"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

Our Lady of Licheń, Sorrowful Queen of Poland

“Ask the one who we should all ask!”

0b4d0d820dbbdac9f5e6a536eebc089f

Miraculous Painting of Our Lady of Licheń

The Battle of Leipzig, which took place in Germany from October 16th to 18th, 1813, was the largest of the Napoleonic Wars.1 It was a decisive battle in which Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Sweden joined together to defeat the French Emperor, Napoleon. Polish troops fought alongside the French in this great battle, and among their ranks was a humble blacksmith named Tomasz Kłossowski.

It all began on a battlefield …

Tomasz had been seriously wounded during the fighting. Far from home, he lay among the wounded and dying on the battlefield as he prayed to the Virgin Mary. His only wish was that he be granted the grace to die in his homeland. It was then that he saw her. He later recalled, “She was moving across the battlefield in a long amaranth dress, floating above the ground and hugging a white eagle to Her breast, Virgin Mary! She was slowly coming towards me. She stopped and leant over me and then I saw Her face, most beautiful, but full of indescribable sorrow.”2

Mary answered his prayer, but she had one condition. When Tomasz returned home, he was to go and search for her picture and arrange for it to be honoured as it deserved. She said, “Take a good look at me, so that in your picture I can look just as you see me now. You shall place my picture in your homeland. My nation shall pray to it and take graces from my hands in most difficult times.”3

Tomasz returned home and, true to his promise, he crisscrossed the countryside searching for her picture. But it wasn’t until 23 years later – in 1836 – while he was on a pilgrimage to Jasna Góra (the home of the famous Black Madonna, Our Lady of

Many wayside shrines and chapels dot the Polish countryside. This one displays the image of Our Lady of Calvary.

Częstochowa) that he finally recognized the face of his rescuer in a picture hanging on a tree at a little roadside chapel. Excited to have found her at last, he carefully took the image down and brought it home with him. For years, he prayed before the image of Our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Lichen, in his home.

Over time, Tomasz came to feel that it would be better if the image of Our Blessed Mother were to be displayed in a more public location. This would make it possible for many more people to come to venerate it. So in 1844, he transferred the image to a forest shrine near his house in the village of Grąblin, just two kilometres from the town of Licheń.

Our Lady appears again

Tomasz died a few years later (on August 7, 1848) and the image might have been completely forgotten had it not been for a pious 65-year-old shepherd named Mikołaj Sikatka. Mikołaj led a quiet life and often took his herds to graze in the forest where Tomasz had hung the picture. He frequently prayed there in front of the image.

DSC_5431

Scene of Mary appearing to the shepherd, Mikołaj in the chapel at the shrine in the Grąblin forest.

One day, while he was at the forest shrine, Mikołaj saw an apparition of Our Lady. Accounts tell us that, “In 1850 he saw an unusual figure approaching him, floating rather than walking on the ground. She said to him: ‘People have fallen. God the just shall punish them with diseases and war. Encourage people to repent to avoid terrible punishment.’ ”4 She then vanished.

It would later become clear that her words were a prediction of a plague that was coming. But Mikołaj didn’t tell anyone what had happened because he was afraid that no one would believe him. But Mary didn’t give up. “From 1850 to 1852 [the] Virgin Mary appeared to him three times, choosing him as Her messenger, predicting the plague and appealing to the nation to pray and convert to good, promising salvation for all the praying and repenting. As Queen of Poland she promised not to leave Her nation in difficult times. She appeared holding a white eagle, a symbol of Poland.”5

The third time she appeared to Mikołaj, Mary ordered him to at least tell the head of the village about what he had seen and heard. Once he did, word began to spread. “Rumour of a miraculous event soon spread around all the area. Some deemed it his imagination, others believed so deeply that crowds started to visit the image of Virgin Mary and Mikołaj Sikatka. For ten weeks all the houses and fields in Licheń were full of people. Wells ran out of water; people drank water from the lake and despite that nobody fell ill. The simple-minded old man had no peace, he was made to recount to the crowds every word of the apparition that, as people guessed, was Virgin Mary.”6

DSC_5433

The rock with carved footprints symbolizes the last time that Mary appeared to the shepherd, Mikołaj.

