When Jadwiga (the name translates into Hedwig in English) Andegaweńska came to Kraków from Hungary in the early spring of 1384 she took her place in Polish history as the only woman ever crowned king to the Polish throne.
(Queen Jadwiga by Italian painter Marcello Bacciarelli (1768-1771) who painted a set of portraits depicting nearly all Polish kings)
She maintained her position after her marriage to Jagiełło of Lithuania, but in the documents of the time, Jadwiga Andegaweńska was not called the king (rex), but the queen (regina) according to her gender. One of the conditions of the marriage was that Jagiełło convert to Christianity and Christianize Lithuania. He agreed. Their union brought the two countries together into one of the most powerful unions of the time not just through dynastic marriage but through the Catholic faith.
(Baptism of Lithuania depicted by Polish painter Władysław Ciesielski 1845-1901)
During her lifetime, Jadwiga Andegaweńska was not just a figurehead, nor a quiet, praying ascetic. Yes, her faith and religion was at the forefront of her life. She prayed seven times a day, during the canonical hours. These are known as matins and lauds (usually counted as a single hour) said in the middle of the night; prime, at sunrise; terce, 9 a.m.; sext, noon; none, 3 p.m.; vespers, sunset; and compline, bedtime. Every day, without exception, she also took part in the Holy Mass. She fasted rigorously during the 200 days dictated at that time by the church. She brought the Carmelite order to Poland from the Czech Republic, established new churches, donated generously to the monastery at Jasna Góra, and showered those first Lithuanian Catholic churches with chalices, books, monstrances, crosses, paintings, and liturgical vestments. She was also a ruler who combined piety with ambition. She took an active role in church affairs and butted heads with popes and the clergy. She was a patron of the sciences, donating all her jewels for the renewal of the Academy in Kraków to promote study in all fields and established a theological studies department there as well.
Even though Poland was not her homeland (her claim to the throne came through her relationship to the Piast Dynasty, the first ruling family of Poland, through both her mother and father), she won the hearts of her subjects with extraordinary goodness. Queen Jadwiga paid great attention to hospitals and was generous with alms to the poor. She looked out for the little man, frequently inviting the poor to eat at the castle. A separate table of simple dishes of buckwheat groats, sour rye soup, cabbage, peas, sausages, herring, bread and beer was prepared for them in the utility rooms, which everyone could eat to their heart's content
While Jadwiga Andegaweńska was famous for her piety, she was, after all, a woman of flesh and blood. As a young woman she loved beautiful clothes, jewels, tournaments, dances and banquets. She liked rice cooked in milk with almonds and raisins, fresh cucumbers drizzled with honey and was very fond of the precursor to today’s bagels called obwarzanki - rings of baked yeast dough which can still be bought on the streets of Kraków.
(Example of obwarzanek - smaller and thinner than today's bagel)
She was also fussy about her bread, sending inferior bread away from the table with someone dispatched in great haste to another town 10 kilometers away to buy better bread.
Jadwiga also liked beer! The Queen, despite the fact that she came from Hungary, famous for its wines, preferred beer to wine and was able to drink up to 2 liters a day. (Let’s remember that beer with meals was the staple at the time and water was only something to wash with, not for drinking).
Oftentimes confused with another formidable Polish queen, that of Queen Jadwiga of Śląsk(Silesia) who lived in an earlier century, Jadwiga Andegaweńska Jagiellonczyk was named after that particular Jadwiga but carved her very own story that lives on so many centuries later. She personified the Polish saying of someone who was “do tancza i do różańca” that is, suitable for dancing and the rosary, an all-around person who could enjoy life and be devout at the same time.
She lived less than 26 years. She died in 1399 after a very hard childbirth. She is buried in Wawel Cathedral.
In his homily at the time of her sainthood in 1997, Pope John Paul II proclaimed that “She gave the whole nation an example of love for Christ and man - a man thirsty for both faith and science, as well as for daily bread and clothing. Let us draw on this example today…”
We celebrate her feast day today on October 15. Happy name day to all named Jadwiga and Hedwig!
