Saturday, May 30, 2015

St. Zdislava, Lady of Lemberk (c. 1220-1252)

Wife, mother, patron saint of the Czech Dominican province, patron saint of Czech families, patron saint of the Dominican congregation of St. Zdislava, patron saint of the diocese of Litoměřice, patron saint of the Czech nation.

Sunday, 1 June 1997. We were walking or standing around the red sarcophagus in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Lawrence and St. Zdislava in Jablonné v Podještědí, participants of an international Dominican meeting. I knew nothing about her, and I honestly wasn’t that interested in learning more either - the pilgrimage was just part of the programme to celebrate her feast day. Thus I was taken completely by surprise as the floodgates of my eyes suddenly burst open, like it happened to the haughty Fra Lazzarino when Saint Catherine of Siena prayed for him. Coming up and out into the sun, I learnt that two of my companions had experienced the same sudden flood of tears, some years before. Ah, you too...

Sunday, 6 February 1228. Prague Castle woke up to a great celebration. Old king Přemysl Otakar had seen fit to arrange the coronations of his son Václav and wife Kunigunde while he was still around to secure his succession. Among the nobles witnessing the solemnity in St. Vitus Cathedral must have been Lady Sibyla, who had come to the Czech lands as lady-in-waiting of Kunigunde of Schwaben, and Sibyla’s oldest daughter, 8 year old Zdislava.

We can imagine the joy and curiosity of the little girl - a bright child, a lively child, a fearless child... Zdislava, remembered to this day in Křižanov for chasing away a bear that threatened another girl in “her” forest, the forest where the pious little girl thought she might become an anchoress! Well, she didn’t.

St. Zdislava would come to marry Havel, Lord of Lemberk. In the forests of Northern Bohemia, 80 km from Prague as the crow flies, they raised four children that we know of - Havel, Markéta, Jaroslav and Zdislav.

Born into a family who spent all their resources on the building of castles, convents and churches - indeed her father, Burggrave Přibyslav of Křižanov, was described as “knight on the outside, monk on the inside” - it seems only a matter of course that St. Zdislava would do the same.

Queen Kunigunde was a great promoter of the Friars Preachers (and the nuns) in her lands, and it may well be that it was her enthusiasm that inspired Sibyla and her daughters to join the supporters. They would have met friars in Brno and Prague, some of St. Dominic’s first disciples very likely among them - preachers like St. Hyacinth, Bl. Czeslaw, Bl. Sadoc, Paul of Hungary... St. Zdislava had much in common with St. Dominic, perhaps that resonated with her? Raised in a castle by pious Christian parents, she received a good education, did what was expected of her - and then some!

St. Zdislava became a Dominican penitent woman, striving for Christian perfection according to her state in life - which in her case meant embracing a life of responsibilities, work and action. Raised from childhood to take charge as châtelaine, her husband away for weeks or months at a time, the Lady of Lemberk certainly had work cut out for her.

With her husband, she founded a Dominican convent in Jablonné v Podještědí, the town below the castle and then another one in Turnov. She set up a hospital in Jablonné, with herself as doctor and nurse, performing many miracles. Restoring sight to the blind, raising five people from the dead, curing a priest of madness! You can still find the Wellspring of St. Zdislava under the hill, below the castle, the water known to be good for eyes, people filling their bottles and children running around.

In 1241, the mighty Mongol army launched an invasion of Europe. The Tartars attacked from the East and devastated Moravia, her homeland: killing, raping, maiming, burning, driving people to flee for their lives. The invasion was finally halted by Our Lady at Hostýn before reaching Bohemia, but until they retreated at the end of the year, many refugees came to Lemberk for shelter and food.

Living the faith, incarnating the faith; warmly burning her candle from both ends, devoted to her family, to the poor, to her country, to the Church, she died young - about 33 years old (of course) on 1 January 1252. Appearing later to her devastated husband Havel in a vision, she comforted him and left her red cape to him as witness of her presence and prayers - her devotion glowing even beyond death.