Midnight Ride in the Forest

The Polish writer, Julian Wieniawski, was studying at an estate in Licheń at the time. He had heard that the shepherd had sworn an oath before the parish priest in Licheń – the Reverend Florian Kosiński – telling him that he had seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the forest and that she had given him a message. In addition, the old man’s white hair had turned dark, and the people regarded this as a miracle.

Because the Church hadn’t made a decision about the reliability of Mikołaj’s testimony yet, Julien wasn’t sure what he should believe. His friend, Adolf Werner, had no such illusions, however; he was certain that the story was all a hoax. Adolf made fun of Julien and tried to talk him into going out to the spot to see for themselves. At first Julien refused; it felt strange and even a bit sinful to him to check into the apparition in this way. But when Werner continued to mock him relentlessly and even called him a coward to his face, Julien finally lost his temper (and his sense of scruples) and agreed to go. In his memoirs, Julien wrote:7

 “The old man said he saw Virgin Mary about midnight. At that time when ghosts appear we decided to turn up on Grąblin meadows. The night was unusually beautiful, perfect silence reigned over the field and meadows, no leaf turned and blades of grass did not move. The dark-azure sky was full of stars among which a scythe of the moon was travelling. White mist rose from the ground and here and there we saw the twinkling of a small and pale light of coal dust.

DSC_5388

Grąblin Forest

‘Hello! Hello!’

We heard the old man’s voice from a distance:

‘Here! Here!’

‘Is it the old man?’, asked Werner.

‘It is me,’ said the shepherd.

We came closer; I was trembling all over and my horse seemed to tremble along with me.

‘So? Has Virgin Mary been here today?’, asked Werner acting brave.

‘Not yet… but maybe she will come to convert a heretic,’ said the old man who knew us and knew Werner’s religion.

Hardly had he finished speaking when in the deep night silence a slight rustle went through the meadow and at the same time, as a cloud in a breeze, a huge white wisp passed in front of us as if a train of an enormous dress which floated just above the grass and then it disappeared somewhere in the distance.

‘See now?’, moaned the old man making the sign of cross. At the same time our horses reared and went galloping as if mad, dislocating big pieces of peat with their hooves and sending them flying around.

I was breathless. I had never before felt anything like that, enormous strength in arms and legs was necessary not to fall off. Szamil was galloping like mad, my mount was running in small steps like a deer, in the silence we just heard the horses’ breath and the sound of peat flying out from under the hooves. It was only a quarter of an hour but I will not forget it till my dying day. When we finally came to a dust road from Grąblin to Licheń, and we managed to take control of the horses, now foaming with exhaustion, I finally said to Werner:

‘And what will you say to that, you sceptic?’

But my companion said nothing. He just kept wiping his forehead and sighed profoundly, tired with his mount which he could barely control and walk.

‘Szamil will go to devil,’ he whispered finally.

‘Be content you did not go there because of this confound idea.’

‘Do not talk rubbish. It was silly, but let’s not talk about it to others.’

‘You can be sure I will tell no one. I am ashamed of us both…’

And I kept my word.

Only now, after half a century, writing my memoirs I could not pass on this strange occurrence.”8

The story of Mary’s apparitions became so widely known that it even caught the attention of the Russian authorities. Alarmed by the image of the white eagle on Mary’s breast – the symbol of Poland’s freedom – they arrested Mikołaj on suspicion of inciting political unrest. A doctor who examined him diagnosed him as being mentally ill and said he was completely mad. The authorities forced him to undergo bloodletting, shaved his head, and locked him up in a prison hospital. But Mikołaj never recanted his testimony.

Mary’s predictions come true

Mary’s predictions did come true. In August 1852, a cholera epidemic broke out in Licheń and the surrounding area. Fearing God’s punishment, many of the people began to believe Mikołaj’s account and went out to the forest to pray in front of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s picture. Numerous healings occurred, and people began to leave offerings there to ask for blessings as well as to show their gratitude to Our Lady for having been spared from the epidemic.