Sources and credits:
The year 1410 saw one of the greatest battles of the Middle Ages under the command of Polish King Władysław Jagiełło(1386–1434) when he defeated the troops of the Teutonic order at the Battle of Grunwald. The King’s banner in battle was adorned with the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa. On the lips of Polish soldiers was the song Bogurodzica (Mother of God), becoming the first act of giving Poland’s armed forces to Our Lady of Częstochowa.
Our Lady of Częstochowa on roadside shrine. Łysaków, Poland. Edward Knab photo.
In the time of the “Deluge” when Swedish armies invaded the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and it was thought that the country was lost to the foreign invaders, the one place that still resisted the Swedes was the holy monastery at Jasna Góra- the most sacred place in Poland containing the icon of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Częstochowa.
Close up of depiction of Seige of Jasna Góra in 1655 by Polish artist Janaury Suchodolski. 1845. Wikipedia photo.
On 1 April 1656, during a Mass in the Latin Cathedral (also known as Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in Lwów (today Lviv, western Ukraine),King John II Casimir entrusted the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he announced as The Queen of the Polish Crown and of his countries. ” Great Mother of God, Most Holy Virgin. I, Jan Kazimierz, for the love of Your Son, King of kings and my Lord and Your merciful King, having fallen at Your Most Holy feet, I choose You today as my Patroness and Queen of my countries.” Polish troops went on to victory.
King Michała Korybuta Wiśniowski ( reigned 1669- 1673) vowed the same at Jasna Góra on December 7, 1669. In his war against the Ottoman empire, he begged the mother of God “Support me and this Kingdom – not mine, but yours, in all troubles.”
When King Jan Sobieski III (reigned 1674-1696) began his fight against the Turks at Vienna in 1693, he also entrusted his kingdom to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and saved Europe from Muslim domination. With Mary's name on their lips, and her likeness painted on their armor and flying high on their banners, the kings and knights of Poland fought against the Tartars, the Turks, the Swedes and all foreign invaders.
King Jan Sobieski wearing a ryngraf, originally used as plate armour worn in battle to protect the throat. Wikipedia photo.
During the 123 years of partitions of Poland, when Poland as a country was erased from the maps of Europe, Our Lady of Częstochowa at Jasna Góra became a symbol of identity and unity. Poles in all three partitions regarded Jasna Góra as a symbol of their national sovereignty and in spite of the political situation, remained alive in the nation’s collective consciousness. “Our Lady” was the sovereign of the country, the Queen of Poland and the Grand Duchess of Lithuania and nothing could change that.
During the Uprising of 1863-1864(also known as the January Uprising), an insurrection principally in the Russian partition to restore the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, every insurrectionist wore a small scapular with the picture of Mary as a reminder that through her intercession, Mary was the nation’s hope for regaining its freedom and becoming an independent nation again.
In 1920, during the Polish-Bolshevik War with the Red Army, Polish soldiers again asked the Mother of God for help, and ended with a sensational victory in Warsaw called “Cud nad Wisła, the “Miracle on The Wisła.” According to the soldiers' reports, it was the intervention of Mary and her appearance over the site of the battle that caused the victory. In memory of the event which took place August 13-25, Polish Army Day was established in 1923, to be celebrated on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven, the day she was to have appeared in the battle. In 1950, the communist authorities changed the date to October 12, but in 1992, in a free and independent Poland, August 15 again became Polish Army Day.
In 1939 with the outbreak of World War II, Poland’s men and women went underground, became a resistance force called Armia Krajowa (the Home Army, abbreviated AK) and fought the German occupiers throughout the five-year struggle. Their vow begins with: “In the face of Almighty God, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Polish Crown, I swear to be faithful to my homeland…”
In 1944, in the battle for Monte Cassino in Italy, considered to be among the most important land battles of World War II, it was the soldiers of the 2nd Polish Corps, led by General Władysław Anders, who ultimately opened the way for the Allies to march on Rome. An image of Our Lady of Częstochowa was on the field altar for holy masses after the battles.
