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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Three: Czestochowa

Michael Palin - New EuropeYesterday it was Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) and today we continue south into Malopolska (Little Poland). In truth, there seems little difference between the two. Rolling farmland for mile after mile with barely a hill to be seen. The flatlands of the Great European Plain, which has through the years made Poland so vulnerable to the invader.

From the late eighteenth century, when an ascendant Russia wiped her off the map, to the end of the First World War in 1918, Poland ceased to exist as a nation. Russia, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire redistributed her territory among themselves.

It was a sad time for a country that had been among the most progressive, successful and influential in Europe. One of the great strengths that held the Polish spirit together during these dark times was their Catholic faith. Right down to the Soviet years after the Second World War, it was their religion that proved to be the unbendable backbone of the people. If Lech Walesa's potent strikes had begun the process of bringing down communism he could never have achieved what he did without the moral support of Pope John Paul II.

The unprepossessing city of Czestochowa is the religious capital of the country, and to come here is to understand how profoundly important is the Catholic faith to most Poles. In the fourteenth century an order of monks, followers of the hermit St Paul of Thebes, arrived here and were given sanctuary by King Ladislaus II, who not only let them establish a monastery but endowed it with an icon, a Madonna and Child believed by some to have been painted by St Luke on a table-top from Nazareth. It's been more soberly dated to the twelfth century. As a result of a special varnish applied over the tempera, as well as age and constant exposure to burning incense, it began to turn darker and darker and eventually became known as the Black Madonna.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Three: Czestochowa
  • Country/sea: Poland
  • Place: Częstochowa
  • Book page no: 241

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RELATED LINKS

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  • Day 16 
  • Pole to Pole

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