The Black Madonna Shrine, a Life’s Work

Before we tell you the story of our local Black Madonna Shrine, we should give a little background about the original.

There are legends surrounding the origin of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, a revered icon of the Jasna Góra monastery in Poland. Some say that St. Luke painted the image on a tabletop in the home of the Holy Family over 2,000 years ago. Art and history scholars disagree and say the original painting was probably a Byzantine icon created in the sixth or ninth century and that it was brought to the monastery by Prince Ladislaus of Opole in the 14th century.

BlackMadonna8Regardless of the original painting’s provenance, history does seem to favor the story of an attempt to steal the painting in 1430 and how the raiders managed to put two slashes on the face of the Madonna and why they did not make away with the prize. Some say that upon loading the painting on their wagon, the horses refused to move and one of the Hussite raiders threw the piece on the ground and slashed it twice with his sword. Legend has it that upon trying to slash it a third time, he fell to the ground writhing in agony until his death. They left the painting.

In modern day Poland, the icon is venerated and is its most popular religious icon, given canonical coronation by Pope Clement IX and Pope Pius X in 1909 and 1910, respectively, and Pope John Paul II issued another coronation in 2005. The Madonna is known as the Queen and Protectorate of Poland, the Queen of Peace and Mercy.

Now to our local story of the Black Madonna.

BlackMadonna2In 1927, the Archbishop of St. Louis, Cardinal John J. Glennon, requested a group of Franciscans be sent from their native Poland to the area to establish a nursing home in the country near the city. In that group was Brother Bronislaus Luszcz who had watched pilgrims visit his beloved Madonna in Częstochowa. Ten years later, in 1937, Brother Bronislaus decided he would recreate the shrine from his homeland in the wilds of St. Louis County.

He started by building a cedar chapel, having hand-cleared the trees from a hillside, fitted with a reproduction of the iconic painting. But the good Brother had only begun to build.

BlackMadonna7He next started on the grottos. He worked endlessly, often missing meals, but never prayers. He constructed the grottos by hand, moving rocks by wheelbarrow, without the aid of any power tools or modern conveniences. Bronislaus used anything he could find to enhance the beauty of his work: glass jars and coffee cans became molds, jewels and trinkets from visitors were embedded in the work.
An arsonist burned the original chapel in 1958, but Brother Bronislaus never stopped working. From 1937 to 1960, he used concrete and native Missouri tiff rock, along with the baubles, jewels, seashells and colored glass he garnered from others, to build a series of grottos, each with at least one handmade, stone kneeler. The grottos feature gorgeous statuary by Charles Bendel, another St. Louis resident from Czechoslovakia.

Brother Bronislaus continued working on the shrines until the day of his death. On August 12, 1960, already weakened by a bout of the Asian flu, Bronislaus was working on a stone bridge on the property when he became overcome by heat. When he failed to show for evening prayers, a search team went looking for him. He had managed to crawl to the Our Lady of Perpetual Help grotto before he passed on.

BlackMadonna4The Black Madonna Shrine is part of a 200-acre Franciscan mission which maintains the work of Bronislaus, including grottos for Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Francis, St. Joseph, Gethsemane, Assumption and the Nativity. The Shrine also includes a Life Memorial featuring a stone cross created by Bronislaus. Stations of the Cross, the Pilgrims Rest of St. Anthony, statues of Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Częstochowa and three bells that were the last bells cast by the Stuckstede Bell Foundry Company of St. Louis.

The Shrine is located 8 miles south of Eureka, Missouri, on St. Joseph’s Hill Road. The grounds are open to the public on the following schedule:

May – September 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
April and October 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
November – March 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Black Madonna Shrine and Grottos
100 St. Joseph Hill Rd., Pacific MO 63069
(636) 938-5361
www.franciscancaring.org/blackmadonnashri.html