Saint Casimir

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For the village in Canada, see Saint-Casimir, Quebec.
Saint Casimir
This painting of three-handed Saint Casimir (around 1520) is considered to be miraculous
Born (1458-10-03)October 3, 1458
Wawel, Kraków, Kingdom of Poland
Died March 4, 1484(1484-03-04) (aged 25)
Grodno, Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Canonized 1602, Rome by Pope Clement VIII
Major shrine Vilnius Cathedral
Church of St. Casimir, Vilnius
Feast March 4
Patronage Lithuania, Poland, youth

Saint Casimir Jagiellon (Polish: Kazimierz, Lithuanian: Kazimieras; October 3, 1458 – March 4, 1484) was a prince of the Kingdom of Poland and of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. He was well-educated by Jan Długosz, a conservative Polish priest. After his elder brother Vladislaus was elected as King of Bohemia, Casimir became the heir apparent. However, he showed little affinity to politics and became known for his piousness, devotion to god, and generosity towards the sick and poor. He became ill (most likely with tuberculosis) and died at the age of 25. His canonization was initiated by his brother Sigismund I the Old after Casimir was attributed the miracle at the Siege of Polotsk (1518). He was canonized and became a patron saint of Lithuania, Poland, and youth. In Vilnius, his feast day is marked annually with Kaziuko mugė (a trade fair) held on the Sunday nearest to March 4, the anniversary of his death.


Early life and education[edit]

A member of the Jagiellon dynasty, Casimir was born in Wawel Castle in Kraków.[1] Casimir was the third child and the second son of the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Casimir IV and Queen Elisabeth Habsburg of Hungary. Elisabeth was a loving mother and took active interest in her children's upbringing.[2] The Queen and the children often accompanied the King in his annual trips to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

From the age of nine, Casimir and his brother Vladislaus were educated by the Polish priest Jan Długosz. The boys were taught Latin and German, law, history, rhetoric, and classical literature.[2] Długosz was a strict and conservative teacher who emphasized ethics, morality, and religious devotion. According to Stanisław Orzechowski (1513–1566), the princes were subject to corporal punishment which was approved by their father.[3] Długosz noted Casimir's skills in oratory when he delivered speeches to greet his father returning to Poland in 1469 and Jakub Sienienski, the Bishop of Kujawy, in 1470.[3]

Hungarian campaign[edit]

Długosz and Saint Casimir by Florian Cynk (circa 1869)

Prince Casimir's uncle Ladislaus the Posthumous, King of Hungary and Bohemia, died in 1457 at the age of 17, without leaving an heir. Casimir's father, King Casimir IV, subsequently advanced his claims to Hungary and Bohemia, but could not enforce them due to the Thirteen Years' War (1454–66). Instead, Hungarian nobles elected Matthias Corvinus and Bohemian nobles selected George of Poděbrady as their kings. George of Poděbrady died in March 1471. In May 1471, Vladislaus, eldest son of Casimir IV, was elected to the throne of Bohemia. However, a group of Catholic Bohemian nobles supported Matthias Corvinus instead of Vladislaus II. In turn, a group of Hungarian nobles conspired against Matthias Corvinus and invited the Polish king to overthrow him. King Casimir IV decided to install his son, future Saint Casimir, in Hungary.

Poland amassed an army of 12,000 men, commanded by Piotr Dunin and Dziersław of Rytwiany.[4] Both King Casimir and Prince Casimir participated in the campaign. In October 1471, the Polish army crossed the Hungarian border and slowly marched towards Buda. Matthias Corvinus managed to win over the majority of the Hungarian nobles, including the main conspirator Archbishop János Vitéz, and the Polish army did not receive the expected reinforcements. Only Deák, Perény and Rozgonyi families sent troops.[5] Upon hearing that Corvinus' army of 16,000 men camped outside of Pest, the Polish army decided to retreat from Hatvan to Nitra. There the soldiers battled food shortages, spreading infectious diseases, and the upcoming winter. The Polish King also lacked funds to pay the mercenaries. As a result, the Polish army decreased by about a third.[5] In December 1471, Prince Casimir, fearing for his safety, was sent to Jihlava closer to the Polish border and that further eroded their soldiers' morale. Corvinus took Nitra and a one-year truce was completed in March 1472 in Buda.[5] Prince Casimir returned to Kraków to resume his studies with Długosz.

Długosz remarked that Prince Casimir felt "great sorrow and shame" regarding the failure in Hungary.[3] Polish propaganda, however, portrayed him as a savior, sent by divine providence, to protect the people from a godless tyrant (i.e. Matthias Corvinus) and marauding pagans (i.e. Muslim Ottoman Turks). Prince Casimir was also exposed to the cult of his uncle King Władysław III of Poland who died in the 1444 Battle of Varna against the Ottomans. This led some researchers, including Jacob Caro, to conclude that the Hungarian campaign pushed Prince Casimir into religious life.[3]

Heir apparent[edit]

