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January 1

St Zedislava Berka - January 1

Saint Zedislava Berka
Lay Dominican, Foundress, Mother, and Wife
(Around 1220 – 1252)

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Saint Zedislava Berka

Saint’s Life Story

Her Early Life  

Zedislava (also known as Zdislava) was born around 1220 in Křižanov, Moravia, (now Ždár nad Sázavou, Vysočina, Czech Republic) to noble parents and lived in the Castle of Strizanov, in Moravia. From a young age, Zedislava showed a great love for prayer, solitude and works of penance and charity and exhibited unusual piety.

Zedislava learned Christian charity early in life from her mother, who taught her not only the secrets of preparing medicinal herbs but also the healing balm of prayer. Going each day to the castle gate with alms and medicines for the poor and the wretched who crowded there for help, she was soon well acquainted with human misery. Cheerful, prayerful, and alert to see the sorrows of others, the child became a light of hope to the miserable. Because of her sweetness and natural charm, she was able to teach many lessons to those about her.

As a child, Zedislava is said to have fled from her home for a time to live as a hermit. However, her parents found her, though, and forced her to return home. During her childhood, she had gone with her mother to serve Queen Kunegunda, who probably first exposed her to the Dominicans.

Married, Mother of Four

At the age of 15, her family forced her to marry, despite her objections, the wealthy nobleman Duke Havel of Markvartice, who owned Lemberk Castle, a fortified castle in a frontier area that was occasionally attacked by Mongol invaders. Zedislava was a devoted wife and mother of four children. Her son died young and her three daughters she brought up in the fear of God. However, obedience and patience had been an important part of her training, and she taught herself to spiritualize the endless trials that would beset her as a mother of four children in a medieval fortress.

Unfortunately, her relationship with her husband was often strained. Havel, her husband, tested Zedislava’s patience by taking his aristocratic airs seriously and insisted on Zedislava wearing sumptuous clothes and participating fully in much of the superficial but glamorous social life expected of royalty. In addition, Havel had a violent temper and treated her brutally.

For her part, Zedislava also tested his patience. Zedislava’s deep devotion to her Catholic faith led her to practice extraordinary acts of charity, particularly towards the poor, which frequently caused conflicts with her husband. She provided generously for the poor, even working as a nurse tending to them.

According to one story, Zedislava gave their bed to a sick, fever-stricken refugee. Her husband, indignant at Zedislava’s generosity, was prepared to eject the man. But, he found a figure of the crucified Christ there instead. This made a deep impression on Havel and he relaxed the restrictions he had previously placed on his wife’s charity.

Foundress

In the end, by her patience and gentleness, Zedislava secured considerable freedom of action in her practices of devotion, her austerities and her many works of charity.

The Polish missionaries, Saint Hyacinth and Blessed Ceslaus, brought Zedislava the first knowledge of the new religious order which had begun but a few years before. Saint Dominic, a Spaniard, had met them in Italy, where he had gone to have his order approved. Begun in France, the Dominican Order was already international. With the profession of Zedislava as the first Slavic Tertiary, from the hands of Blessed Ceslaus, brother of Saint Hyacinth, its world-wide scope became apparent.

Enchanted with the possibilities of an order that allowed her to share in its benefits and works while caring for her family, Zedislava threw herself into the new project with enviable zeal. She encouraged her husband to build a hostel for the many poor pilgrims who came homeless to the gate. She visited the prisoners in the frightful dungeons, and used her influence to obtain pardons from the severe sentences meted out to them. She fed and cared for the poor, taught catechism to the children of the servants, and showed all, by the sweetness of her life, just what it meant to be a Christian lady and a Dominican Tertiary. On the occasion of a Mongol (Tartar) attack, when homeless refugees poured into the castle stronghold, her calm, invincible charity was a bulwark of strength to all.

After having founded a convent for the Friars Preachers at Gabel with a church dedicated to Saint Lawrence the Martyr, she desired to receive herself the habit of the Third Order. As a Dominican tertiary, Zedislava embraced the spirituality and values of the Dominican Order. Here, Zedislava had a unique and remarkable practice of receiving Holy Communion daily, a practice uncommon during her time, and she also had ecstasies and visions.

Her Death

Zedislava Berka passed away on January 1, 1252, in the Lemberk Castle in Bohemia in what is now Jablonné, Ceská Lípa, Liberecký kraj, in the Czech Republic. She was buried, at her request, at St. Lawrence Priory. Her death came soon after the completion of the church. The mourning people who knelt by her deathbed could see evidence of her strong Christian virtues in the monuments she had left: her children, her church, and the inspiration of a saintly wife and mother.

Shortly after her death, Zedislava appeared to her grieving husband dressed in a red robe and comforted Havel by giving him a piece of the robe. Her appearance to him propelled Havel in his conversion from a man of worldliness to a man of deep Faith.

Born :                  Around 1220 in Křižanov, Moravia, (now Ždár nad Sázavou, Vysočina, Czech Republic)

Died:                   January 1, 1252 in Bohemia (now Jablonné, Ceská Lípa, Liberecký Czech Republic)

Beatified:           August 28, 1907 by Pope Pius X and July 2, 1994 by Pope John Paul II

Canonized:        May 21, 1995 by Pope John Paul II

Feast Day:          January 1, January 4 (Dominicans), May 30 (region of the Czech Republic)

Patron Saint:     Bohemia; Difficult Marriages; People Who Are Ridiculed For Their Piety

Source:

Reflection

Saint Zedislava Berka’s life may not be different than yours or mine. When she was young, she wanted to be a hermit who spent her life in prayer. God had other plans for her. Instead at 15, she married a violent Duke who made her life, as mother of four children, difficult. Instead, she became a one of the earliest lay Dominicans going to use the wealth of her marriage showed all, by the sweetness of her life, just what it meant to be a Christian lady. After her death, she even converted her worldly husband to the Christian faith. Following Christ will not remove all difficulties and conflicts from your life as you will have to deal with your own crosses like Saint Zedislava Berka did with her husband.

How can you find ways, even in the midst of difficulties and conflicts, to extend patient and loving care to those you met in today’s holy journey so you can become an inspiration and a model for all?

Prayers

Saint Zedislava Berka,

You, who led a prayer life caring for the poor and homeless, provide us a model of living a Christian life as a lay Dominican tertiary.

May you intercede for us in prayer to show us that God’s ways are not always ours, but we can become saints anyway.

May we, like you, carry our cross each day, may our family life be strengthened and may we be a witness to Christian virtue.

May we always persevere in love for you, Christ our Lord, in all that we do in your name.

Saint Zedislava Berka, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

All Saints & Martyrs – Saint Zedislava Berka – Lay Dominican, Foundress, Mother, and Wife

America Needs Fatima – Saint Zdislava

Butler’s Lives Of The Saints Complete Edition – Blessed Zdislava, Matron (a.d. 1252)

Catholic Exchange – Five Holy Marvels of the Dominican Order

Catholic Online – St. Zdislava of Lemberk

CatholicSaints.Info – Saints and Saintly Dominicans, by Blessed Hyacinthe-Marie Cormier, O.P.

Dominican Friars Province of St. Joseph – Dominican Saints 101: St. Zdislava

Patron Saint Stories – Saint Zdislava Berka

RC Spirituality (Uncle Eddy) – Mary, Mother of God, St. Zedislava Berka

Wikipedia – Adela of Normandy

Video Link

Expert in facial reconstruction gives 800-year-old saint her face back – YouTube (ROME REPORTS in English)