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Black Maddonna

The Black Madonna - Czestochowa, Poland (1382)

The Black Madonna is a painting of the Madonna and Christ Child which legend states was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist. St. Luke is believed to have used a tabletop from a table built by the carpenter Jesus. It was while Luke was painting Mary that she told him about the events in the life of Jesus that he eventually incorporated in his gospel. The painting shows up again in 326 AD when St. Helen located it in Jerusalem while on a pilgrimage there. She gave the painting to her son, Constantine, who had a shrine built in Constantinople to house it.

In a critical battle with the Saracens, the portrait was displayed from the walls of the city and the Saracens were subsequently routed. The portrait was credited with saving the city.

The painting was eventually owned by Charlemagne who subsequently presented it to Prince Leo of Ruthenia (northwest Hungary). It remained at the royal palace in Ruthenia until an invasion occurred in the eleventh century. The king prayed to Our Lady to aid his small army and as a result of his prayers a darkness descended on the enemy troops who, in their confusion, began attacking one another. Ruthenia was saved as a result of this intervention. In the fourteenth century, it was transferred to the Mount of Light (Jasna Gora) in Poland in response to a request made in a dream of Prince Ladislaus of Opola.

This legendary history becomes better documented with the painting's ownership by Prince Ladislaus. In 1382 invading Tartars attacked the Prince's fortress at Belz. In this attack one of the Tartar arrows hit the painting and lodged in the throat of the Madonna. The Prince, fearing that he and the famous painting might fall to the Tartars, fled in the night finally stopping in the town of Czestochowa, where the painting was installed in a small church. The Prince subsequently had a Pauline monastery and church built to ensure the painting's safety. In 1430, the Hussites overran the monastery and attempted to take the portrait. One of the looters twice struck the painting with his sword but before he could strike another blow he fell to the floor writhing in agony and died. Both the sword cuts and the arrow wound are still visible in the painting.

Later, in 1655, Poland was almost entirely overrun by the forces of Sweden's King Charles X. Only the area around the monastery remained unconquered. Somehow, the monks of the monastery successfully defended the portrait against a forty day siege and eventually all of Poland was able to drive out the invaders. After this remarkable turn of events, the Lady of Czestochowa became the symbol of Polish national unity and was crowned Queen of Poland. The King of Poland placed the country under the protection of the Blessed Mother. A more recent legend surrounding the painting involves the threat of a Russian invasion. In 1920, the Russian army was seen massing on the banks of the Vistula river, threatening Warsaw, when an image of the Virgin was seen in the clouds over the city. The Russian troops withdrew on seeing the image.

There have been reports for centuries of miraculous events such as spontaneous healings occurring to those who made a pilgrimage to the portrait. It is known as the 'Black Madonna" because of the soot residue that discolors the painting. The soot is the result of centuries of votive lights and candles burning in front of the painting. With the decline of communism in Poland, pilgrimages to the Black Madonna have increased dramatically.

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Our Lady of Lavang

Our Lady of Lavang - La'Vang, Vietnam (1798)

 During much of the 18th century, the nation of Vietnam was embattled in various struggles for power and domination. The northern regions of the kingdom fell under the authority of the lords of the Trinh family, while in the southern realm the Nguyen lords took power. As the eighteenth century drew toward its close, both of their rules were shaken and threatened by peasant uprisings and emerging rebel forces.

 The strongest among the many uprisings was led by the three brothers from Tay Son. In short order, they overthrew the Nguyen lords and defeated the Trinh lords to restore national unity for the first time since the decline of the Le dynasty. A Tay Son brother was enthroned to be King Quang Trung. In 1792 he passed away and left the throne to his son who became King Canh Thinh.

 Meanwhile, Nguyen Anh continued his insurgency in trying to reclaim his throne. Earlier in his run from the Tay Son rebels in 1777, he found refuge on Phu Quoc Island, where Monsignor Pierre Pigneau de Behaine of the Society of Foreign Missions directed a seminary for youths from neighboring countries. The bishop persuaded him to seek help from King Louis XVI of France.

