‘Saint Jadwiga’, by Michal Harris-Edwards

An effigy of St Jadwiga on her seal

From the Editor: One for all of the Poles in our readership – in case they let you forget, they very proud of their Catholic heritage!

Saint Jadwiga of Poland (also known as Hedwig) is remembered as a great ruler of her nation. Despite dying on this day (17 July) in 1399 only aged 25, she achieved much in her life, including converting Lithuania, one of Europe’s largest countries, to Christianity. 

She was born in 1373 or 1374, to Louis I, King of Hungary, Croatia and Poland, and his wife, Elizabeth of Bosnia. She was named after Hedwig of Silesia, who was a Saint and a High Duchess of Poland, as well as Jadwiga’s ancestor. Louis had 3 daughters, but no sons. As a result, he prepared his realm to accept his eldest daughter, Catherine, as their next monarch. Good marriages were arranged for all 3, with Jadwiga being provisionally married to William of Habsburg, son and heir of Leopold III, Duke of Austria, in 1378. The marriage was meant to come into effect once both parties became adults.

Catherine died in 1378, at the age of 7, and this reversed much of the progress her father made to keep his realm united. Louis decided that his second daughter, Mary, would rule Poland, and Jadwiga would rule Hungary.

However, when Louis died in 1382, Elizabeth decided to crown Mary as King of Hungary. She tried to stall sending Jadwiga off to Poland for as long as possible, perhaps hoping to keep the realm united. However, the Polish nobility demanded a ruler on Polish soil, and in 1384, Jadwiga was sent to Poland and also crowned King. It is believed that the title “king” was used so that their husbands wouldn’t outrank them.

In 1385, William tried to join Jadwiga in Poland, seeing himself as her husband, but the Polish nobles expelled him and wanted Jadwiga to marry Jogaila, Grand Duke of Lithuania, who was a pagan and controlled what was one of the largest countries in Europe. In a miracle known as Jadwiga’s Cross, after praying for a long time about what to do, the crucified figure of Jesus told her to marry Jogaila and convert Lithuania. In 1386, the marriage took place, as well as Jogaila’s coronation and baptism (where he adopted the name Władysław), and Lithuania was converted to Christianity. The two governed Poland as co-rulers. This marriage also established the conditions for the formation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Another miracle of hers is known as Jadwiga’s Foot, where after giving a piece of jewellery to a poor stonemason, an imprint of her foot was left on the ground. The footprint can still be seen in the city of Kraków. She also had part of her jewellery sold off in order to re-establish the University of Kraków. She also promoted singing hymns in Polish, and was the first monarch to have a part of the Bible translated into Polish.

In 1399, Jadwiga gave birth to Elizabeth Bonifacia, whose godfather was going to be Pope Boniface IX. However, both mother and child died days later. On 8 June 1997, she was canonised by Pope John Paul II, which is now her feast day. She is the patron Saint of Poland, queens and a united Europe, among other things.

Święta Jadwigo, módl się za nami!

Michal Harris-Edwards, PPE, Oriel