Saint Casimir's Chapel and silver sarcophagus at Vilnius Cathedral

As his elder brother, Vladislaus II, ruled Bohemia, Prince Casimir became the crown prince and heir apparent to the throne of Poland and Lithuania. Italian humanist writer Filippo Buonaccorsi (also known as Filip Callimachus) was hired to become Casimir's tutor in political matters, but his Renaissance views had less influence on Casimir than Długosz.[3] In 1474, the Italian merchant and traveler Ambrogio Contarini met with Prince Casimir and was impressed by his wisdom. Prince Casimir completed his formal education at age 16 and spent most of his time with his father.[3] In 1476, Prince Casimir accompanied his father to Royal Prussia where he tried to resolve the conflict with the Prince-Bishopric of Warmia (see War of the Priests). In 1478 Seimas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania demanded that King Casimir IV leave either Prince Casimir or Prince John I Albert in Lithuania as a regent. King Casimir IV feared separatist moods and refused, but after settling the conflict in Prussia, moved to Vilnius.[6]

Between 1479 and 1484 his father spent most of his time in Vilnius attending to the affairs of Lithuania. In 1481, Mikhailo Olelkovich and his relatives planned to murder King Casimir and Prince Casimir during a hunt at a wedding of Feodor Ivanovich Belsky.[7] The plan was discovered and Prince Casimir, perhaps fearing for his safety, was sent to Poland to act as vice-regent. Around the same time his father tried to arrange his marriage to Kunigunde of Austria, daughter of Emperor Frederick III. It is often claimed that Prince Casimir refused the match, preferring to remain celibate and sensing his approaching death.[7] According to Maciej Miechowita, Prince Casimir developed tuberculosis. In May 1483, Prince Casimir joined his father in Vilnius. There, after the death of Andrzej Oporowski, Bishop and Vice-Chancellor of the Crown, Prince Casimir took over some of his duties in the chancellery.[8] However, his health deteriorated while rumors about his piousness and good deeds spread further. He was known for his charitable work and help to the needy. In February 1484, the Polish parliament (general sejm) in Lublin was aborted as King Casimir IV rushed back to Lithuania to be with his ill son.[9] Prince Casimir died on March 4, 1484, in Grodno.[10] His remains were interred in Vilnius Cathedral, where a dedicated Saint Casimir's Chapel was built in 1636.



Lithuanian folk sculpture of Saint Casimir

Surviving contemporary accounts described Prince Casimir as a young man of exceptional intellect and education, humility and politeness, who strove for justice and fairness.[11] Early sources do not attest to his piety or devotion to God, but his inclination to religious life increased towards the end of his life.[12] Later sources provide some stories of Casimir's religious life. Marcin Kromer (1512–1589) claimed that Casimir refused his physician's advice to have sexual relations with women in hopes to cure his illness.[12] Other accounts claimed that Casimir contracted his lung disease after a particularly hard fast or that he could be found pre-dawn, kneeling by the church gates, waiting for a priest to open them.

The first miracle attributed to Casimir was his appearance before the Lithuanian army during the Siege of Polotsk in 1518. Casimir showed where Lithuanian troops could safely cross the Daugava River and relieve the city, besieged by the army of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.[12] After hearing about this miracle, Casimir's brother Sigismund I the Old petitioned the pope to canonize Casimir. Pope Leo X sent his legate Zacharias Ferreri to Vilnius to investigate. He arrived to Vilnius in September 1520 and completed his work in about two months.[13] His findings, the first hagiography of Casimir, was published in 1521 in Kraków as Vita Beati Casimiri Confessoris.[13]

He was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in 1602 and is the patron saint of Poland and Lithuania.[14] On June 11, 1948, Pope Pius XII named Saint Casimir the special patron of all youth.


Saint Casimir's painting in Vilnius Cathedral is considered to be miraculous. The painting, probably completed 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. More conventional explanations claim that three-handed Casimir was the original intent of the painter to emphasize the exceptional generosity of Casimir ("But when you give to someone in need, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." Matthew 6:3) or that the old hand bled through a coat of new paint (similar to a palimpsest). Around 1636 the painting was covered in gilded silver clothing (riza).

Casimir's iconography usually follows the three-handed painting. He is usually depicted as a young man in long red robe lined with stoat fur. Sometimes he wears a red cap of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, but other times, to emphasize his devotion to spiritual life, the cap is placed near Casimir. Usually he holds a lily, a symbol of virginity, innocence, and purity. He was particularly devoted to the Virgin Mary, in whose honor he composed the well-known Hymn of St. Casimir.[15] He might also hold a cross, a rosary, or a book with words from Omni die dic Mariae (Daily, Daily Sing to Mary). The towns of Kvėdarna and Nemunaitis in Lithuania have Saint Casimir depicted on their coat of arms.



  1. ^ St. Casimir - Catholic Encyclopedia article
  2. ^ a b Duczmal (2012), p. 302
  3. ^ a b c d e f Duczmal (2012), p. 303
  4. ^ Duczmal (2012), p. 304
  5. ^ a b c Duczmal (2012), p. 305
  6. ^ Duczmal (2012), p. 307
  7. ^ a b Duczmal (2012), p. 308
  8. ^ Duczmal (2012), pp. 308–309
  9. ^ Duczmal (2012), p. 309
  10. ^ St. Casimir - article
  11. ^ Duczmal (2012), pp. 309–310
  12. ^ a b c Duczmal (2012), p. 310
  13. ^ a b Čiurinskas (2004), p. 4
  14. ^ St. Casimir - Catholic Online article
  15. ^ Fr. Paolo O. Pirlo, SHMI (1997). "St. Casimir". My First Book of Saints. Sons of Holy Mary Immaculate - Quality Catholic Publications. p. 60. ISBN 971-91595-4-5. 

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