing the history of the Picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The first one was in the devotional text-poster of Bishop Jan Konarski of Krakow, ca. 1615-24. The second one was in the Latin work by Piotr Rydzynski ‘Historia pulchra...’, [Beautiful History] published in Krakow in 1523 and in the Polish translation of this work by the Pauline Father Mikolaj of Wilkowicko entitled ‘Historya o Obrazie w Częstochowie Panny Maryey’ [History of the Picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa], Krakow, 1568. On those two older wood engravings the crowns have late Gothic shapes. They were decorated with precious stones and pearls and surmounted with stylised feather-like trefoil leaves. The crown on the third wood engraving is Renaissance-Mannerist. They all are royal open crowns. The head of the Infant on the three woodcuts has only a cross nimbus. The shape of the crowns follows the iconography of the Polish kings from the end of the 15th century and the first quarter of the 16th century. It is also shown in the altar images of the Icon of Czestochowa.
The open crowns were signs of royal dignity but the highest symbol of power is the closed crowns that only emperors, to whom kingdoms were subordinated, could wear. The shape of the closed crowns spread all over Europe in the 16th century. They appeared as the symbol of the highest power in various constellations of the changing political settings. In the sacred symbolism they meant the highest power over the world and whole universe where the will and protection of the Creator ruled over the micro and macro-cosmos. Referring to the Holy Trinity they symbolised God’s unity and omnipotence whereas referring to Mary they symbolised the highest tribute that can be paid to the Mother of God – the Redeemer of humankind. The Blessed Virgin Mary, carrying the imperial crown, was not only the Queen of the Universe and our Queen but also became the Lady of Heaven and Earth, as the old Marian songs proclaimed. This form of such unique imperial tribute to the Mother of God was relatively quickly introduced to the shape of the Jasna Gora crowns. The oldest preserved evidence is the seal of the Pauline provincials on the document issued by Provincial Sebastian Borkowski; the seal has a circumflex inscription with the year 1582, marking the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the monastery; it represents a scene of the adoration of the Czestochowa Icon by the patron saints of the order: St Paul the First Hermit and Saint Bishop Augustine. In the seal one can see clearly the contour of the closed crown on the head of Mary whereas the head of the Infant is surrounded by a plain nimbus.

Textual and graphic sources

The crowns of the Picture were mentioned for the first time in 1593, referring to the visitation of Cardinal Jerzy Radziwill of Krakow in the first volume of ‘Jasnogorska Ksiega Cudow i Lask’ [The Jasna Gora Book of Miracles and Graces], having the recommendation that while crowning the Picture ‘dignity was kept and no exaggeration was revealed.’ One can suppose that there were more crowns at that time but their benefactors were anonymous. The first mentioned benefactor was Fr Mikolaj Krolik, the Provincial of the Pauline Order from 1622 (died in 1646). According to the entry in the registry he was to fund a gold crown for the Blessed Virgin Mary before the year 1633. It is likely that this crown was identical with Mary’s crown of Mary from the set of the ruby crowns, called the Wladyslaw crown, ascribed to the foundation of King Wladyslaw IV in 1635, which was not confirmed by the sources. This foundation must have been made earlier because the analysis of the sources shows that in 1625, on the return way from his one year-old peregrination in Western Europe, during his stay in Czestochowa on 15 May, Prince Wladyslaw Waza offered his honourable distinction, given to him by Pope Urban VIII, as a votive offering. The distinction was a blessed hat or cap (in Latin pileus or mitre), adorned with fur and rich carried thing (in Latin gestamen) with gold jewellery, which were them used to adorn the crown of Our Lady and the humbler crown of the Infant. It was one of the most beautiful gold works, described many times in the inventories of the Jasna Gora treasury in the Book of the Miracles as well as presented in the drawings preserved in the Jasna Gora archives, occasional devotional drawings and engravings and altar images of the Icon. The precious stones were mainly rubies and diamonds. Some colourful enamel elements completed the work. The shape of the crowns was as if a condensed dome, slightly bulbous in the Byzantine style. The experienced theologian made the whole composition on the plain background, without a clear division between the rim and the finial, emphasising the royal character of the cult of the Queen of the Polish Crown and co-participation of Mary in the sacrifice of Christ and the redemption. In Mary’s crown the centre of the composition had the image of Pieta: the crowned Virgin was sitting, seven swords of sorrow pierced her heart and Jesus’ dead body was at her feet. Above the image a pair of angels adorned the crown with Christ’s hierogram at the top of the crown; the rim had the inscription ‘Tibi Jesu – Tibi Maria.’ At the lower band of the crown there were some miniature emblems of the tools of Christ’s passion, adorned with rubies, and the face of Christ on the veil (Vera ikon) in the middle, along the axis of the composition. The crown of the Infant was not so rich but its images have not been preserved. The metal support was made of simple iron sheet, which was replaced in 1705 by the gold, enriched with jewels, sheet made by Brother Makary Sztyftowski, who was the goldsmith of the order.

