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The Paulite Monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa has a very special place in the hearts of Polish people. Here, the miraculous icon of the Black Madonna has drawn both the faithful and the curious for more than six hundred years. Jasna Gora is not only the religious center of the country; the monastery over time has aquired works of art, jewelry, musical instruments and antique religious artifacts. In order to preserve its treasures, the monastery was gradually turned into a square-shaped fortress with pointed bastions at its corners. During the Swedish invasion of 1655-56, Jasna Gora withstood a long-lasting siege after the rest of the country was overrun by enemy forces. When Poland was partitioned by its neighbors, the monastery served as both a religious site and one of the main centers of Polish patriotism. Over the centuries, the Paulite complex managed to survive the wars relatively unscathed.
At present, Jasna Gora draws people from all walks of life, from ordinary citizens to royalty, heads of state, well-known personalities and, of course, Pope John Paul II, who has come here five times since his election. In an average year, more than one million pilgrims make the trek to see the Black Madonna.
When you arrive at Jasna Gora, the first point of interest you notice is the tall church spire above the monastery, measuring more than 325 feet in height. Since the monastery sits atop a limestone hill, the spire gives the impression of reaching even higher toward the sky. Visitors enter the grounds through the Lubomirski Gate. The icon of the Black Madonna, protected by a sheath, is opened several times each day before large assembled crowds. No pilgrimage is complete without a visit to the treasury, a repository of priceless votive offerings from crowned heads, nobles, intellectuals and philanthropists. Along many walls crutches, medals, rosaries and other votive offerings from grateful pilgrims are displayed. The Jasna Gora library contains more than 8000 volumes of old prints, illuminated manuscripts and unusual art objects from the royal collection of the Jagiellonian dynasty. Visitors can also follow an in-depth exhibit tracing the history of the monastery/fortress.