Throughout the centuries, the protection of Our Lady of Częstochowa has been sought by knights, confederates, insurgents, legionnaires, scouts, partisans, and soldiers in the fight for a free and independent Poland. She was their constant source of support and hope. She was their supreme hetman, the spiritual high commander, of Polish armies in battle.
Some of the above are excerpts from forthcoming book titled Spirit of Place: Roadside Shrines of Poland. Available October 2022.
You can listen to Bogurodzica, Poland’s oldest hymn here www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziCfs5tES_Y
Painting by Polish artist Lela Pawlikowski titled "Matka Boska Jagodna" 1939
For many centuries the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church was celebrated on July 2. The feast day commemorates the day that Mary, pregnant with the infant Jesus, visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Elizabeth immediately knows that the child Mary carries is the one who will be sacrificed for the world. Elizabeth cries out “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42-45) This holy day was established in 1263 by St. Bonaventure of the Franciscan Order and then introduced by Pope Boniface in 1389 throughout the Church. As a result of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in 1969, the Feast of the Visitation is now celebrated on May 31, ending May - the Marian month.
In Polish folk tradition July 2nd, the Feast of the Visitation, was also called Matka Boska Jagodna, Our Lady of Berries. The day is associated with a legend in which a pregnant Mary walked many miles along lonely paths in order to visit her cousin Elizabeth. During the long journey, Mary's main food was the berries growing in the forest. Folk tradition dictated that until July 2 picking berries from the forest was to be avoided so as not to take the food from the pregnant Mary, who traveled to visit Elizabeth.
This refraining from picking and eating the berries of the forest, such as raspberries and blueberries, until that date was especially important to the pregnant women of Poland. This small sacrifice (because berries were already present and ripe for plucking by Feast of St. John the Baptist, June 24) was a way of asking Mary for the grace of giving birth to a healthy and strong child. Our Lady of Berries was seen as the guardian of mothers and pregnant women, especially those who had problems with pregnancy, miscarried or had still births. Mary would also provide protection for the still born children in the afterlife.
Our Lady of Berries (Matka Boska Jagodna) depicted in folk art. National Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw.
Our Lady of Berries also became the patron of forest berries and orchard and garden fruit, all beliefs captured by Polish poet Leopold Staff :
Matka Boska Jagodna, Panienka Maryja,
Która owocnym, rodnym drzewom sprzyja,
Chodzi po sadzie kwitnącym i śpiewa
Pocałunkami budząc w wiosnę drzewa.
Nocą wieśniaczki jej śpiew słyszą we śnie,
Wieść, aby jagód nie jadły przedwcześnie,
Każdą jagodę z ust matce odjętą
Da zmarłym dziatkom Panna w jagód święto…Leopold Staff
Our Lady of Berries, Virgin Mary,
Who favors fruitful, fertile trees,
Walks in the flowering orchard and sings
Kissing trees awake in spring.
At night, the peasant women hear her singing in their sleep,
A message that the berries should not be eaten prematurely,
Every blueberry abstained from mother's mouth
The Virgin will give deceased children on the feast of berries ...
The Visitation is the subject of much devotional art. The Visitation of the Virgin to Saint Elizabeth Workshop of Goossen van der Weyden. National Gallery London
St. Anthony of Padua( Św. Antoni Padewski) is the patron saint of innumerable churches, parishes and sanctuaries all over Poland and it is estimated that over 198 towns derive their name from the name of St. Anthony. There is hardly a church in Poland without an altar or a statue of this saint not to mention roadside figures and chapels. The chapel of St. Anthony, carved in salt in Wieliczka, one of the oldest chapels in the mine dating to the 17th century. The first mass said in the chapel for the miners, who also took him on as a patron because they searched for “white gold,” i.e,, salt, was in 1698.
Chapel of St. Anothony in Wieliczka Salt Mine from old postcard. Public domain.
St. Antholny proved to be an excellent preacher and a person with deep theological knowledge. He began to preach the word of God earnestly as an itinerant preacher. He is usually invoked in finding lost or stolen things. “Św. Antoni, dopomóż odszukać koni!” St. Anthony help us find our horse, says the old proverb/prayer that was invoked with lost (or sometimes stolen) horses.