Later history

In the second half of the 17th century various crowns for the Miraculous Picture were offered but we do not know the shapes. In the year 1671 Queen Eleanor from the House of Habsburg, the wife of King Michal Korybut Wisniowiecki, offered a crown. In the years 1710-16 Fr Konstanty Pawlowski, the Definitor of the Pauline Province and sexton of Jasna Gora Monastery, offered his crown. Then in 1717 King August II the Strong offered his diamond crown as the votive offering for the treaty with the Tarnogrod Confederation.
The ruby crowns, called the Wladyslaw crown, must have been taken off in 1717 when the Icon received the papal crowns sent by Clement XI. The pair of crowns, made in Rome, was offered by the chapter of St Peter’s Basilica, which were named the Clementine crowns after Clement XI. The Wladyslaw crowns were taken off and the particular elements of the decoration were transferred to the ruby robe. After almost three centuries the jewellery was found by Ewa Smulikowska when she was making the inventory of the artistic works at Jasna Gora in the years 1968-78. Her research, conducted for many years, constitutes the basis of all works in this field. The crowning with the papal crowns was a great honour and elevation of the sanctuary in the international forum. The grand ceremonies of the coronation played an important role in the history of Jasna Gora.
But when the crowns were put on the Picture it turned out that the gold and jewellery were of bad quality, and keeping the highest discretion the new crowns, having the same shape and made of solid gold and precious stones, mainly diamonds from the Jasna Gora treasury, were made. The Clementine crowns were open crowns. They had very characteristic shapes. The base was adorned with big cabochons and rautens, jewels framed in medallions and cases. The crust, widely unfolded on the outside, was made of pinnacles-triple medallions with precious stones and open work gaps between them. Each crown was supported by a pair of gold angels. The massive shape of the crowns, somewhat too heavy, was different from the former crowns but it was so characteristic that it became a perfect element of dating all copies of the Picture made during that time. The folk art did not know this shape and changed it into some Indian plume with loose feathers. The crowns adorned the Picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa from 1717 to 1909. On the night of 22/23 October 1909 the Clementine crowns, the figures of the angles and the pearl robe of Our Lady were stolen. The circumstances of the theft have not been explained so far.

The crowns of Pius X and the crowns of John Paul II

Pius X founded new crowns at the turn of 1909 and 1910, fulfilling the request of Fr Euzebiusz Rejman made through Archbishop Jozef Bilczewski of Lvov and Fr Adam Stefan Sapieha who was the papal chamberlain and then became Bishop of Krakow. The coronation ceremony was held soon – on 22 May 1910 because the Holy See anticipated the intention of Tsar Nicolas II who was eager to fund new crowns for the Icon within the framework of his imperial policy of Russification. The crowns sent by Pius X, are put on the picture from time to time. This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of this coronation. The shape of the crowns is party open (royal diadem) and party closed (imperial form). Their contour refers to the tradition of the Wladyslaw crowns having one plain, the difference between the base and the rim is blurred, and their composition is compact. The whole background is covered with a tiny compact ornamental relief, slightly convex, enriched with some stones. Nine six-arm stars with little diamonds adorn the finial of the palmette alternating height pinnacles. The crown of the Infant is surmounted with small sapphires. There is a nine-beam diamond star in the middle of Mary’s crown whereas in the middle of Jesus’ crown there is a little cross. Two pairs of slim enamel angels, with rainbow wings and white tunics, support both crowns, in a way repeating the motive of the Clementine crowns. The crowns of Pius X are used as a set to the diamond robe of the Picture.
In the second half of the 20th century several more crowns were made. The most important ones were funded on the occasion of the millennium of Christianity in Poland, as a set to the millennium robe. The last crowns were funded in 2005 by Pope John Paul II, towards the end of his life. The coronation took place on 26 August 2005 on the Feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa and on the 25th anniversary of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union ‘Solidarity’. They are ideological symbols of the majesty of the Queen of the Polish Crown, having the motive of the eagles of the Piast dynasty.

"Niedziela" 35/2010

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl