Irene Kabala

title.none: Maniura, Pilgrimage to Images (Irene Kabala)

identifier.other: baj9928.0701.008 07.01.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Irene Kabala, Indiana University of Pennsylvania,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Maniura, Robert. Pilgrimage to Images in the Fifteenth Century: The Origins of the Cult of Our Lady of Częstochowa. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2004. Pp. ix, 238. $90.00 (hb). ISBN: 1-84383-055-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.01.08

Maniura, Robert. Pilgrimage to Images in the Fifteenth Century: The Origins of the Cult of Our Lady of Częstochowa. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2004. Pp. ix, 238. $90.00 (hb). ISBN: 1-84383-055-8.

Reviewed by:

Irene Kabala
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Inextricably linked with Poland's religious and national identity, the shrine on Jasna Góra in Częstochowa is one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in Eastern Europe. The heart of the pilgrimage is a painting of the Hodegetria disfigured by slashes. Yet the image of the scarred Mother of God is virtually unknown to non-Polish speaking scholars. Robert Maniura's book bridges this gap. Focusing on the confluence of image, miracle, and pilgrimage, Maniura investigates the role visual experience played in the formulation of the Częstochowa cult.

Six fifteenth- and sixteenth- century histories trace the picture's translation. The earliest, the Translatio tabulae Beatae Mariae Virginis quam sanctus Lucas depinxit propriis manibus, most likely a copy of a manuscript produced in the 1430s by a Pauline monk in 1474, forms the narrative core of the other histories. Except for minor variations, the legends relate the following events: Luke painted a posthumous portrait of the Virgin on the dining room belonging to the Holy Family. From Jerusalem, the image was transported to Constantinople where it performed prodigious miracles. A Russian prince named Leo moved the picture to his own country. After many vicissitudes, including an attack on the painting by Hussite Iconoclasts in 1430 which damaged the Virgin's face, Duke Ladislaus translated the image to Jasna Góra and established the Order of St. Paul the first Hermit in a new monastery to care for the painting.

A critical analysis of these primary sources frames Maniura's argument, which is divided into eight chapters and nine appendices. Chapter One challenges the picture's eastern origin. Because of numerous restorations, the painting's place of production is impossible to identify precisely. Nonetheless, Maniura proposes the following tentative genesis: the painting, perhaps a copy of an eastern model, was made in thirteenth-century Italy. It was substantially or wholly repainted in the fourteenth century in an Italianate manner, if not in Italy, and was further modified in the fifteenth century in northern Europe.

The exploitation of the painting's legendary eastern origin is the subject of Chapters Two and Three. In Chapter Two, Maniura situates the icon in the historical union between Poland and Lithuania initiated in 1385 when the Polish Hedwig was offered to the pagan grand duke of Lithuania, Jogaila (Władysław Jagiełło), in exchange for the conversion of Lithuania, composed mostly of pagans and Orthdox Christians. Perhaps a Slavic cult object, which was appropriated and reused in a new context, the Częstochowa painting shared in the culture of conversion, thus asserting the prominence of Latin Christianity.

Chapter Three examines the distinctive marks on the Virgin's face in light of the image's attribution to Luke and Hussite Iconoclastic polemics. The legend of Luke's portrait, a true likeness painted during the Virgin's lifetime, was widely disseminated. The Częstochowa legend diverges from the ubiquitous form of the story. In the Polish version, Luke painted a portrait of the Virgin from memory after her assumption into heaven. Maniura suggests that this variant avoided chronological contradictions in order to endow the painting with Gospel authority. The authorship of the picture validated the image against Iconoclastic attacks, made visible in the scars on the surface of the painting itself.

Chapter four highlights the image's role in the origin and development of devotional practices on Jasna Góra. Recent studies of pilgrimage have described the phenomenon in a variety of ways: as travel to a holy site, defined as a religious void to be filled with subjective experience; as a coherent event, which seeks to establish communitas; or as an experience of an orchestrated environment. Imbedded in the latter interpretation is a dichotomy between those who orchestrate, presumably religious authorities, and those who passively absorb the experience, pilgrims. But the very nature of pilgrimage involves activity. Therefore, Maniura suggests that pilgrim performance is complementary to rather than opposed to or derived from imposed authoritative structures of behaviour.