The history of praying to St. Anthony for lost items can be traced back to an incident in Anthony’s own life when he had lost a book of psalms that was very important to him for teaching students in his Franciscan order. A novice who had grown tired of living religious life decided to depart the community and also took Anthony’s psalter with him. Upon realizing his psalter was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found or returned to him. The novice became conrite over his actions and was not only moved to return the psalter to Anthony but returned to the Franciscan Order as well. Shortly after his death people began praying through Anthony to find or recover lost and stolen articles.
St. Anthony of Padua is generally depicted in a brown Franciscan habit, having taken vows with the Franciscan order who spread his popularity throughout Poland. He is typically portrayed holding the child Jesus (who was to have appeared to him) in his arms, or a lily (symbol of a pure life devoted to God), or a book (he was canonized as a Doctor of the Church) or all three. His feast day is celebrated today, the 13th of June.
Excerpted from upcoming book: Spirit of Place: The Roadside Shrines of Poland by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab
Photo of St. Anthony shrine by Michał Zalewski located in Zwiartów, Lublin region, eastern Poland.
.Sometimes it takes many years to find our way to our life’s true work and purpose. Oftentimes it begins in a completely different place. You find yourself meandering off in various directions. Nothing sticks until one day there’s a particular moment, a sudden epiphany, and the path straightens and the way becomes clear.
Such was the case with Adam Chmielowski, in later life better known as Brother Albert. He began his career as a student, became a soldier who lost a leg while fighting for Poland’s independence, found fame as an artist, joined a religious congregation, got sick and become a patient in a mental institution. He overcame his depression, began using his artistry to renew the interior of churches and the small roadside shrines that dot the landscape of Poland. Then one day a priest friend lent him a book on the Rule of St. Francis. For Adam it became his “Aha!” moment. All the pieces fell into place and he finally found his way to his life’s purpose. Utilizing St. Francis as his role model, Adam began working with the poor and homeless of Poland.
He went on to established his own branch of the Franciscans, the Servants of the Poor, who are sometimes called the Albertine Brothers. A few years later he helped found a women's congregation with the same intent of helping Poland's poor.
Much can be written about how he created homeless shelters and lived with those he served. He created decent life conditions and jobs in order to give dignity to the hopeless and needy. He established houses for homeless children and teenagers, facilities for people with disabilities, for the elderly and the incurable. He showed the world how, in his words, ”to be as good as bread” to others.
Brother Albert used bread as a metaphor to indicate how it sustains and nurtures life and that we can be like bread. We can sustain and nourish others though our behaviors and interactions with others. I know I am not capable of such great acts such as Brother Albert’s but his guiding principle in life raises this question for me: If I can’t be a whole loaf of bread for others like he was, doing great, monumental things, can I be at least a bite of bread for others each day? Can I do small things to help sustain and nourish others, both physically or emotionally?
For all the twists and turns along life’s path, Brother Albert eventually came to be called “Blessed” and later “Saint” Albert Chmielowski. He is depicted here in a stained glass window at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Pile, Poland as a Franciscan, holding a loaf of bread. Others depicted (from the left) are Jacek Odrowąż (St. Hyacinth), King Kazimierz(Casimir) Jagiellończyk, and Edmund Bojanowski.
He asked of us “to be as good as bread” (in Polish, “ powinno być dobry jak chleb") to others. His feast day is today, June 17th.
Photo of Albert Chmielowski: Wikipedia
Today is the feast day for 108 Catholics from Poland who were killed by Nazis during World War II. The group includes three bishops, 52 priests, 26 men and eight women from religious communities, three seminarians, and nine lay people.
Pictured here is Sister Julia Rodzińska(1899-1945) of the Dominican order, one of the eight religious Polish women beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1999.
At the time of her arrest by the Gestapo in July 1943, Sister Julia was head of an orphanage in Wilno and against all the rules of the German occupation of Poland, secretly taught Polish language, history and religion to the children of the orphanage
She was charged with political conspiracy and contact with underground partisans, jailed and tortured, and then sent by cattle car to Stutthof concentration camp where she was given the number 40992. From that time on she was brutally treated and suffered starvation along with the other women of Barrack 30.