After time had stubbornly refused to erase her name from the scrolls of history, this good matron (a rare and precious epithet in the Dominican litany of saints) was beatified in 1907 by St. Pius X when Bl. Hyacinthe-Marie Cormier O.P. was Master of the Order. St. Zdislava was canonized in 1995 by Bl. John Paul II. Her memorial was initially set to 28 November in the Roman calendar, but later moved to 1 January. In the Dominican calendar she is remembered either 3 or 4 January, and in the Czech calendar she is celebrated 30 May with pilgrimages to the Basilica of St. Lawrence and St. Zdislava in Jablonné v Podještědí.

Bazilika sv. Vavřince a sv. Zdislavy

St. Zdislava, first lady of Dominican families, pray for us!

Questions for reflection:

1. Pope Paul VI wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi that “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” To be a Doctor of the Church, one must first be a Servant of God, a Blessed, a Saint. St. Zdislava speaks more eloquently with her life than the most energetic preacher does with words, if that preacher is not a saint too. Do we keep in mind that our preaching is supposed to be grounded in prayer, to proceed from an abundance of contemplation in a life striving for Christian perfection?

2. From the life of St. Zdislava, we get a glimpse of how the Order came to spread all over Europe in a few years - through the eager and faithful support of “fading gentlewomen” and their families. These “Dominican families” often preceded the establishment of convents and monasteries, supported them with everything when they were there, and remained long after they were gone - in the 20th Century as well as the 13th. What is the relationship between secular and religious Dominicans in our region?

3. For every “preaching ace” on a chair of learning or pulpit, there might be “36 humble ones” in the ground crew for the show to go on. We love and need our “aces”, but do we tend to the ground crew as well - are we ourselves willing to be ground crew for our brothers and sisters?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A short life of St. Zdislava

The Latin chronicle from the Cistercian monastery of Žďár (Cronica domus Sarensis) from 1300, and the Chronicle of Dalimil from 1314 written in Czech, are the most important historical sources for the life of Lady Zdislava and her family.

Her father Přibyslav from Křižanov was administrator of the king’s castles Veveři and Spilberk. Zdislava’s mother Sybila came to the Czech lands with Kunhuta, the wife of king Vaclav I. Kunhuta was a daughter of duke Philip of Swabia and the Byzantine princess (and dowager queen of Sicily) Irene Angelina. It is speculated that Sybila came from Byzantium as well, bringing with her medical knowledge from that great civilization – knowledge that she passed on to her daughters.

Přibyslav founded the Minorite convent in Brno and, together with his wife, the Cistercian monastery in Žďár. After 1220, at the time when Zdislava was born, the first Dominicans sent by St. Dominic came to Moravia from Bologna: St. Hyacinth and Henry of Moravia. During the next ten to fifteen years, Dominican convents were established in Prague, Olomouc, Bnro, Znojmo and elsewhere. Zdislava could have met Dominicans for the first time in either Brno or Prague.

In the church of St. Michael in Brno, Zdislava married Havel, a lord in North Bohemia. His parents resembled Zdislava’s in their religious fervour and culture. Young Havel also liked orders, especially the Cistercians. Zdislava must have been the one who introduced him to the Dominicans because at the same time that the town of Jablonné was founded, the Dominican convent was founded there as well. The establishment of a convent in Turnov (in about 1250) could also be attributed to her influence.
Zdislava, the lady of Lemberk and Jablonné, was known for her blessed marriage and motherhood. According to the Žďár Chronicle, Havel and Zdislava had four children: Havel, Markéta, Jaroslav and Zdislav. She was also known for acts of charity and many miracles. According to the Chronicle of Dalimil, she returned people to physical and spiritual health, and even brought several people back to life. The young wife and mother of four died around 1252 in Lemberk castle.

Her cult was confirmed by the holy pope Pius X, who beatified her in 1907. After the reestablishment of the Czech Dominican province, Zdislava became its patron saint. Zdislava as mother and patron saint of families was canonized by the venerable pope John Paul II on 21 May 1995 in Olomouc.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Irish blessing

May the light of Christ shine on you
light without, light within.
May it shine out of the two eyes of you
like candles set in two windows.

May the blessed sunlight warm your heart
until it glows
like a great turf fire
warming those that come near it.

