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!
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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.