Three-Handed Saint Casimir (16th century) is considered to be miraculous
October 3, 1458|
Wawel, Kraków, Kingdom of Poland
|Died||March 4, 1484
Grodno, Grand Duchy of Lithuania
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Canonized||1521 or 1602 by Pope Leo X or Pope Clement VIII|
|Major shrine||Chapel of Saint Casimir, Vilnius Cathedral
Church of St. Casimir, Vilnius
|Attributes||Lily, grand ducal cap|
|Patronage||Lithuania (1636), Lithuanian youth (1948)|
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. Second oldest son of King Casimir IV, he was tutored by Johannes Longinus, a Polish chronicler and diplomat. After his elder brother Vladislaus was elected as King of Bohemia in 1471, Casimir became the heir apparent. At the age of 13, Casimir participated in the failed military campaign to install him as King of Hungary. He 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. He was buried in Vilnius Cathedral and his cult grew. His canonization was initiated by his brother King Sigismund I the Old in 1514 and the tradition holds that he was canonized in 1521.
The age of Protestant Reformation was not conducive to the cult of saints. St. Casimir's cult saw a resurgence in the 17th century when his feast day was confirmed by the pope in 1602 and the dedicated Chapel of Saint Casimir was completed in 1636. St. Casimir became a patron saint of Lithuania and Lithuanian 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.
There are more than 50 churches named after St. Casimir in Lithuania and Poland, including Church of St. Casimir, Vilnius and St. Kazimierz Church, Warsaw, and more than 50 churches in Lithuanian and Polish diaspora communities in America. Women's congregation Sisters of Saint Casimir was established in 1908 and is still active in the United States.
Early life and education
A member of the Jagiellon dynasty, Casimir was born in Wawel Castle in Kraków. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Later life and death
As his elder brother, Vladislaus II, ruled Bohemia, Prince Casimir became the 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. However, his health deteriorated while rumors about his piousness and good deeds spread further. In February 1484, the Polish sejm in Lublin was aborted as King Casimir IV rushed back to Lithuania to be with his ill son. Prince Casimir died on March 4, 1484, in Grodno. His remains were interred in Vilnius Cathedral, where the dedicated Saint Casimir's Chapel was built in 1636.
Pious life and attributed miracles
Surviving contemporary accounts described Prince Casimir as a young man of exceptional intellect and education, humility and politeness, who strove for justice and fairness. 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. 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. 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. Zacharias Ferreri (1479–1524) wrote that Casimir composed a prayer in hexameter on mysteries of incarnation but this text has not survived. Later, a copy of Omni die dic Mariae (Daily, Daily Sing to Mary) was found in Casimir's coffin. The hymn became so strongly associated with St. Casimir that sometimes it known as Hymn of St. Casimir and he is credited as its author. The lengthy hymn has an intricate meter and rhyme scheme (alternate acatalectic and catalectic trochaic dimeter with internal rhyme in the first and third verses (aa/b, cc/b)) and was most likely written by Bernard of Cluny.
One of the first miracles 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. Ferreri's hagiography of 1521 mentions many miracles of Casimir are known but describes only one – a Lithuanian victory against the Russians. The description lacks specifics, such as date or location, but most likely refers to Lithuanian victory in 1519 against Russian troops that raided environs of Vilnius and not the more popular story of the Siege of Polotsk.
