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Watching my three daughters during the Christmas season is not exactly a tranquil experience. What begins with an honest and innocent desire to play and re-tell the Christmas story using Playmobil or Fontanini nativity figurines ends up in a squabble over who gets to hold the kitschy statue of Mary and play with her detachable!
Like my girls, I have been fascinated by this woman since my childhood. She has beckoned and drawn me, and waited for me, wherever it is that she has led me. I found myself through coercion or coincidence processing on my knees, rosary in hand, beneath the crutch and cane-laden pillars of votive offerings.
Surrounded by multitudes of sick and healthy, young and old, jammed and immobilized between a host of drab and gray mohair beret wearing ladies whose prayers keep the world turning. I was but one small child in this genuflecting procession of her children. Both this image and this place, the throne of Our Lady in the heart of Poland, has played a major role in the history of Poland and the modern Roman Catholic Church.
Perhaps most famously, the monastery remained the only undefeated place in the Swedish-Polish Wars, and it was during the siege of when, outnumbered by Swedes and German mercenaries, the Prior of the monastery, Augustyn Kordecki, resisted and battled the invaders who sought to loot the monastery and its most famous image.
This resistance, by some accounts, turned the tide of the wars, and was later famously depicted by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz in The Deluge. The Black Madonna has always stood as Queen and suffering Mother for millions of Poles, wherever they have found themselves.