Saint Zdislava

Jun 10, 2021 / Written by: Tonia Long

FEAST January 1

Patron of Difficult marriages and people ridiculed for their piety

St. Zdislava [(z)di-sla-va] of Berka, what is now the northern part of the Czech Republic, was born around 1220 and died at only 32 years of age in 1252. She is known as the patroness of difficult marriages and people ridiculed for their piety.

Zdislava was born to a Bohemian noble family. Her mother, born in Sicily, was very devout. Taking after her mother, Zdislava grew to be a precociously pious child, giving money away to charity at a young age. When she was seven years old, she ran away from her home into the forest to pursue a life of prayer, penance, and a solitary life as a hermit. Found shortly thereafter by her family, she was forced back to a life at court, where she continued to practice what austerities she could.

Basilica of St. Lawrence and St. Zdislava
The Basilica of St. Lawrence and St. Zdislava is a Baroque church in the grounds of the Dominican monastery in Jablonné

As was the common practice of that time, when she was 15, her family gave her away in marriage, despite her strong objections. Her spouse was a wealthy nobleman, Havel of Markvartice, who owned Lembeck Castle (pictured below), a fortified castle in a frontier area that was occasionally attacked by Mongol invaders. Zdislava and Havel had four children.

Zdislava's husband had a violent temper and treated her brutally. Still, she continued to devote herself to the poor, opening the castle doors to those dispossessed by the invasions.

According to one story, she gave their bed to a sick, fever-stricken refugee. Her husband, indignant at her generosity, was prepared to eject the man, but 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.

Lembeck Castle
Lembeck Castle, Germany

Eventually, he allowed her to build St. Lawrence Priory (a Dominican convent for women, pictured above), donate money to another convent for men in Gabel, a nearby town, and join the Third Order of St. Dominic as a layperson.

Shortly after founding St. Laurence Priory, Zdislava fell terminally ill; she consoled her husband and children by telling them that she hoped to help them more from the next world than she had ever been able to do in this.

She died on January 1, 1252, and was buried, at her request, at St. Lawrence Priory.

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

Zdislava was beatified by Pope Saint Pius X in 1907 and canonized by Pope Saint John Paul II in the Czech Republic in 1995.