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 Christianity  >  Features  >  Black Madonna Pilgrimage
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The Catholic pilgrimage to the Black Madonna
Based on a radio programme by Kristine Pommert for BBC World Service

A radio montage following a group of Polish pilgrims, and British Catholics of Polish descent, as they undertake the gruelling walk to Poland's most sacred site, the shrine of the Black Madonna at Czestochowa, visited by 30 million people every year.

Black Madonna (27m 16s)

The icon of the Black Madonna
Black Madonna

Every year in August, tens of thousands of people gather in the Polish capital Warsaw to undertake the long and arduous walk to the country's most sacred place: the shrine of the Black Madonna in Czestochowa.

The Black Madonna is an icon some believe to have been painted by St Luke on a table made by St Joseph for the holy family in Nazareth. Others believe the icon was painted in ninth century Greece or Italy. The icon is now housed in the monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa in south west Poland.

The Black Madonna is believed to have saved Poland several times from attackers who threatened to overrun her. She's seen as the Queen of Poland and is the focus of Polish Catholics' intense devotion to the Mother of God.

The pilgrimage
The pilgrims walk 10 hours a day for 9 days to cover the traditional 300-kilometer pilgrimage on foot from Warsaw to Czestochowa.

For many of them the walk is a time away from the distractions of their everyday lives; a walking retreat and meditation.

Among the pilgrims are

  • Paw, a teacher and second-generation Polish expat from London, who spends his summer holidays each year on the pilgrimage;
  • Zygmunt, his brother, who's doing it for the 23rd time this year;
  • Ela, Zygmunt's wife;
  • Urszula, a young woman who is seeking a new direction in her life through the experience of walking to the Black Madonna. It's her 8th time on the pilgrimage.
Pilgrims filing past the neat white buildings of Warsaw
Leaving Warsaw's old city

Why do they put up with heat and rain, aching legs and blisters on their feet for nine long days - all to be in the presence of the Black Madonna for two short minutes?

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