 King Canh Thinh knew that Nguyen Anh received support from the French missionary and worried that the Vietnamese Catholics would also endorse his reign. He began to restrict the practice of Catholicism in the country. On August 17, 1798, King Canh Thinh issued an anti-Catholic edict and an order to destroy all Catholic churches and seminaries. A most grievous persecution of Vietnamese Catholics and missionaries began and lasted until 1886. Even after Nguyen Anh succeeded in reclaiming his throne as King Gia Long (1802-1820), his successors, King Minh Mang (1820-1840), King Thieu Tri (1841-1847) and King Tu Duc (1847-1884), the last Nguyen emperor, continued the vehement campaign against Catholics, ordering punishments that ranged from branding their faces to death by various cruel methods for Vietnamese Catholics and missionary priests.

 It was amidst this great suffering that the Lady of Lavang came to the people of Vietnam. The name Lavang was believed to be originated in the name of the deep forest in the central region of Vietnam (now known as Quang Tri City) where there was an abundance of a kind of trees named La' Vang. It was also said that its name came from the Vietnamese meaning of the word "Crying Out" to denote the cries for help of people being persecuted.

 The first apparition of the Lady of Lavang was noted in 1798, when the persecution of Vietnamese Catholics began. Many Catholics from the nearby town of Quang Tri sought refuge in the deep forest of Lavang. A great number of these people suffered from the bitter cold weather, lurking wild beasts, jungle sickness and starvation. At night, they often gathered in small groups to say the rosary and to pray. Unexpectedly, one night they were visited by an apparition of a beautiful Lady in a long cape, holding a child in her arms, with two angels at her sides. The people recognized the Lady as Our Blessed Mother. 

Our Blessed Mother comforted them and told them to boil the leaves from the surrounding trees to use as medicine. She also told them that from that day on, all those who came to this place to pray, would get their prayers heard and answered. This took place on the grass area near the big ancient banyan tree where the refugees were praying. All those who were present witnessed this miracle. After this first apparition, the Blessed Mother continued to appear to the people in this same place many times throughout the period of nearly one hundred years of religious persecution. Among many groups of Vietnamese Catholics that were burnt alive because of their faith was a group of 30 people who were seized after they came out of their hiding place in the forest of Lavang. At their request, they were taken back to the little chapel of Lavang and were immolated there on its ground.

 From the time the Lady of Lavang first appeared, the people who took refuge there erected a small and desolate chapel in her honor. During the following years, Her name was spread among the people in the region to other places. Despite its isolated location in the high mountains, groups of people continued to find ways to penetrate the deep and dangerous jungle to worship the Lady of Lavang. Gradually, the pilgrims that came with axes, spears, canes, and drums to scare away wild animals were replaced by those holding flying flags, flowers and rosaries. The pilgrimages went on every year despite the continuous persecution campaigns.

 In 1886, after the persecution had officially ended, Bishop Gaspar ordered a church to be built in honor of the Lady of Lavang. Because of its precarious location and limited funding, it took 15 years for the completion of the church of Lavang. It was inaugurated by Bishop Gaspar in a solemn ceremony that participated by over 12,000 people and lasted from August 6th to 8th, 1901. The bishop proclaimed the Lady of Lavang as the Protectorate of the Catholics. In 1928, a larger church was built to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims. This church was destroyed in the summer of 1972 during the Vietnam war.

 The history of the Lady of Lavang continues to gain greater significance as more claims from people whose prayers were answered were validated. In April of 1961, the Council of Vietnamese Bishops selected the holy church of Lavang as the National Sacred Marian Center . In August of 1962, Pope John XXIII elevated the church of Lavang to The Basilica of Lavang. On June 19, 1988, Pope John Paul II in the canonizing ceremony of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs, publicly and repeatedly recognized the importance and significance of the Lady of Lavang and expressed a desire for the rebuilding of the Lavang Basilica to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first apparition of the Lady of Lavang in August of 1998.

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Miraculous medal

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal - Paris, France (1830)

In the summer of 1830, a 24 year old novice of the Sisters of Charity was awakened by a young child, about five years old, dressed in white who called to her:

"Catherine, Catherine, wake up. Come to the chapel; the Blessed Virgin is waiting for you."

