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St Casimir

Feast day: 4 March

Casimir was a member of the Jagiellon dynasty and was born in Wawel Castle, in Krakόw, in 1458. He was the third child and second son of the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Casimir IV and his wife Queen Elizabeth Habsburg of Austria (Poland and Lithuania were united with the marriage of Jogaila and Jadwiga in 1386). Elizabeth was a loving mother and took an active interest in her children’s upbringing. The Queen and her children often accompanied the King in his annual trips to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Casimir was a polyglot and knew Lithuanian, Polish, German and Latin. From the age of nine he and his brothers were educated by a Polish priest and taught Latin and German, law, history, rhetoric and classical literature. Their teacher was a stern moralist and administered corporal punishment to his pupils, which was approved by the King. Casimir showed skills in oratory when he greeted his father on his return to Poland in 1469.

In 1457 Casimir’s uncle, who ruled Bohemia and Hungary, died leaving no heir. Casimir IV put forward his claims to the kingdoms but soon there was disputes over the succession. Eventually Poland amassed a huge army but the candidate approved by the Hungarians was successful and eventually a one year’s truce was signed. Casimir had taken part in the conflict and felt deep regret at the failure in Hungary. He resumed his studies.

Casimir’s brother Vladislav II had succeeded to the throne of Bohemia, so Casimir was now heir to Poland and Lithuania. He acquired a new tutor to teach him about political matters but his former tutor had more influence.

In 1474 the Italian traveller Contarini met with Casimir and was impressed by his wisdom. The prince completed his formal education when he was 16 and spent most of the time with his father. He accompanied the King to Royal Prussia where he tried to resolve the conflict with the Prince Bishop of Warmia in the War of the Priests. The bishop had been installed without the approval of the King. In 1478 the Seimas (parliament) of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania demanded that King Casimir leave one of his sons as a regent. The King refused, fearing division, but after settling the conflict in Prussia he moved to Vilnius where he remained most of the time.

Following an attempt to murder King Casimir and the prince, the latter was sent to Poland to act as vice-regent. Around the same time his father tried to arrange a marriage for him but it is thought that Casimir wanted to remain celibate. In any case he was aware that he was dying, having developed tuberculosis. In 1483 he joined his father in Vilnius where, at the death of the Bishop and Vice Chancellor of the crown, he took over some of his duties in the chancellery. However, his health deteriorated. The King rushed back to Lithuania to be with his son, who died on 4 March 1484. His remains were interred in Vilnius Cathedral, where the dedicated St Casimir’s chapel was built in 1636.

Contemporary accounts describe Casimir as a young man of exceptional intellect and education, humility and politeness, who strove for justice and fairness. He was generous to the poor and needy. His inclination to religious life increased towards the end of his life. He would spend long hours in prayer. A hymn, “Daily, daily sing to Mary”, was found in his tomb. One of his miracles was showing the Lithuanian troops where they could safely cross the river. A special indulgence was granted by the Pope to those who would pray in the chapel where Casimir was buried from one vesper to another during certain Catholic festivals.

His brother petitioned the Pope to canonize Casimir. A commission was appointed and its results were published in 1521 in Krakow. The Pope, however, died so it was not until 1522 that Casimir was canonized by Pope Adrian VI. In 1602 he was made patron saint of Poland and Lithuania and in 1948 Pope Pius XII named him patron of youth. His feast day is 4 March.

St Casimir’s portait in Vilnius Cathedral is considered to be miraculous. The painting, probably completed in around 1520, depicts the saint with two right hands. According to a legend the painter attempted to redraw the hand in a different place and paint over the old hand, but the old hand miraculously reappeared. It is suggested that the three handed Casimir was meant to emphasize his generosity. In Soviet times the relics were removed but they were returned to their original place in Vilnius cathedral in 1989 when it was reconsecrated.

St Casimir, pray for us.