These performances are potentially recoverable through a scrutiny of miracle narratives related to the image and shrine. In Chapter Five Maniura examines surviving sixteenth-century miracles, recorded in the monastery's Miracle Book. The few narratives explicitly mentioning the image divide Maniura's analysis into three parts: the vow, the votive offering, and the miracle. Verbal equivalents of votive offerings, miracle stories recorded vows and verified their fulfillment at the holy site. However, the miracles themselves were not necessarily generated at the shrine. Indeed, most of the miracles listed in the Miracle Book occurred at a distance from Jasna Góra. Only the fulfillment of a vow, witnessed by the votive offerings, necessitated a pilgrim's presence before the image. In the documentary material, the picture is not the instrument that produced miracles; the various stages of pilgrims' performances created them.

Chapter Six examines the role of the image in the formation of the cult at Częstochowa. Maniura highlights the picture's powerful visual attraction, specifically the Virgin's scarred face, which marks her as Christ's co-sufferer. The raw emotive power of the slashes resonates with the surviving miracle accounts, which contain a litany of physical illnesses Maniura describes as a "carnival of misery" (132). Suffering incarnate, so to speak, the wounds focused pilgrim performances of misery in a constructive way. Adding to the picture's appeal is its ambiguity; the picture does not articulate a "coherent visual message," (134) and is therefore open to subjective responses.

Chapter Seven answers the question: how physically accessible was the icon in its monastic setting? By the sixteenth century, the Pauline community controlled access to the icon. Yet pilgrims also helped construct the painting's display. The picture was an inseparable component of a visually saturated experience linked to liturgical performance. This environment was not programmatic. After all, the images and objects swarming over and framing the icon were individual acts of devotion. Maniura concludes that the holy space was not an inert space orchestrated by an authority but was a cumulative "landscape of images" (161) generated both by the Pauline brothers and the faithful over a period of time.

The last chapter agues that miraculous images were not constrained by local and geographical boundaries. During their travels, pilgrims encountered many images that resonated with the cult site at the end of their journey. The saint's shrine focused the faithful's relationship with the saint without necessarily confining the saint to a specific location. Pilgrims did not identify pictures of saints with the saints themselves; they were physically absent, but visible. Images revealed what was not there; they revealed the living saint.

Maniura's case study is a prodigious scholarly investigation into the seminal role of images in shaping cult practices. Often regarded as aesthetically unappealing, unrefined, and iconographically elusive, cult paintings are marginalized in art historical studies. In contrast, Maniura's book situates pictorial ambiguity at the very heart of religious experience. At Częstochowa the monastic setting and votive offerings that veiled the details of the painting further enhanced the image's ambiguity. These physical and visual limitations confirm Maniura's implied argument that the appearance of the cult image was not the catalyst for devotion; rather the elusive and uncircumscribable presence imbedded in the miracle-working painting invited personal interaction with the prototype. A visually saturated environment partially constructed by the faithful, the shrine at Częstochowa established a corollary relationship between image and devotee. Pilgrim performance activated the power of the image to produce miracles.

By privileging the symbiotic relationship between image and viewer in the formation of pilgrimage, Maniura offers an alternative approach to the analysis of legends, miracles and other narratives related to cult sites and performance. Rather than directing the development of a cult or merely promoting the special sanctity of a shrine, tales of the miraculous are stories told by pilgrims and therefore are traces of pilgrim performances. Implicit in Maniura's conclusion is the eradication of the traditional polarity between "popular practice" and "religious authority." Indivisible components of pilgrimage experience, miracle stories, image and shrine are "enmeshed in a network of human behaviour" (86). Maniura's multifaceted approach to the Częstochowa Hodegetria, which serves as a paradigm for cult images in general, provides a fruitful direction for future studies devoted to icons and pilgrimage.