Jadwiga: patron saint of the university

June 20, 1997

"The road to the well-being of a state, to its sovereignty and recognition in the world leads through its universities," Pope John Paul II said when, in the final ceremony of his visit to Poland this month, he proclaimed a new Polish saint, writes Vera Rich.

The new saint, Jadwiga, was a 14th-century Polish queen who bequeathed her jewels and valuables to what is now the Jagiellonian University of Cracow, one of the most prestigious in Central Europe and, incidentally, the Pope's own alma mater.

Jadwiga, ten-year-old daughter and co-heiress of Louis the Angevin, King of Hungary and Poland, came to the Polish throne in 1384. Two years later, she married Grand Duke Jagiello of Lithuania, the last pagan ruler in Europe, who then converted to Christianity. A brief reign marked with military and diplomatic achievements and the promotion of culture and religion ended with her death in 1399 at the age of 25. Moves towards canonisation began within a few years, but 15th-century disputes between rival candidates for the papacy halted proceedings. It was only in 1933 that proceedings were re-opened.

The canonisation ceremony formed part of the celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the university which she endowed.

Cracow University was set up in 1346, receiving a charter from King Casimir the Great. But by Jadwiga's time the university had become what its historians delicately describe as "dormant", lacking as it did material resources and the most important faculty of a medieval university, theology.

Jadwiga persuaded Pope Boniface IX to establish a faculty of theology in Cracow, the event which the university is celebrating. The year after her death Jagiello was able to "renew", in effect reopen, the university.

and endowed the university with her jewels and valuables, making possible the purchase of necessary buildings.

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