Canonization and official cult
Casimir's official cult started spreading soon after his death. Already in 1501, Pope Alexander VI, citing chapel's splendor and Casimir's miracles, granted a special indulgence to those who would pray in the chapel where Casimir was buried from one vespers to another during certain Catholic festivals and would contribute to the upkeep of the chapel. In 1513, Andrzej Krzycki wrote a poem mentioning numerous wax votive offerings on Casimir's grave. In 1514, during the Fifth Council of the Lateran, Casimir's brother Sigismund I the Old petitioned the pope to canonize Casimir. After repeated requests, in November 1517, Pope Leo X appointed a three-bishop commission and later sent his legate Zacharias Ferreri to investigate. He arrived to Vilnius in September 1520 and completed his work in about two months. His findings, the first short hagiography of Casimir, was published in 1521 in Kraków as Vita Beati Casimiri Confessoris. The canonization was all but certain but Pope Leo X died in December 1521. Research of Zenonas Ivinskis and Paulius Rabikauskas showed that there is no documentary proof that he issued a papal bull canonizing Casimir but many important documents were lost during the Sack of Rome (1527). The Protestant Reformation attacked the cult of saints and there were no new canonizations between 1523 and 1588. However, Casimir was included in the first Roman Martyrology published in 1583.
The cause of Casimir's cult was taken up by the new Bishop of Vilnius Benedykt Woyna (appointed in 1600). He sent canon Gregorius Swiecicki to Rome with a letter from King Sigismund III Vasa requesting to add the feast of Casimir to the Roman Breviary and Roman Missal. The Sacred Congregation of Rites refused the request and on November 7, 1602, Pope Clement VIII issued a papal brief Quae ad sanctorum which authorized his feast sub duplici ritu on March 4 but only in Poland and Lithuania. The brief also mentioned that Casimir was added to the ranks of saints by Pope Leo X. In the absence of any earlier known papal document explicitly mentioning Casimir as saint, the brief is often cited as Casimir's canonization. Swiecicki returned to Vilnius with the papal brief and red velvet labarum with the image of Saint Casimir. The city organized a large three-day festival on May 10–12, 1604 to properly accept the papal flag. On the third day, the cornerstone was laid for the new Church of St. Casimir. The coffin of Casimir was taken out of the crypt and elevated to the altar. Swiecicki testified than when the coffin was opened in August 1604 a wonderful smell filed the cathedral for three days.
In 1607 and 1613, Bishop Woyna declared St. Casimir patron saint of Lithuania (Patronus principalis Lithuaniae). The issue of universal St. Casimir's feast was not forgotten and in 1620 Bishop Eustachy Wołłowicz petitioned Pope Paul V to add Casimir to the Roman Breviary and Roman Missal. This time the Sacred Congregation of Rites granted the request in March 1621 and added his feast sub ritu semiduplici. In March 1636, Pope Urban VIII allowed to celebrate the feast of St. Casimir with an octave (duplex cum octava) in the Diocese of Vilnius and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. That is equivalent of proclaiming St. Casimir as the patron saint of Lithuania. On September 28, 1652, Pope Innocent X allowed a fest of transfer of relics of St. Casimir on a Sunday following the Assumption of Mary. On June 11, 1948, when many Lithuanians were displaced war refugees, Pope Pius XII named Saint Casimir the special patron of Lithuanian 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. Almost always he holds a lily, a symbol of virginity, innocence, and purity. 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.
Physical remains and relics
Casimir was buried in the crypt under the Royal Chapel of Vilnius Cathedral (present-day Wołłowicz Chapel to the left from the main entrance), constructed by his father in the Gothic style in 1474. In 1604, the coffin was elevated from the crypt to the altar and in 1636 moved to the dedicated Chapel of Saint Casimir. The present-day sarcophagus was made in 1747 under the last will of Bishop of Warmia Christopher Johan Szembek (1680–1740). It is made of linden wood and covered with silver plates; its corners are decorated with gilded eagles. The sarcophagus was removed from the cathedral on three occasions. In 1655, before the Battle of Vilnius during the Deluge, the relics were removed most likely by Jerzy Białłozor and hid by Cyprian Paweł Brzostowski and later by the Sapiehas in the Ruzhany Palace. They were returned to the devastated chapel in 1663. The relics were removed for a short time in 1702 during the Battle of Vilnius of the Great Northern War. In October 1952, the relics were quietly moved to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul by the order of Soviet authorities. The cathedral was turned into an art gallery. The relics returned to their place in 1989 when the cathedral was reconsecrated.