She shared her food, her clothing and rendered what care she could to those suffering from the typhus epidemics that were raging through the camp. Sr. Julia would not abandon the sickest among them even though the piles of dead bodies surrounded the barrack kept growing. At a time of tremendous physical and psychological trauma, of beatings and unbearable workloads, Sr. Julia constantly called on her faith to keep her strong and inspired her fellow prisoners.
Her life ended on February 20, 1945 at Stutthof, infected with typhus while serving the dying Jewish prisoners. Surviving witnesses stated: "In the conditions of degradation, she was able to direct us to other values, spiritual values ... For us she was a saint, she gave her life for others.” Her naked body was thrown on a pile of dead corpses that surrounded the barracks. At a time when a blanket or a piece of cloth meant the difference between warmth and life and the very possibility of freezing to death, someone covered her lifeless, naked body with a piece of cloth, out of honor and respect.
Requiescat in pace.
December 28. Feast of the Holy Innocents, recognized as the first Christian martyrs. On this day the Catholic church commemorates the execution of all children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem under the orders of Herod, king of Judea, in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews. According to the apocryphal legends of the New Testament, the edict by Herod led to the Fight into Egypt by the Holy Family in order to keep the newborn safe from Herod’s murderous intent. The Flight into Egypt has been depicted over the centuries by artists all over the world including Polish art and artists.
To the left is the famous 15th century painting by unknown Polish artist titled Mistrz Tryptyk Dominikanskiego (Dominincan Tryptich) from the 15th century located at the National Museum in Kraków. The image became Christmas stamp in Poland in 1974.
Another image is by a later artist named Piotr Stachiewicz that depicts the fleeing family wandering through a Polish village, receiving a bow from a local peasant.
The event was also a theme for Polish folk artists such as this sculpture by artist Tadeusz Adamski.
One of the most popular Polish religious folk legends regarding the Holy Family fleeing from Herod focuses on the hazel tree. The Blessed virgin and Infant hide under its low spreading branches and are saved from King herod's assasins. Perhaps because of its history in protecting the infant Jesus, the leaves of the hazel tree were often used in folk medicine in the care of children, adding it to their bath water to help the children grow strong and to walk early.
Another theme that takes place during the flight was The Rest on the Flight to Egypt, also the subject of paintings by artists around the world. It also rooted itself in Polish legends and beliefs. One is about the herb known as sage. During the time when the Holy Family was fleeing to Egypt from Herod, they took rest near a clump of flowering sage. In order to make the rest of the Holy Family pleasant, the plant scattered all its flowers before Jesus, creating a sweet and aromatic carpet. As a reward, God gave the plant the power to heal all diseases. Ever since, the herb has been tied to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In Władysław Reymont’s Noble Prize-winning book Chłopi(The Peasants: Summer)one of the central female characters named Hanka says “I have vowed to go to Częstochowa for Our Lady of the Angels.”
The gospel gives several connections between angels and the Blessed Virgin Mary such as the Annunciation when Mary is told she would become the mother of Jesus; the appearance of angels to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus; the angel informing Joseph that he is to flee with God’s child into Egypt. Reference is also made in the much-loved Litany of Loreto (Litania Loretanska, in Polish) which intones “Queen of Angels, pray for us.” (Królowa Aniołow, modł sie za nami) but as a feast day, I was unfamiliar with Our Lady of the Angels. Hanka (or rather her creator, Władysław Reymont) was referring to The Feast Day of Our Lady of the Angels also known as the Portiuncula (Porcjunkuli, in Polish), observed on August 2nd.
The story begins in Assisi, Italy and with St. Francis of Assisi.
During the first centuries of the Christian era, pilgrims returning from the Holy Land built a small chapel at the foot of the mountain on which Assisi, Italy is situated. This chapel together with a small plot of land was later given to St Benedict in the 6th century and given the name Portiuncula, meaning, Little Portion.
