St. Hedwig, Dolfi wood carving Hedwig with church as an attribute. Saint Hedwig Religious and Duchess of Silesia and Poland. October 16 - Optional Memorial
Andescj, Bavaria, 1174 - Trzebnica, Poland, October 15, 1243
Born in 1174 in Upper Bavaria, she was Duchess of Silesia, wife of Henry I, known as the Bearded Man. Her noble status did not prohibit her from living her faith to the fullest, demonstrating profound devotion and expressing in various ways her charity towards the least and her total intention to place her whole person at the service of others. Tried by various family misfortunes and saddened by the rivalry between her two sons, she was always able to show the gentleness and wisdom of one who lives a deep desire for peace. Style that she applied in the life of the court and in foreign policy. When her husband was taken prisoner of war, she obtained his release. She worked to improve the living conditions of prisoners and used much of her income for the poor. She practiced a personal austerity aimed at a mortification offered as a concrete sign for those who lived locked in sin and selfishness. A princess and a penitent, a faithful wife and a sorrowful mother, a just and benevolent sovereign, Hedwig died in 1243 and was immediately venerated as a saint, both by the Germanic and Slavic faithful. (Future)
Etymology: Hedwig = rich warrior, or luck in battle, from German
Roman Martyrology: Saint Hedwig, a nun, of Bavarian origin and duchess of Poland, devoted herself assiduously to helping the poor, founding hospices for them, and, after the death of her husband, Duke Henry, she spent the remaining years of her life in the monastery of the Cistercian nuns, which she herself founded and of which her daughter Gertrude was abbess. She died at Trebnitz in Poland on October 15.
(October 15: In the monastery of Trebnitz in Silesia, Poland, anniversary of the death of St. Hedwig, a religious, whose memory is celebrated tomorrow).
Her parents, Bertoldo and Agnese, of high Bavarian nobility, prepared her for an important marriage, making her study at the school of the Benedictine nuns of Kitzingen, near Würzburg. And at the age of 16, in fact, Hedwig married in Breslau (present-day Wroclaw, Poland) the young Henry the Bearded, heir to the duchy of Lower Silesia. Four years later, Henry succeeded his father Boleslaus and so she became duchess.
This Silesian territory is still part of the Kingdom of Poland, but it is becoming Germanized. Its dukes, already from the time of Frederick Barbarossa (died in 1190) gravitated to the Germanic Empire; the local feudality is instead of Polish lineage, as the majority of the inhabitants, to which however is mixing a strong immigration of Germans. Hedwig gives birth to six children: Boleslao, Conrad, Henry called the Pious, Agnes, Sofia and Gertrude. And she proves to be a good collaborator of her husband in the difficult government of the duchy: she gains the sympathy of her Polish subjects by learning their language, she promotes assistance to the poor, as many other sovereigns do and will do, but with a difference: she lives poverty firsthand, day by day, with the strict rules that she imposes, eliminating from her life everything that can distinguish her from a woman of modest condition. Starting with her clothing. Biographers talk about the used clothes she wears, worn out shoes, belts similar to those of the carters.
She is unlucky with her children, who will not have an affectionate relationship with her, and who will die almost all still young, except Gertrude. Her husband, Henry the Bearded, dies in 1238, and is succeeded by his son Henry the Pious, who in 1241 is killed in combat against a Mongol incursion near Liegnitz (present-day Legnica).
Misfortunes in series, therefore. But the biographers say that she faces them every time without tears. Perhaps because she is German, and perhaps also because she is very tied to the monastic environment of the time, with all its rigor. (To the many prayers and pious readings, Hedwig also accompanies very hard physical penances). Yet, when she found herself alone, she did not think of "escaping from the world" immediately by entering the monastery. No, first it is necessary to think of the poor, as she will tell her daughter Gertrude, not for reasons of good politics, but because the poor are "our masters". And this language recalls "the spirituality of the mendicant Orders and in particular that of the Franciscans, among whom Hedwig, in the last years of her existence, chose her own confessor" (A. Vauchez, La santità nel Medioevo, ed. Il Mulino).