After the rediscovery of the Catacombs of Rome in 1578, the cult of relics spread throughout Europe (see also catacomb saints) and the trend did not skip St. Casimir. The coffin of St. Casimir was opened in early 1602 and in August 1604. At the time, canon Gregorius Swiecicki testified that despite humidity the body was intact. But in 1667 there were only bones left; they were inventoried and placed into six cloth bags. Surviving written records indicate that the coffin was opened in 1664, 1667, 1677, 1690, 1736, 1838, 1878 (twice), and 1922. There are several recorded instances when St. Casimir's relics were gifted to prominent figures and societies: to musicians' confraternity at San Giorgio Maggiore, Naples in early 1650s, to King John III Sobieski and Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany[n 1] in October 1677, to the Sodality of Our Lady of the Jesuit academy in Mechelen and the Order of Malta in October 1690, to Queen Maria Josepha of Austria in February 1736, Cistercian abbot Sztárek Lajos of Cikádor Abbey in 1860. Many more relics of St. Casimir can be found in local churches. In particular, in 1838, two teeth and ten unspecified bones were removed from the coffin; the bones were cut into small pieces and distributed among various churches. In 1922, the bones were wrapped in a new cloth and the old cloth was distributed as a relic. It was the last time that a relic of Saint Casimir (one tooth for the Church of St. Casimir) was taken.
In his 1970 monograph priest Florijonas Neviera (Florian Niewiero, 1896–1976) counted churches named after St. Casimir. He found 12 churches in Lithuania (as of 1940), 48 churches and 5 chapels in Poland, 23 Lithuanian and 36 Polish churches in United States (as of 1964), five churches in Canada (Montreal, Winnipeg, Toronto, Portneuf, and Ripon), two churches in United Kingdom (London and Manchester), and two churches in Belarus (Vselyub and Lepiel). Women's congregation Sisters of Saint Casimir was established in 1908 by Maria Kaupas and is active in the United States. In 1945, College of Saint Casimir was established in Rome to educate Lithuanian priests who retreated west after World War II.
While the devotion to St. Casimir is most prevalent in Lithuania and Poland and their diaspora communities, his cult can be found in other countries as well. In the 17th century, at least two societies of Saint Casimir were active in Mechelen and Antwerp (now Belgium). In the 17th century, Casimir's cult also spread in Italy, particularly Florence, Palermo, Naples; his cult in Rome was more associated with Polish dignitaries and émigrés. Musical performances were organized in Rome in 1675 (words by Sebastiano Lazzarini, music by Francesco Beretta, performed at Santo Spirito in Sassia) and in 1678 (words by Ottavio Santacroce, music probably by Giovanni Bicilli, performed at Santa Maria in Vallicella on the occasion of the visit by Michał Kazimierz Radziwiłł and his wife Katarzyna Sobieska), and in Florence in 1706 (words possibly by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, music by Alessandro Scarlatti). In Palermo, Pietro Novelli was commissioned painting Coronation of Saint Casimir (l’Incoronazione di s. Casimiro) for the altar of Chiesa di San Nicola da Tolentino (now held at the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia).
The settlements of Saint-Casimir in Canada (founded 1836) and San Casimiro in Venezuela (founded 1785) are named after him. Sculptures of Casimir, among other canonized royals, can be found in San Ferdinando, Livorno, Italy and Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City. Stained glass windows with St. Casimir can be found at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph in San Jose, California and at the Church of St. Peter in Chevaigné, France.
|Ancestors of Saint Casimir|
- The full tibia is now held at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence in a reliquary by Massimiliano Soldani Benzi. Image can be seen at The Treasure of the ‘Chapel of Relics’ in the Pitti Palace – Sacri Splendori. In return, Vilnius Cathedral received relics of Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi (Česnulis (2014-09-27), p. 14).
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- Media related to Saint Casimir at Wikimedia Commons
- Interactive panorama of Saint Casimir's Chapel at Vilnius Cathedral