In 1209, St. Francis obtained from the Benedictines the use of the Portiuncula, for which he apparently paid the sum total of a basket of fish. He set about restoring what had become a dilapidated chapel, was joined by others, gave it the name Our Lady of the Angels and is considered to be the cradle, the beginning of the Franciscan order: the Order of Friars Minor (O.F.M).
One night, while praying in the chapel, St. Francis saw our Lord and His holy mother surrounded by angels and heard the voice of the Lord saying He would grant St. Francis some special request. After a few moments of reflection, St. Francis asked that anyone visiting his little sanctuary, who were contrite and having confessed their sins, receive a plenary indulgence, that is, a pardon, a forgiveness of their sins.
(The Miracle of the Porziuncola. Painting by Antonio de Oliveria Bernardes(1698) Cathedral of Evora, Portugal)
St. Francis petitioned the pope to be able to offer this spiritual boon to the faithful. It was granted with the restriction that the indulgence could be gained on that one day of the year, on 2nd of August, that being the anniversary of the little chapel's dedication. It became a holiday celebrated by all Franciscans around the world as the patronal feast day of the Franciscan church and monasteries.
The conditions for forgiveness included: confession of sins, attending mass, receiving holy communion, the recitation of the Lord's Prayer or some reaffirmation of one’s Christian beliefs. From that time on, the Portiuncula, the little chapel also called Our Lady of the Angels, became the site of numerous pilgrimages by devout individuals seeking pardon for their sins. It became known as the Pardon of Assisi and was later extended throughout the universal Church and not limited just to the pilgrimage site in Assisi. Anyone participating in a pilgrimage or attending their parish church on this day could unburden their sins and receive forgiveness.
Władysław Reymont lived, observed and wrote in the little village of Lipce where the setting for Chłopi (The Peasants) take place. He began writing in 1897. The fourth and last book in the sequence, “Summer”, was first published in the Polish language in 1909 making it clear that over a hundred years ago, the feast day of Our Lady of the Angels was an important part of the spiritual practices of the Łowicz region in Poland.
Struggling to manage the house and farm singlehandedly while her husband was in jail, fears of her losing her husband’s affection, and troubled by her feelings of hurt and anger and inadequacy, the character Hanka sought refuge, solace and forgiveness, by taking a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey to a sacred space on that special feast day. In Poland, that most sacred space was (and still is) Częstochowa. She sought comfort for what ailed her heart and soul… in her faith… on the feast day of Our Lady of the Angels on August 2nd.
You’re most likely to see a statue of him near rivers and bridges. He is known as the patron saint of water, bridges, and of farmers who have fields they want to protect against floods. He is often found near wells and springs, watching that they not dry out. He is also considered the patron saint of the drowning with his statue erected at sites of a drowning. Today, May 16, is the feast day of St. Jan Nepomucen. (Święty Jan Nepomucen).
Born in Nepomuc, Bohemia near Prague, St. John was and ardent minister who was murdered by King Wenceslaus IV when he refused to reveal what he had been told in confession. The king ordered that his hands and feet be bound and weighed down with rocks and thrown into from a bridge into the Vlatva River in Prague in the middle of the night. The year of his death was 1393. The cult of St. John Nepomucen began to spread in Prague soon after his tragic death.
In 1638, even before his beatification, a statue of St. John Nepomucen was erected on the Charles Bridge in Prague. The figure depicts the saint standing in priest’s clothes consisting of a cassock, surplice and stole, his head covered with a traditional priest’s biret and a nimbus of five stars surrounding the head. In one arm he cradles a crucifix and in the other holds a palm, the traditional symbol of martyrdom. It is this image that is the most widely reproduced of St. John Nepomucen throughout all of Poland .
The Jesuits promoted St. John Nepomucen throughout the known continents as the patron saint of a good confession. He is patron saint of confessors and those who wish to control their tongue from excessive talking so he is sometimes depicted with a finger against his lips in the traditional symbol of silence or sometimes holding a padlock. Sometimes he holds an open prayer book in both hands.
Considering the great number of shrines dedicated to this saint, it is clear he is much loved and venerated in Poland.
Top photo: Wikipedia. Lower photo: by author in Baranow Sandomierski, Poland
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.