WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics gathered at Poland’s holiest shrine Friday to pray as the revered Black Madonna of Czestochowa icon was given a new covering, including gold crowns donated by the late Pope John Paul II, as well as amber and diamonds.

The Polish-born pontiff’s secretary, the Rev. Stanislaw Dziwisz, presided over a Mass and other ceremonies at the Jasna Gora shrine in the southern city of Czestochowa. In attendance were dozens of church leaders, including Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne, Germany, Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit and Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston.

Dziwisz and Poland’s primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, blessed golden crowns from John Paul, who died April 2, on the head of the icon’s image of the Virgin Mary and on the image of the baby Jesus.

The crowns were “the last gift of his life to Mary, the queen of Poland,” said Dziwisz, who will be installed as the archbishop of Krakow on Saturday.

Church leaders also placed a 20-pound panel of amber decorated with nearly 1,000 diamonds on the painting. The covering – commonly called a “dress” – leaves only the faces of Mary and Jesus and their crowns visible beneath the screen.

By placing the crowns on the icon, we were able “in a way to fulfill the last will, the testament of Pope John Paul the Great,” Dziwisz said.

The artist who created the amber-and-diamond panel, Mariusz Drapikowski, said he wanted to thank the Virgin Mary for the pontificate of John Paul II and for the Solidarity movement, which toppled the communist government in 1989-90.

More than 100,000 people gathered on a field outside the packed church for the ceremony, according to the monastery’s Web site.

The celebrations marked a local church holiday honoring the Virgin Mary and the 350th anniversary of a historical battle in Czestochowa in which Poles defeated Swedish invaders. Many credit the Polish victory to the miraculous power of the painting, a Byzantine style image which legend says was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist.

The Madonna has six other decorative “dresses,” the oldest ones dating to the 17th century, used for special occasions.


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