History - Traditions
(in Romanian Șumuleu Ciuc, in German Schomlenberg vagy Somlyoer-Berg)
The Carpathian Basin’s most famous Virgin Mary statue is located in the Pilgrimage Church in Csíksomlyó, under the supervision of the Franciscan Order. It represents the Lady Dressed in the Sun who has the moon and the globe under her feet and a wreath (halo) made of twelve stars around her head, in her right hand she is holding a scepter, in her left arm her Holy Son.
The 253 cm tall statue ensemble is made of maple-wood. The figure of the Virgin is 191 cm. The sculpture is not part of the original furnishing of the Marian Shrine, its origin is still unclear. The statue dates back to the 1510s and was (most probably) made in a Transylvanian workshop. It is very likely that the statue was the main piece of the wing altar of a late Gothic church from an urban environment.
Recently, the statue was studied in detail with UV scanners and endoscopes, the main focus being its hollow inner part and its surface. It was shown that the statute is not made of one single wood piece, but of several smaller pieces.
The first documents placing the statue in the Csíksomlyó church date back to 1621, when it was part of the secondary altar. After the 1661 Tatar destruction the church was rearranged, and the statue became the central piece of the new main altar.
The statue of the Blessed Virgin became the central piece of the new baldachin (canopied) High Altar, built in the mid-19th century for the new Pilgrimage Church. Above the Virgin is the representation of God as a bearded old and wise man, on its sides Saint Stephen and Saint Ladislaus. In the new altar ensemble the angels holding the crown were omitted, the crown being placed on the Virgin’s head. Over the centuries the statue was dressed and gilded with jewels offered by the Szekler Catholic nobility.
Many came to pray before the statue and reports of miracles due to Virgin Mary’s intercession date from the 16th century onward. The marble plates on both sides of the statue are also evidence that the prayers and wishes come true for those who come here to ask “favors” from the Blessed Virgin. The pilgrims pray to the Virgin, after which they touch the feet of the statue with their clothes or objects, in order to be blessed. The Pentecost Pilgrimage and Mass is the most famous manifestation of the Mary-adoration in the area (pilgrims travel here from all the neighboring countries).
The most famous legend says that in 1661 the church was ravaged by Tartars and Turks and it was set on fire. In a miraculous way the statue remained undamaged. It is a tradition for the Tartars to steal the valuables. One of the leaders wanted to take the statue, recognizing its value, but after a while the chariot transporting the precious sculpture became so heavy that not even eight oxen were able to pull it. The leader tried to damage the statue “wounding” its face and neck, but his arms became paralysed.
In 1704, during the kuruc-labanc riots, the statue was escorted to Nagysomlyó (Șumuleu Mare) Mountain. In 1758, when the Tartars devastated Moldavia, the Franciscans walled the statue and the valuables of the Monastery and Church. Between 1916 and 1944 the statue was transported to the Franciscan Monastery in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) in order to preserve and protect the valuable artifact during the war. The statue was dressed up in 1960. The clothes of baby Jesus are part of the temple collection.
It is a miracle itself that the statue survived so many centuries and wars. And every pledge, prayer, request at the feet of the Virgin which “came true” are wonders. In my case it certainly was.