May the blessing of the rain
drop on you
soft sweet rain
that the little flowers
may rise in the soil of you
shedding their sweetnes in the air,
and the blessing of the great rains on you
washing your spirit
fair and clear,
leaving many a pool there
reflecting the blue of heaven
and sometimes a star.

May the blessing of the earth be on you
the great round earth;
may it be soft under you as you lie on it,
and may it rest easily over you
at the last.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Rosary of friar Romeo of Livia

Gerard K. Brady [1] writes:
Another controversy [...] centres around the period of Dominic's missionary activities in the Languedoc. This concerns the belief that he was the founder of the rosary after the form in which it is now so popularly practised by the faithful everywhere. Local tradition affirms that the commission to preach in this form of prayer was given him by the Mother of God herself in a vision and declares that the sanctuary of Notre Dame de Dreche, near Albi, was the scene of this remarkable supernatural manifestation.
After the dispersal [from Prouille, on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, 15 August 1217] Dominic repaired to Toulouse. In the autumn, he clothed in the habit of the Order four new followers, Arnold of Toulouse, Romeo of Livia, Poncio of Samatan and Raymond of Mirapont who succeeded Fulk thirteen years later in the Episcopal See of Toulouse. He remained at St Romain for some time to attend to the training of these novices [...]
Jean Guiraud [2] continues:
At Prouille, he [St Dominic] decided on the creation of the convent of the Preachers of Lyons. In the early days of December 1218 he sent to that town two friars: Arnold of Toulouse, whose trust in God was as inexhaustible as his zeal; and Romeo of Livia, "a religious of simple habits, humble bearing, gracious demeanour, of honied speech, and full of love to his neighbour".
H. J. Warner [3] goes on to explain that
[Pope] Honorius III (February 11, 1218), addressed a letter of commendation to all archbishops, bishops, etc., on behalf of the Order of Preaching Friars. Probably to this commendation we owe the founding of the Convent of Lyons in 1218 by two friars, Arnauld of Toulouse and Romeo of Livia, of whom Arnauld acted as Prior, and was succeeded by Romeo in 1223.
And in a footnote below:
Romeo became fifth Prior of Provence, of which he was a native and died at Carcassonne, 1261.
Gerard K. Brady again:
Positive evidence to support the Dominican tradition [concerning the origin of the Rosary] is brought from the pages of the thirteenth-century chronicler, Bernard Gui, who connects the name of the friar, Romeo of Livia, one of those who had been trained in the religious life at Toulouse by Dominic himself, with a form of devotion which is instantly recognizable as something very close to the rosary. This friar, relates Bernard, being seized with an illness at Carcassonne, 'meditating on the Child Jesus and the Lady Mary, His Mother, and exhorting his brethren to a like devotion, fell asleep in the Lord, grasping tightly in his hands the knotted cord on which he was wont to count daily a thousand Aves'.
Or in Latin (Brady gives the source as Monumenta Historica Ordinis Praedicatorum, Vol XXII, Rome 1953, p. 161):
Puerum Jesum et Dominam Mariam matrem ejus ruminans et fratribus inculcans, obdormivit in Domino, chordulam cum nodulis quibus mille Ave Maria solebat in die, firmiter manutenens.
Brady concludes:
If, as it appears reasonable to assume, he had been accustomed during his lifetime to combine this meditation and recitation, we may identify at once in the unmistakable elements of vocal and mental prayer that twofold combination which is the dominant characteristic of the rosary as known today. This early apostle of the rosary, of whom Bernard writes that 'he glowed with the fervour of his devotion to the Virgin Mother of God', died in 1261 after a life of exemplary sanctity during which he held several important offices of the Order in the south of France.

[1] Saint Dominic : Pilgrim of Light / by Gerard K. Brady. - London : Burns & Oates, 1957

[2] Saint Dominic / by Jean Guiraud ; translated by Katharine de Mattos. - New York : Benziger Brothers, 1913

[3] The Albigensian Heresy / H. J. Warner. - (seems to be a reprint of a 1928 edition)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Updated: A Dominican twibe

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to the author's subscribers who are known as followers. (See the full Wikipedia article)

Lay Dominican twitter users may want to join the LayDominicans twibe (twitter group). Tweets broadcasted from members of the twibe, containing at least one of the tags Dominic or Dominican or #op will be shown on the common twibe page - which is public and can be looked up by anyone.