But the picture of the Sorrowful Queen of Poland was not destined to stay in the forest forever. Church authorities became concerned that it might become a target for vandals because of its isolated home in the forest. As a result, they decided to transfer the image to the parish chapel in Licheń on September 29, 1852. A new church – St. Dorothy’s – was completed in 1857 and was home to the miraculous image until it was transferred to the newly constructed Licheń Basilica on July 2, 2006.9

DSC_5392

Financed solely by the donations of ordinary pilgrims, the Licheń Basilica was built between 1994-2004. It is the largest church in Poland.

The Image of Our Lady of Licheń

The picture of Our Lady “is a copy of the miraculous icon of Rokitno in West Pomerania, which was probably painted in a Dutch workshop at the beginning of the 16th century.”10 That painting came to be known as Our Lady Patiently Listening.

“An unknown painter, the author of the miraculous picture of Licheń, copied the picture of Rokitno [possibly sometime in the 18th century], but added many new elements which make the icon of Licheń unique. Jerzy Pietrusiński in his artistic evaluation writes as follows:

lichen=20obraz

Close-up of the image of Our Lady of Licheń. Note the eagle on her breast, the symbol of Poland.

‘The picture shows the upper part of Mary’s figure with the head slightly turned to the left (and to the right when you look at it) and a little down. Half-closed eyes looking down give the young and delicate face of pearly pink complexion the look of melancholy reverie (or preoccupation or reflection). Mary’s head is covered with a shawl going down to her shoulders, shining with golden thread, richly decorated with plant and flower motives and rosettes of precious stones. A row of them is also on the shawl which surrounds Mary’s face.’

Virgin Mary’s head is covered with a shawl and on the left side of the cover on the edges the following can be seen: nails, thorns, the cross, spear, sponge, hand-wash basin, the hand which slapped twice, whips, dices and the Easter lamb. On the right one can see the image on Veronica’s veil, the rooster which crowed three times, a ladder and chalice. Those objects, known from the New Testament accounts were meant by the artist to remind [us of] the moment of [the] Passion. Mary’s face shows suffering and the symbols on Her gown lead to Jesus crucified.” 11

“Two main concepts dominate the image: Virgin Mary as queen and the prediction of [the] Passion. The first one is expressed with a crown, as had been used in painting since the Middle Ages or slightly later. The stone-set crown is held by angels and is decorated with the eagle, a symbol of both the Kingdom of Poland and the nation. This indicates [that the] Mother of God [is] the queen of Poland. The other motive is expressed by Mary’s face and symbols of [the] Passion on her gown. Her sad face in reverie reminds [us] of suffering.”12

It is this expression on her face that has drawn pilgrims to her over the centuries. For hers is the look of a compassionate mother who has stood at the foot of the Cross as she accompanied her Son during the agony of His Passion and Death. “Her look brings comfort and love, which Jesus needed so badly. Our Lady of Licheń looks at her pilgrims in a very similar way. She looks as if she was listening to requests and prayers. She receives thanks from the pilgrims and gives them hope.”13

Devotion to Our Lady of Licheń

For this reason, even though Licheń is not an easy place to get to and accommodations in the town were very poor (they didn’t even have potable water), from the very beginning tens of thousands of pilgrims have flocked there each year for the Feast of the Assumption. “During the occupation they came to pray for independence; sinners came to beg for forgiveness. Those who needed help in helpless cases came to the miraculous picture. Parents brought their children and youth came in great numbers. People are convinced that [the] Virgin Mary bestows Her particular blessing on children and young people.”14 The Licheń Book of Graces – which was probably destroyed by the Nazis during World War II in 1939 – contained the accounts of almost three thousand miracles and graces that had been received by pilgrims up to that point. Today, pilgrims leave their crutches and sticks behind after being miraculously healed. “Deep faith and prayer to the Sorrowful Queen of Poland make the ill recover, the addicted give up their habits, the lost find their way, the unemployed find a job, dangers pass, quiet, faith and hope return.”15

The image of Our Lady of Licheń was crowned in a special ceremony on August 15, 1967. This is a significant honour, for in order to be crowned, certain requirements must be satisfied: the picture must have been worshipped for a long time, it must receive continuous fame, and it must be considered miraculous or benevolent. Our Lady of Licheń satisfies all of these requirements and continues to be the cause of many graces and healings, as is illustrated in the touching story below.

