THE HISTORY OF THE SHRINE
The monastery of the Discalced Carmelites in Berdychiv, Ukraine was founded by Yanush Tyshkevych, the voivode of Kyiv, in 1630 in commemoration of his release from captivity in the lands of Tartars. The beginning of monastic life in the monastery and consecration of the chapel (a lower church), with a title of the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary, took place on July 22, 1642. The bishop of Kyiv Andrey Szoldrski presided over the liturgical divine service. In this association the founder of the monastery presented the icon of The Blessed Virgin Mary of the Snow. It was completed in the 16th century and depicted the Virgin Mary as the hodegetria. This icon was a sacred relic of the Tyshkevych family.
Soon thereafter the Carmelites' church in Berdychiv became well-known as a shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary since the painting became famous for the fact that many people received grace from it. Bishop Stanislav Zaremba was also miraculously healed. After he familiarized himself with the proper documents concerning numerous miracles, he issued an official record on May 23, 1647. He declared the icon of the Virgin Mary of Berdychiv to be miraculous. It was the beginning of the pilgrimage tradition to the shrine.
In 1739-1754 the upper church was built above the lower church. It was the typical basilica in the shape of a Latin cross with a dome on the crossing of the transept. The new church was consecrated on June 9, 1754 by the bishop of Kyiv, Kaietan Soltyk. At a meeting of the Senate in Grodno the bishop, on behalf of Discalced Carmelites, appealed to the Senate with a request for a coronation of the icon with crowns of the Pope. After the consent of the Senate, Augustus III, the King of Poland and Adam Komorowski, Primate of Poland sent a request to Pope Benedict XIV. The Pope sent the crowns decorated with precious jewels and an official decree dated January 28, 1753. On July 16, 1756, Bishop Kaietan Soltyk crowned the icon with due ceremony. Monks, nuns, representatives of the clergy, armies, and also 50,000 believers took part in this divine service.
To protect the shrine, moats and towers were built as a defense system. There were also 60 soldiers who defended the fortress of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At a special request of the prior of the monastery, the fortress got 120 volunteers to defend in the case of an enemy attack.
In the 18th-19th centuries the monastery in Berdychiv was not only the centre of religious life and the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary but an important centre of culture and charity in the area. The shrine had its printing-house, library, and school and therefore it contributed a lot to the development of culture and expansion of education. The shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Berdychiv became the spiritual centre of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine. This place was considered to be sacred, a place where Our Lady was present, but also a place for believers to be reconciled with God.
In the first half of the 19th century the gold crowns, which decorated the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, were stolen. Upon receiving a request regarding the coronation, Pope Pius IX sent new crowns. On June 6, 1854 Bishop Casper Borowski completed another coronation. Due to dissolution by the decree of a Russian tsar, the use of the monastery came to the end in 1866. In 1918 once again the Carmelites returned to Berdychiv for a short period of time. In 1926 the Sanctuary was taken over by the state. Soviet authorities turned the upper church into a museum of religion and atheism, and the lower church became a cinema theater. In 1941 before the Fascists' invasion, a fire broke out in the Sanctuary. The icon of the Virgin Mary was believed to have been destroyed by the fire.
On November 15, 1991 the Roman Catholic Church regained its right to possess the upper and lower churches. Pastoral and parish work in the destroyed sacred place was conducted under very difficult conditions. The Carmelites began to realize the complexity of reconstructing the two churches. The number of pilgrims to the shrine was still increasing. A new icon of The Blessed Virgin Mary of Berdychiv was commissioned. John Paul II blessed the new paining in Krakow, Poland on June 9, 1997. On July 19, 1998, the bishop of Kyiv-Zhytomyr diocese, Bishop Jan Purwinski, crowned the icon on behalf of the Pope during the patronal festivities of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.
The Blessed Virgin Mary returned to the Sanctuary to heal wounded hearts, to open eyes of the blind, and to show all the children of God the proper sense of life leading to freedom.
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