How does this look? At the center of attention stands a simple list of tweets like this (notice the twibe tags in bold - that would be the tweets picked up by the LayDominicans twibe):
# Communion in the hand? Several articles, excerpts and links (from Semper Fidelis)

# The Promises and Charisms of Lay Cistercians (from The Website of Unknowing)

# Please indulge me (from The Practicing Catholic)

# Manual of the Brothers and Sisters of the Third Order of Penance of St. Dominic, 1852 (from Dominican Idaho)

# Apostolic activity comes out of an abundance of contemplation (from @disputations) #op
The list is updated every couple of minutes by all new tweets written by the Twitter users that one is following.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lay Dominican blogs

'But where is the blogroll?' you may well have wondered.

Well, it IS here somewhere, actually: at the bottom of the sidebar on the right, under Contributors. If you look up Zdislavus' complete profile, all the Blogs I Follow are Lay Dominican blogs. Lay Dominicans blogging about life, the universe and everything Christian - in any language. If you know of any others, please tell me about them, just leave a comment to this post. Or send a twitter message to @Zdislavus.

Friday, August 7, 2009

8 August : Solemnity of St. Dominic : 'Speak, friend, and enter'

While staying with the nuns in Prouille, that wonderful place, fr. Simon Tugwell O.P. wrote a poem about Saint Dominic, Homage to a Saint, which he included in The Way of the Preacher. I am particularly struck by these lines:
He founded an Order, they say.
Say rather: friended.
He was their friend, and so
at last, in spite of themselves, they came.
He gave them an Order to found.
Reminding me of some passages written by another former Oxford resident, J. R. R. Tolkien, in The Fellowship of the Ring. The company stands before the Gates of Moria and trying to figure out how to enter:
'What does it mean by speak, friend, and enter?' asked Merry.

'That is plain enough,' said Gimli. 'If you are a friend, speak the password, and the doors will open, and you can enter.'
The password isn't really secret at all, as Gandalf finally realizes:
With suddenness that startled them all the wizard sprang to his feet. He was laughing! 'I have it' he cried. 'Of course, of course! Absurdly simple, like most riddles when you see the answer.'

Picking up his staff he stood before the rock and said in a clear voice : Mellon!
The doorway opens slowly and silently, and the secret is explained to the Fellowship:
'I was wrong after all,' said Gandalf, 'and Gimli too. Merry, of all people, was on the right track. The opening word was inscribed on the archway all the time! The translation should have been : Say "Friend" and enter. I had only to speak the Elvish word for friend and the doors opened. Quite simple. Too simple for a learned lore-master in these suspicious days. Those were happier times. Now let us go!'
Saying 'friend' is a sure way to get through to the heart of the other, perhaps just opening the doors a little, but still. I'm still remembering something that happened to me sitting on a bus in central London, twenty years ago. Tired and alone in a strange city, I must have appeared a bit lost as I was slow to discover that I had come to the end stop. The bus-driver, a black man, went over to me and said, 'Are you all right, friend?'

My friend Pedro (or Martin - his 'name in the Order') would say that this man might have been an appearance of Saint Martin de Porres, except that I think that the friendly man was in fact the bus-driver and didn't appear from nowhere to save my life. But still, this man touched me deeply just by addressing me as friend.

So, yes, I can imagine Saint Dominic friending an Order; he would indeed Say 'Friend' to people and they would come in spite of themselves (whatever fr. Tugwell means by this, this particular point is not mentioned in his Notes on the Poem).

It used to be simple to join St. Dominic's crowd - the Order of Preachers. You knelt down before Saint Dominic and placed your hands between the hands of the Master General in a feudal gesture. No postulancy, no novitiate, no temporary profession - just receiving the black and white habit from the hands of the Master to wear it for the rest of your life. Imagine! Just by being friended.

Of course, by joining the Order you suddenly become a member of the Dominican Family, adopted as it were, putting you in a rather different position than a 'Friend of the Order'. All sorts of things suddenly being overwhelmingly expected of you - or frustratingly nothing, as the case may be. It's the sort of thing that may need figuring out. Like a riddle. There is no secret password, but you have to mean it.