Saint of the Month: St Jadwiga

Feast day: 17 July

Jadwiga (1373-1399) was the daughter of Louis the Great of Poland and Hungary. Louis had no male heir; he had three daughters, the youngest of whom was Jadwiga. Catherine, the eldest, died in 1378 and Mary was crowned king of Hungary. Jadwiga became Queen of Poland because the Polish nobles refused to have a ruler who lived outside the country. She was crowned king of Poland in 1384. She was called king either to emphasize her status as ruler in her own right or to prevent her husband taking the title. Jadwiga had been betrothed to William of Habsburg and had lived in Austria for two years. The couple seemed to have been fond of one another. However some of the Polish nobles felt that William would not be a strong enough ruler and it was suggested that Jadwiga marry Jagiellon, Duke of Lithuania. Both Poland and Lithuania faced a common enemy in the Teutonic Knights. They had once been a crusading Oorder and had intended to Christianize Lithuania but they were now independent rulers in lands on the Baltic and a threat to both the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Jagiellon was a pagan, but he promised to convert himself and his people to Christianity. It is said that Jadwiga prayed long and hard before a crucifix in Wawel cathdral in Kracow and that Christ spoke to her from the cross, saying: "Do what you see."

Jadwiga eventually discerned that marrying Jagiellon was the right thing to do and she gave her consent to the union. Jagiellon was baptised on 4 February 1386 and took the name Wladyslaw II (Ladislaus), and he and Jadwiga were married three days later. He was thirty five, she was twelve. On March 4 Jagiellon was crowned king. Jadwiga and her husband did not speak a common language but from the start they co-operated. Jadwiga went with him to Greater Poland to gain support from the nobles who were hostile to him. The royal visit did damage to the peasants and Jadwiga insisted they be compensated. Soon the couple had to face revolt by the Teutonic Knights, who supported the claim of William of Habsburg. Her mother and sister were captured and Queen Elizabeth was murdered. Much of Jadwiga and Jagiellon’s reign was spent defending their realms against the Teutonic knights and the lords of neighbouring Ruthenia.

Jadwiga was said to have been tall and beautiful with red hair. She spoke not only Polish and Hungarian but also Latin, German and Italian. She seems to have been an able ruler with the gift of diplomacy. She had a keen interest in education and spearheaded the restoration of the failing Kracow academy together with her husband; five hundred years afterwards it was named after them after them. Jadwiga also donated all her jewels to provide scholarships for Lithuanian students to enhance the progress of Christianity in the Grand Duchy. She got the Pope’s permission to establish a department of Theology. She also funded a translation of the Bible and the writings of the fathers for Wavel cathedral and established a Psalterist College where people would praise God day and night.

Queen Jadwiga was always very pious and attended Mass every day. She funded many hospitals and churches. There are some stories of her individual acts of kindness. When the Carmelite Church, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, was being constructed the queen noticed one of the workers looking very sad. She asked what was the matter and on being told that the man’s wife was very ill but that they couldn't afford to pay for medical care, Jadwiga removed a gold buckle from her shoe and gave it to the man. In doing so she left the imprint of her foot in lime; the workman placed the footprint on the wall of the church and it can be seen there to this very day.

In 1399 Jadwiga gave birth to a baby girl who died a few weeks after birth. Jadwiga herself died four days later from complications arising from childbirth. Jagiellon continued to rule Poland for thirty five years.

The cause for Jadwiga’s canonisation was begun in 1426 but it was not until Pope John Paul II visited Krakow in 1997 that she was finally made a saint.

St Jadwiga, pray for us.