Catherine Laboure, who had expressed a strong desire to meet the Blessed Virgin, decided to follow the child down to the chapel. The candles were burning as if at a midnight Mass. About a half-hour later, at midnight, she heard a noise that sounded like the rustle of a silk dress. When she looked up she saw a beautiful young woman surrounded by a blaze of white light sitting in the Father Director's chair. The child who brought her to the chapel told her: "Here is the Blessed Virgin!" Catherine fell to her knees and placed her hands on Mary's lap. Mary tod her:

"My child, the good God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will have much to suffer, but you will rise above these sufferings by reflecting that what you do is for the glory of God. You will know what the good God wants. You will be tormented until you have told him who is in charged with directing you. You will be contradicted, but do not fear, you will have grace. Tell with confidence all that passes within you. Tell it with simplicity. Have confidence. Do not be afraid."

During this discourse with the Blessed Mother, Catherine was warned of dire future occurrences. Mary told her:

"The times are very evil. Sorrows will befall France; the throne will be overturned. The whole world will be plunged into every kind of misery."

After this apparition Catherine had written down "in forty years" when referring to this prophecy. Five months later, in November, Catherine experienced another apparition. In this event Mary appeared dressed entirely in white holding a ball topped with a little golden cross. The ball, she was told, represented the whole world, especially France, and each person in particular. Mary stood on a white globe with a green serpent under her feet on the globe. After a moment, an oval shape formed around the Blessed Virgin, and on it were written these words in gold: `O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.' Upon seeing this vision, Catherine heard a voice say: "Have a medal struck after this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces; abundant graces will be given to those who have confidence." At this point, the oval seemed to turn and Catherine saw the reverse of the medal: the letter M surmounted by a cross, and below it two hearts, one crowned with a crown of thorns, and the other pierced by a sword.

After hearing all of her accounts of these apparitions, her spiritual director, Father Aladel, still had doubts as to their veracity. He met with the local archbishop and after due deliberation the archbishop authorized that the medals be struck since he found nothing contrary to the Faith in anything Catherine said or experienced. Within months there were a flood of reported cures and spiritual conversions attributed to the medal; so much so that it came to be called the Miraculous Medal. Catherine went back to a life of obscurity in the Sisters of Charity once the medal had been fashioned and died in 1876. By the time of her death there were millions of Miraculous Medals being worn by the devout all over the world.

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Our Lady of Knock - Knock, Ireland (1879)

 Our Lady of Knock

County Mayo was in the center of a region of Ireland that had suffered great distress in the 1870's. Various famines and economic dislocations produced by forced evictions had created yet another wave of Irish immigration. It was into this environment that the Lord again sent His Mother to visit with His oppressed children.

August 21st, 1879 was another rain-swept day in County Mayo. As evening arrived, Margaret Beirne, a resident of the village of Cnoc Mhuire, was sent by her brother to lock up the local church for the evening. After she had completed this task, as she was returning home she noticed a strange brightness covering the church. However, preoccupied with other thoughts, she mentioned this to no one else. At about this time, another member of the Beirne family, Mary, had just completed a visit with the church's housekeeper, Mary McLoughlin. As they were walking down the road they came to a location where they could clearly see the church and its gables, at which time Mary O'Beirne turned to her companion and said, "O look at the statues! Why didn't you tell me the priest had got new statues for the chapel?" Her companion responded that she had heard nothing about new statues but she decided to look more closely. As they approached the church, Mary Beirne remarked, "But they are not statues, they're moving. It's the Blessed Virgin."

What they and thirteen others saw in the still-bright day was a beautiful woman, clothed in white garments, wearing a large brilliant crown. Her hands were raised as if in prayer. This woman was understood by all who saw her to be Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Queen of the Angels.

On her right stood St. Joseph, his head inclined towards her. On her left stood St. John the Evangelist, dressed as a bishop. To the left of St. John was an altar on which stood a lamb and a cross surrounded by angels. All of this was seen on the gable wall of the church in a cloud of light and lasted for about two hours. Other villagers, who were not involved with the apparition, nonetheless reported seeing a very bright light illuminating the area around where the church was located. There were subsequent reports of inexplicable healings associated with visits to the church at Knock.

The Church response to this series of events was typically circumspect. A commission was formed to gather testimonies of those claiming to see the apparition and then a record of purported cures and devotional material was maintained until 1936. At that time, the head of the diocese of Tuam, Archbishop Gilmartin, authorized the publication of a pamphlet supporting devotion to the apparition at Knock.


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The Work of God - Apparitions of Our Lady