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St. Hedwig

St Hedwig of Silesia, also Saint Hedwig of Andechs (1174 – 1243) was from the comital House of Andechs in Germany. She was Duchess of Silesia from 1201 and of Greater Poland from 1231 as well as High Duchess consort of Poland from 1232 until 1238. She is a patroness for orphans.


The daughter of Count Berthold IV of Andechs and his second wife Agnes of Wettin, she was born at Andechs Castle in the Duchy of Bavaria. Her elder sister Agnes married King Philip II of France (annulled in 1200) and her sister Gertrude (killed in 1213) King Andrew II of Hungary, while the youngest Matilda (Mechtild) became abbess at the Benedictine Abbey of Kitzingen in Franconia, where Hedwig also received her education. Through her sister Gertrude, she was the aunt of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.

Duchess consort

At the age of twelve, Hedwig married Henry I the Bearded, son and heir of the Piast duke Bolesław I the Tall of Silesia. As soon as Henry succeeded his father in 1201, he had to struggle with his Piast relatives, at first with his uncle Duke Mieszko IV Tanglefoot who immediately seized the Upper Silesian Duchy of Opole. In 1206 Henry and his cousin Duke Władysław III Spindleshanks of Greater Poland agreed to swap the Silesian Lubusz Land against the Kalisz region, which met with fierce protest by Władysław's III nephew Władysław Odonic. When Henry went to Gąsawa in 1227 to meet his Piast cousins, he narrowly saved his life, while High Duke Leszek I the White was killed by the men of the Pomerelian Duke Swietopelk II, instigated by Władysław Odonic.

The next year Henry's ally Władysław III Spindleshanks succeeded Leszek I as High Duke; however as he was still contested by his nephew in Greater Poland, he made Henry his governor at Krakow, whereby the Silesian duke once again became entangled into the dispute over the Seniorate Province. In 1229 he was captured and arrested at Płock Castle by rivaling Duke Konrad I of Masovia. Hedwig proceeded to Płock pleading for Henry and was able to have him released.

Her actions promoted the reign of her husband: Upon the death of the Polish High Duke Władysław III Spindleshanks in 1231, Henry also became Duke of Greater Poland and the next year prevailed as High Duke at Krakow. He thereby was the first of the Silesian Piast descendants of Władysław II the Exile to gain the rule over Silesia and the Seniorate Province according to the 1138 Testament of Bolesław III Krzywousty.


In 1238, upon his death, Henry was buried at a Cistercian monastery of nuns, Trzebnica Abbey (Kloster Trebnitz), which he had established in 1202 at Hedwig's request. The widow moved into the monastery, which was led by her daughter Gertrude, assuming the religious habit of a lay sister, but she did not take vows. She invited numerous German religious people from the Holy Roman Empire into the Silesian lands, as well as German settlers who founded numerous cities, towns and villages in the course of the Ostsiedlung, while cultivating barren parts of Silesia for agriculture.

Hedwig and Henry had several daughters, though only one surviving son, Henry II the Pious, who succeeded his father as Duke of Silesia and Polish High Duke. The widow however had to witness the killing of her son, vainly awaiting the support of Emperor Frederick II, during the Mongol invasion of Poland at the Battle of Legnica (Wahlstatt) in 1241. The hopes for a re-united Poland were lost and even Silesia fragmented into numerous Piast duchies under Henry's II sons. Hedwig and her daughter-in-law, Henry's II widow Anna of Bohemia, established a Benedictine abbey at the site of the battle in Legnickie Pole, settled with monks coming from Opatovice in Bohemia.

Hedwig and Henry had lived very pious lives, and Hedwig had great zeal for religion. She had supported her husband in donating the Augustinian provostry at Nowogrod Bobrzański (Naumburg) and the commandery of the Knights Templar at Oleśnica Mała (Klein Oels). Hedwig always helped the poor and donated all her fortune to the Church. According to legend, she went barefoot even in winter, and when she was urged by the Bishop of Wrocław to wear shoes, she carried them in her hands. On 15 October 1243, Hedwig died and was buried in Trzebnica Abbey with her husband, while relics of her are preserved at Andechs Abbey and St. Hedwig's Cathedral in Berlin.


Hedwig was canonized in 1267 by Pope Clement IV, a supporter of the Cistercian order, at the suggestion of her grandson Prince-Archbishop Władysław of Salzburg. She is the patron saint of Silesia, of Andechs, and of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Wrocław and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gorlitz. Her feast day is celebrated on the Roman Catholic calendar of saints on 16 October. A 17th-century legend has it that Hedwig, while on a pilgrimage to Rome, stopped at Bad Zell in Austria, where she had healing waters spring up at a source which today still bears her name.

In 1773 King Frederick II of Prussia, having conquered and annexed Silesia in 1742, had St. Hedwig's Cathedral in Berlin built for the Catholic Upper Silesian immigrants, now the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Berlin.

Hedwig glasses are named after Hedwig of Andechs.


Hedwig and Henry I had seven children:

Agnes (ca. 1190 – before 11 May 1214).

Bolesław (ca. 1191 – 10 September 1206/08).

Henry II the Pious (ca. 1196 – killed in Battle of Legnica, 9 April 1241).

Konrad the Curly (ca. 1198 – Czerwony Kosciol, 4 September 1213).

Sophie (ca. 1200 – before 22/23 March 1214).

Gertrude (ca. 1200 – Trebnitz, 6/30 December 1268), Abbess of Trebnitz.

A son (before 25 December 1208–1214/17).

The text in this box was generated from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the CC-BY-SA.

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