Saint Hedwig

16th October

Yes, there really is a Saint Hedwig, and we celebrate her memory on the 16th October. Hedwig, or Jadwiga, was born in Bavaria in 1174 and died at the (then) great age of 69 in 1243.

Hedwig was the daughter of a nobleman, Count Berthold IV of Andechs, who ruled over what is today Croatia and Dalmatia, in the Balkans. One of his eight children, she had two brothers who became Bishops and two sisters who became Queens.

After being educated at the Benedictine monastery in Franconia Hedwig, now aged twelve, was married to Henry the Bearded, Prince of Poland and the future Duke of Silesia. She bore him six (or, some say) seven children, only one of whom survived her, and they apparently lived a contented and close family life. However, from 1209 onwards she and Henry agreed to live in perpetual continence - Hedwig was then 35 and her husband barely 40, but he submitted to this situation without complaint or disagreement, and both thereafter lived exemplary and deeply pious lives.

Hedwig was a remarkable woman - there can have been few Duchesses like her! She was humble, serving the poor, and especially the lepers (she founded a hospital for female lepers), pardoning offences, helping her enemies and aiding even those who seemed beyond all othersí assistance. She kept barely one hundredth part of her income, freely giving the remainder away to those in need; she wore a hair shirt beneath her cloak at all times, and never wore sandals or shoes. When, in obedience to her confessor, she bought a pair of sandals, she is said to have carried them under her arms.

Towards the end of her life she is said to have had the gift of working cures and making predictions. Several miracles are recorded of her - once she fell asleep while reading her Bible by candlelight, the book caught fire and was burned, but was seen to be completely undamaged. On one occasion a blind manís sight was restored because of her blessing.

Her husband founded the first Monastery for Cistercian nuns in Silesia, and Hedwig took the habit but not the vows of the Order, wishing to administer her property as she wanted to help the needy. She predicted her own death, and insisted on being anointed in preparation for this before anyone else would admit that she was in danger; and worn out by the hardships she had endured she died in her seventieth year in 1243.

She is the Patron Saint of Franconia, in southern Germany.

Laurie Crawforth
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 22nd October 2002