Four years ago I became dad of Damianek, our dearest and cutest son. When he was born, we were both the happiest parents on earth, as we had our most expected baby. However, our joy did not last long. After a week we were informed that our son had a very serious heart problem.

A nightmare began. Our firstborn started his life in suffering and pain. Every day we got news about his health, which steadily worsened. After two months in hospital, many tests and treatment the doctors told us there was no hope for our Damianek. Our world ended, our tragedy and despair were indescribable.

                  It was then that somebody as if whispered into my ear: “Ask the one who we should all ask.” When I understood the meaning of this spiritual message, I calmed down. I felt certain Our Lady of Licheń would help our son. We started praying with all our hearts, masses were held in Licheń for the health and life of our baby.

            Sometime later, after complicated tests which in themselves were dangerous for our child the ward head invited us for a talk. We went trembling and expecting the worst, but we heard: “You must have prayed a lot, because it is a real miracle.” The doctor then explained to us the course of treatment and the surgeries they would conduct. It turned out that the tests which were to prove that further treatment would be ineffective showed the opposite result: changes in the working of the heart, opening the possibilities of further treatment and rehabilitation.

            Now our Damianek is four years old, the holes in his heart have filled in by themselves and his body has started to function normally. Only a very small hole is left after the inborn heart defect, but it is getting smaller all the time and poses no threat to our son’s health.

            Our Lady of Licheń, you have given us so much. We implore you to take care of our Damianek and us.”16

 Our Lady of Licheń, pray for us!

  • Sharon van der Sloot
DSC_5405

Icon of Our Lady of Lichen – on display in the main altar.

DSC_5396

Two covers slide over the icon of Our Lady of Lichen. This image depicts Mary appearing to the shepherd, Mikołaj Sikatka and is immediately in front of the icon. It is displayed during the veiling and unveiling ceremonies each day.

DSC_5397

Outer Protective Cover for the Icon. This image slides down in front of the icon of Our Lady of Lichen to protect it when it is not being displayed for veneration.

Footnotes:

1 The Battle of Leipzig was also the largest European battle prior to World War I (which took place between 1914 and 1918). After being forced to retreat, Napoleon fought a defensive campaign in France the following year. But, defeated once again, he was forced by the victors to abdicate his role as emperor and sent into exile on the Island of Elba.

2 The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The History of the Shrine of our Lady of Lich (Zakład Gospodarczy “Dom Pielgrzyma”: Licheń, 2013), 34.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 35. The quote is taken from a 1949 study written by Rev. A. Dobrucki entitled Z przewodnikiem po Licheniu – “Around Licheń with a Guide.”

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 The translation of this account from Polish to English is a bit awkward, but I have chosen to leave the text as is for the sake of authenticity. Julian Wieniawski was the brother of the famous Polish composer, Henryk Wieniawski.

8 The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The History of the Shrine of our Lady of Licheń, 37-39.

9 The icon was removed from the church and hidden during World War II. It was saved only due to a miracle. “In autumn 1940 gendarmes from Gosławice came to get the picture and at the gunpoint forced Bolesław Lisowski, the organist, to start the mechanism opening the painting. In spite of efforts the light cover would not budge. The gendarmes left the church intending to return in a short time, then the organist tried to open the icon once again and to his surprise it went up without difficulty. So he took the miraculous picture and hung another in its place. The cover went down again. The gendarmes returned, started the mechanism, but the image was not the one they had been searching for.” (The History of the Shrine of our Lady of Lich, 68) The painting was returned to St. Dorothy’s Church in March 1945.

10 The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The History of the Shrine of our Lady of Lich, 50.

11 Ibid., 50. The painting was originally meant for private devotion, so it was painted on a thin board. Jerzy Pietrusiński holds a degree in the history of art and is a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

12 Ibid., 52. The eagle – the symbol of Poland – is also placed on Mary’s breast.

13 Ibid., 50.

14 Ibid., 53.

15 Ibid., 62.

16 ibid., 62-63.

Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: