St. Hyacinth of Poland

St. Hyacinth of Poland

(ca. 1183-1257)

He was born in 1183 or 1185 in Kamień Śląski to a noble family of the Odrowąż coat of arms. He received his education in Krakow and later in Paris and Bologna. After being ordained and graduating from studies abroad, he became a canon of the cathedral chapter in Krakow. At the time, the bishop of the Diocese of Krakow was his uncle - Iwo Odrowąż. In 1220, while in Rome with his uncle, he was said to have witnessed the famous resurrection of Napoleon, nephew of Cardinal Stefan of Fossanuova, performed by St. Dominic.  It was under the influence of this event that he was to join the Order of Friars Preachers, which he founded. According to tradition, it is from St. Dominic who he received the Dominican habit from. The Santa Sabina Monastery on the Aventine in Rome houses the cell where the first Polish Dominican lived.

In 1222, the successor of St. Dominic - Bl. Jordan of Saxony sent Hyacinth with several brothers to establish monasteries in the Kingdom of Poland. Among others, St. Hyacinth founded monasteries in Fryzak in Austria, Krakow, Gdansk and Kiev in Kievan Rus'. He was involved in extensive missionary work. The older Dominican tradition (mainly in Poland) even credited him with working in the Far East. However, it is known that he evangelized Prussia and Ruthenia (areas that today are mostly part of Ukraine). He died on August 15, 1257, in Krakow. 

Hyacinth's body was buried under the church. From the very beginning the faithful pilgrimized to his tomb, which proved the cult of the first Polish Dominican among them. It is possible that even at that time the writing down of miracles appearing thanks to his intercession had begun. However, it wasn't until the middle of the 14th century that the Krakow Dominican lector Stanislaw wrote down his life and miracles. Arguably, the work was created with the intention of elevating Hyacinth to the altars. Eventually, his final canonization did not take place until April 17, 1594, in Rome. The canonization ceremony in Krakow took place the following year. At that time, construction of a new chapel dedicated to him was taken up, which was being built on the site of the cell in which St. Hyacinth lived and died. His mortal remains were also deposited in this chapel in a specially prepared sarcophagus. 

After his canonization, his cult quickly went beyond Poland. The Order of Preachers declared him the patron saint of Dominican missions. Prepared by Severin of Luboml (promoter of the canonization) in Latin, the book on the saint's life and miracles was quickly translated not only into Polish, but also Spanish and Italian, or even Portuguese. The name Hyacinth (Hyacinthus) was particularly popular in the mission areas of the Far East and Latin America. It is also worth noting that St. Hyacinth is the only Polish saint whose statue is crowned on Bernini's colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square in Rome.

In iconography, St. Hyacinth is primarily depicted with a statue of the Virgin Mary and a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. Both of these items have become his attributes, which we can most often find in images of St. Hyacinth. They refer to the legend according to which, during the Mongol invasion on Kiev, fleeing from attackers in the burning city, St. Hyacinth took the Blessed Sacrament with him, saving it from desecration. On his way out of the temple, he heard a voice: "Hyacinth, are you taking the son and leaving the Mother? The voice came from a stone statue of the Mother of God, which was quite substantial in size. The monk argued that the statue was too heavy for him to lift. At that time, he had been assured that he would be able to carry it off. And indeed he lifted the statue and the Blessed Sacrament out of burning Kiev. In addition to these most important attributes (often appearing together, although they can be met from bravely), Hyacinth is depicted with an angel. This refers to the report that at the time of the Dominican’s death, Bl. Bronislawa, a Norbertine nun and also his (sometimes even considered a sister) saw his soul lifted by an angel to heaven. Finally, St. Hyacinth is depicted with a rosary, referring to the monastic tradition that the prayer of the rosary is closely associated with the Dominican order. In the Polish tradition, its appearance in the territory of Poland is attributed to St. Hyacinth himself.


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