British Association of Chevaliers of the Order of Saint Stanislas
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Stanisław Szczepanowski or Stanislaus of Szczepanów (July 26, 1035 - April 11, 1079) was a Bishop of Kraków known chiefly for having been slain by Polish King Bolesław II the Bold. Stanisław is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Stanislaus the Martyr.
Saint Stanislas, a Polish nobleman, was the son of Wielislaw, of the clan Turzyna. Wielislaw was the possessor of Szczepanow and Raba near the old Polish capital of Krakow. Wielislaw’s wife Bogna, was of the clan Nowina. St. Stanislas was born in 1035 and from his very early years devoted himself to the service of God and to the poor. In December 1071, Stanislas was elected 9th Bishop of Krakow.
At that time in history, Poland was ruled by King Boleslaw II, nicknamed “The Fierce” (1058 - 1079). It was the time of the wars of investiture between the German King and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV (1056 - 1105); and Pope Gregory VII (1073 - 1083). Boleslaw sided with the Pope while his brother-in-law, Wratislaw of Bohemia, sided with the Emperor. Boleslaw was crowned in 1075 by Saint Bogumil, Archbishop of Gniezno, another great ecclesiastic of the XIth century Poland. Boleslaw was a successful ruler, as far as making war was concerned. He twice took Kiev, restoring his brother-in-law, Iziaslav I, to the Russian throne, but as Gall pointed out, he was sometimes over generous in rewards, careless in battles, fierce, proud and extremely cruel.
Sometime in 1078, the King and Bishop Stanislas came into conflict. History does not know the exact reasons, but what is known is that there was a discontent amongst the population because of the constant wars and expeditions, that took most of the men away from their homes for many years. This situation was no doubt exploited by the King’s younger brother, Wladyslaw Herman, who ruled Masovia as his principality. It is known that Wladyslaw was a friend of the Bishop, whose sympathy was with him rather than the King. Early in April of 1079, the conflict between the King and the Bishop neared its’ tragic end. The Bishop was siezed by the King’s friends of the Jastrzebiec clan and brought over to him for his judgement, which took place on the hill of Skalka above the church of Saint Michael. The King sentenced Stanislas to the punishment known then as “truncatio membrorum”, which consisted of cutting off the hands, legs, nose, ears, and poking out the eyes, but not cutting off the head, and therefore not always equal to the sentence of death. However, the sentence was carried out by the King’s friends of the Jastrzebiec clan with such violence that it resulted in the death of the Bishop on 11 April 1079.
Within two months revolt spread, headed by the King’s younger brother Wladyslaw Herman from Masovia and supported by the invasion of the Czechs under King Wratislav. Most of the Polish people, horrified by the deed of the King, abandoned him. By July 1079, Boleslaw “The Fierce” had lost his throne. He was a refugee in Hungary but still a proud and unbroken man. When the Hungarian King Saint Ladislas came in person to greet him on the frontier, Boleslaw would not dismount his horse, treating him as a vassal. Within two years, Boleslaw died at the age of 41 in the lonely monastery of Osyak now in Slovenia. His grave there is marked only by a stone slab depicting his last faithful companion, his horse.
As Boleslaw left the country, Wratislaw I of Bohemia marched to Krakow in July 1079. There he married Svatava (Boleslaw’s sister) and was recognised as the King of Poland in Krakow. Wladyslaw Herman, Boleslaw’s younger brother who already ruled Masovia, now took also Greater Poland and accepted the division of the country with Wratislav. He was fat, indolent and not at all warlike as his brother was. However, Boleslaw “The Fierce” left a young son in Hungary, Prince Mieszko. In 1085, the Hungarian King Saint Ladislas, who was at war with Wratislaw of Bohemia led a successful expedition into Krakow, expelled Wratislav and then placed the 17 year old Mieszko as ruler in Krakow. Wladyslaw Herman accepted this division of the country this time with his nephew, but in 1089 the young Prince Mieszko and his new bride died of poison administered to them in their drinks, on the order of his uncle Wladyslaw Herman. It was Wladyslaw Herman who then reunited Poland under his rule, with the help of the powerful and friendly (to him) clans, such as the Turzynas the Nowinas and the Sreniawas.
Wladyslaw Herman took Krakow in July 1089, and one of his first acts was the political rehabilitation of his friend, Bishop Stanislas. Already miracles were reported at his grave in the Church of Saint Michael on Skalka. The remains of the martyred Bishop were taken from Saint Michael’s church on Skalka, placed in a silver coffin and taken to the Royal Castle in Krakow, the Wawel Castle. This ceremony took place on 27 September 1089.
During the next one hundred and fifty years, many miracles occurred around his tomb, especially the healing of the sick and the crippled. Hundreds of pilgrims came from not only Poland but all over Europe to touch his tomb and to pray to be cured. On 8 May 1253, Pope Innocent IV proclaimed Bishop Stanislas a Saint and a second patron of Poland after Saint Wojiech, who was martyred in 997. The 8th of May was established as the feast day of Saint Stanislas.
As the years and centuries passed, so the veneration and the fame of Saint Stanislas, Bishop and Martyr grew. The silver coffin of the Saint is still in the Royal Castle, where it hangs suspended above his altar, but most of his bones were used as relics and were divided through the ages between many churches, especially those that bear the name of Saint Stanislas.
The Cult of St Stanislas
The cult of Saint Stanisław the martyr began immediately upon his death. In 1088 his relics were moved to Kraków's Wawel Cathedral. In the early 13th century, Bishop Iwo Odrowąż initiated preparations for Stanisław's canonization and ordered Wincenty of Kielce to write the martyr's vita. On September 17, 1253, at Assisi, Stanisław was canonized by Pope Innocent IV.
Subsequently Pope Clement VIII set the Saint's feast day for May 7 throughout the Roman Catholic Church, though Kraków observes it May 8, the supposed date of the Saint's death. The first feast of Saint Stanisław in Kraków was celebrated May 8, 1254, and was attended by many Polish bishops and princes.
As the first native Polish saint, Stanisław is the patron of Poland and Kraków, and of some Polish dioceses. He shares the patronage of Poland with Saint Adalbert of Prague and Our Lady the Queen of Poland.
Wawel Cathedral, which holds the Saint's relics, became a principal national shrine. Almost all the Polish kings beginning with Władysław I the Elbow-high were crowned while kneeling before Stanisław's sarcophagus, which stands in the middle of the cathedral. In the 17th century, King Władysław IV Vasa commissioned an ornate silver coffin to hold the Saint's relics. It was destroyed by Swedish troops during The Deluge, but was replaced with a new one ca. 1670.
Saint Stanisław's veneration has had great patriotic importance. In the period of Poland's feudal fragmentation, it was believed that Poland would one day reintegrate as had the members of Saint Stanisław's body. Half a millennium after Poland had indeed reintegrated, and while yet another dismemberment of the polity was underway in the Partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the framers of the Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791, would dedicate this progressive political document to Saint Stanisław Szczepanowski, whose feast day fell close to the date of the Constitution's adoption.
Each year on May 8, a procession, led by the Bishop of Kraków, goes out from Wawel to the Church on the Rock. The procession, once a local event, was popularised in the 20th century by Polish Primate Stefan Wyszyński and Archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyła. The latter, as Pope John Paul II, called Saint Stanisłas the patron saint of moral order.