Sanctuary of Our Lady of Beautiful Love

The majority of sanctuaries in the Catholic church are dedicated to St Mary. Among the ones famous in the world, many can be found in Poland, most frequently based on St Mary's revelations. Despite the fact that the Bydgoszcz sanctuary hasn't been very known and there is no record proving about St Mary's revelation, a cult dedicated to her was originated in Bydgoszcz and had been spreading intensely since the city was established. One can say that it strengthens and develops across the city. What started the cult was most likely the coming of Carmelites in ca. 1397 to Bydgoszcz, brought to Poland thanks to the efforts of Queen Jadwiga.

When after the hard and unusually costly 13-year war with the Order of Teutonic Knights, in October 19, 1466 the treaty was made in Toruń, Gdańsk Pomerania returned to Poland, which regained its access to the sea and controlled the Vistula River throughout its entire course. The gratefulness of the king and nation to the God's Providence and St Mary was immense. As early as a week after the celebrations, Jan of Kościelec asked the king in Toruń to establish a royal foundation in aid of the holy mass and altar, where it was supposed to be celebrated. Kazimierz Jagiellończyk expressed his perpetual agreement, ordering exposition of an altar in praise of the all-powerful God and St Mary and praying, also for his ancestors. Part of rights and obligations were ceded to the mayor, city council and the entire city. This task was fulfilled not without difficulties. The city which beginnings go a hundred years back was burnt twice by the Teutonic Knights, funds were depleted; reconstruction of the parish church dragged on. The first wooden church, as well as the next one was burnt by the Teutonic Knights, and during only one generation! However the city continued to develop, whereas construction of the parish church was finished in 1502.

It was consecrated during the Feast of St Bartholomew (August 24th). Everyday at least two services were celebrated: in praise of the all-powerful God and St Mary, as well as afternoon vespers; attendants of the parish school participated in singing to St Mary. Meanwhile the city flourished, whereas townspeople and noblemen which were getting rich, expressed their gratitude to the Lord and St Mary in various ways: funded chapels, altars, paintings, precious liturgical vessels and decorations, donated voting offerings, finally they were giving funds for maintaining of the worship and support of priests. Social life was devout, religious brotherhoods were established, which frequently were guild organizations based on Christian values. The cult of St Mary was flourished in the parish church, constituting an object of efforts from the clergy, municipal authorities and residents. It had developed until the partitions of Poland, and numerous vote offerings donated by the faithful to St Mary, proved about graces received thanks to her mediation. Among priceless gifts there was also a large vote offering with the crest of Bydgoszcz, most likely the symbol of handing over the city to St Mary's care. The collected vote offerings were valuable; during the Kościuszko Insurrection of 1794 they were donated for the needs of the uprising. In the 19th century the ruined parish church was closed down, at that time the cult of St Mary weakened; however it returned with double strength after regaining the Independence.

It's not known exactly when the Bydgoszcz painting of St Mary with the Rose was placed in the high altar. Most likely it was painted at the turn of the 15th century, and it is conceivable that at the beginning it was placed in one of the side altars dedicated to St Mary. Rather quickly it was moved to the high altar, temporarily as an element of the triptych accompanying the image of the Holy Trinity. From the very beginning it was regarded as an unusual masterpiece, enchanting with perfection of execution as painted "marvelously" and "superbly". Undoubtedly it favored development of the worship of St Mary and from the beginning, as a vote painting, constituted its center. In accordance with the customs of the epoch the painting was covered with a silver or silver-plated dress. However one has to think, how it could be covered by layers of other paints, and even disfigured by placing chromolithographic labels on faces... Maybe it was an attempt to save the painting from robbery?... This was the condition of the painting found by the Rev. Malczewski, parish priest in 1922.

It was restored by the outstanding preservationist Prof. Jan Rutkowski, who brought back its original form. The 180 x 105 cm picture was painted on board with the use of distemper, oils and scumble on chalk ground. On the golden background, pressed into a radial halo (aureole, consisting of wavy flames) there is a standing statue of St Mary with the Child Jesus in her left arm. In her right hand St Mary holds a crimson rose, resting her feet on the crescent of the moon. Two angels hold the crown over her head. The figure is covered by a dark-sapphire coat, creased tails of which fill the lower right side of the painting. On the left side, at the feet of Madonna, there is a decreased figure of a kneeling man in a red Renaissance coat, with his hands held in prayer; around him - a winding ribbon with the Gothic inscription "Mater Dei memento mei" (Mother of God, keep me in mind). This figure is sometimes associated with Jan or Stanistaw Kościelecki, however it's conceivable that it represents Kazimierz Jagiellończyk as the titular founder. The picture has many Gothic characteristics with the influence of the Renaissance. Its author is unknown, since there is no signature or sign; composition, subtlety and care with which the piece was made, prove that it was undoubtedly an experienced artist. There are numerous assumptions, European schools are compared: Stephan Lochner's of Cologne, school of Wit Stwosz, with the influence of Rhine and Flemish style. It's also possible that the painting was made in Poland, which at that time was one of the leading European countries in the field of sciences and art. Art historians describe the Bydgoszcz painting as "the most beautiful of the all known Polish images of the Holy Virgin"...

During World War II the management of the Bydgoszcz museum preserved the painting of Madonna from seizing it to the Reich; on July 23, 1943 it was transported to the church in Mąkowarsk and hidden in a side altar, from where it returned on September 26, 1945. In 1950 Prof. Leonard Torwid, an artist painter from Toruń restored the painting again. It was placed back in the high altar in a golden frame. It is worshipped with reverence due to the Mother - the Bydgoszcz Madonna. In the year of the millenium of the Baptism of Poland and the 500th anniversary of St Mary's presence in the parish church, on May 29,1966 the primate of Poland cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, with the participation of the then metropolitan of Cracow cardinal Karol Wojtyła, crowned her image. The Lady of Bydgoszcz was then named "Our Lady of Beautiful Love" by the Primate of the Millenium, who showed us the way in the following words: "It's so good that Love was crowned in this temple, in order to rule in this city, so you could come to change and improve your hearts in everyday struggle in overcoming your own weaknesses for God's good and for your surrounding's good, all your relatives: children, husbands, wives, neighbors, work dependants and work superiors; so love would win everywhere". After 33 years the historical painting was honored in the most dignified way when the Holy Father John Paul II placed personally papal crowns on the image of St Mary and Jesus. The blessed fate miraculously ordained, that during the past centuries, despite numerous fires, the turmoil of wars, robberies - the beautiful painting of the Bydgoszcz Madonna was saved and lived to see the affectionate touch of the Christ's Apostle at the threshold of the Millennial Year. St Mary! Our Lady of Beautiful Love, pray for us, who ask for your help!



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