In 2022, Teresa Wyszomirski, a native of Poland and longtime resident of Anaheim Hills, met with then rector of the Christ Cathedral, the Very Reverend Christopher Smith, and Msgr. Stephen Doktorczyk, the current Pastor of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Yorba Linda, to make a special proposal.
A devout Catholic and supporter of several faith related projects and initiatives at various parishes, Wyszomirski, 87, offered to commission an artist to create a tapestry of the painting, “Our Lady of Częstochowa” which would then be installed in the cathedral.
The venerated painting represents to the people of Poland what Marian apparitions such as Our Lady of Guadalupe represents to Catholics of Mexico and Our Lady of La Vang to Vietnamese Catholics.
On the morning of Jan.13, Wyszomirski stood in silent prayer in Christ Cathedral, facing a tapestry of Our Lady of Częstochowa, which minutes earlier, was installed on the wall in the short hallway connecting the Blessed Sacrament Chapel to the main cathedral.
She was joined by her son, Conrad, daughter, Joanne Wyszomirski-Witkowski, Fr. Smith, who is now Rector Emeritus of the cathedral, and Monique Lehman, the well-known Polish American artist and curator who wove the tapestry.
Other family members and friends were also on hand.
“I cannot describe in words, how I feel,” said Wyszomirski, knowing her vision was now a reality. “I’m thankful to God.”
Lehman, whose paintings and tapestries have been exhibited around the world, spent 14 hours a day for six months to weave the tapestry, which is two-feet taller than the 47.6-inch height of the original painting, housed at the Jasna Gora Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland. “When I work on something, I devote my time entirely,” said Lehman, 70, of Pasadena. “I have a lot of commissions coming up, but this is so important that I moved all my other jobs and devoted time to her. I think this is more important than other pieces I do. Every child over 5-years old (in Poland) knows of the painting and knows what it looks like.”
The presence of the tapestry will draw more Polish worshipers to Christ Cathedral and foster more notoriety for the cathedral to Catholics in Poland, Lehman said. When Wyszomirski first proposed her plan for Lehman to create the tapestry, church leaders were supportive.
“This is very precious to the Polish Catholics, and we have a significant Polish Catholic population,” Fr. Smith said. “So, it’s very fitting that we have this tapestry here. I thought the Blessed Sacrament Chapel would be a beautiful way of seeing the tapestry along the way (into the cathedral).”
The tapestry, which is not a copy but considered a close interpretation of the original piece, said Lehman, was woven with wool and gold thread. The colors in the Christ Cathedral piece are also bit brighter than those of the original painting in its current condition, the artist said. Because of the dark skin tones of Mary and Jesus, the original painting is often referred to as the “Black Madonna.”
According to multiple sources, candles and incense that burned in close proximity to the piece, along with a fire in the late 1600s, also contributed to its darkening.
Our Lady of Częstochowa is believed to have been painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist on a tabletop
which was crafted by Jesus himself. Multiple sources say the painting was discovered in Jerusalem in the fourth century by St. Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine.
The painting is said to have arrived in Poland in 1382 and placed in a monastery in the town of Częstochowa, where monks established a shrine for the sacred painting. Mary’s right cheek bears the scars of slashes believed to have been inflicted by the swords of robbers, who defiled the monastery in 1430.
“I was trying to do something for God because he has been so good to me,” said Wyszomirski who moved
to the U.S. from Poland in 1960 at age 25, settling in Chicago. “I support our shrine in Poland and other shrines. I thankful to God for all (gifts) which I have received.”
Wyszomirski is also responsible for bringing another cherished artifact to Christ Cathedral.
In 2018, Wyszomirski arranged to have a first-class relic of Pope Saint John Paul II available for inclusion under the altar in the soon to be dedicated Christ Cathedral.
First-class relics are physical objects that not only have a direct connection to a saint or to Jesus but are the body or fragments of the body of a saint, such as pieces of bone or flesh.
Lehman’s piece is the second tapestry to hang in Christ Cathedral.
A colorful, 32-foot-long tapestry titled “Christ Seated in Glory as the Lord of Creation” hangs above the sanctuary of in the cathedral.