August 17, 2019: ST. HYACINTH OF POLAND
August 17, 2019: ST. HYACINTH OF POLAND, CONFESSOR
Great was thy privilege, O son of Dominic, to be so closely associated to Mary as to enter into thy glory on the very feast of her triumph. As thou occupiest so fair a place in the procession accompanying her to heaven, tell us of her greatness, her beauty, her love for us poor creatures, whom she desires to make sharers, like thee, in her bliss.
O God, who comfortest us by the yearly solemnity of blessed Hyacinth, thy Confessor; mercifully grant, that while we celebrate his feast, we may imitate his actions. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
One of the loveliest lilies from the Dominican field to-day unfurls its petals at the foot of Mary's throne. Hyacinth represents on the sacred cycle that in trepid band of missionaries who, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, faced the barbarism of the Tartars and Mussulmans which was threatening the West. From the Alps to the Northern frontiers of the Chinese Empire, from the islands of the Archipelago to the Arctic regions, he propagated his Order and spread the kingdom of God. On the Steppes, where the schism of Constantinople disputed its conquests with the idolatrous invaders from the North, he was seen for forty years working prodigies, confounding heresy, dispelling the darkness of infidelity.
The consecration of martyrdom was not wanting to this, any more than to the first Apostolate. Many were the admirable episodes, where the Angels seemed to smile upon the hard combats of their earthly brethren. In the convent founded by Hyacinth at Sandomir on the Vistula, forty-eight Friars Preachers were gathered together under the rule of Blessed Sadoc. One day the lector of the Martyrology, announcing the feast of the morrow, read these words which appeared before his eyes in letters of gold: AT SANDOMIR ON THE 4TH OF THE NONES OF JUNE, THE PASSION OF FORTY-NINE MARTYRS. The astonished brethren soon understood this extraordinary announcement; in the joy of their souls they prepared to gather the palm, which was procured for them by an irruption of the Tartars on the very day mentioned. They were assembled in choir at the happy moment, and whilst singing the Salve Regina they dyed with their blood the pavement of the church.
No executioner's sword was to close Hyacinth's glorious career. John, the beloved disciple, had had to remain on earth till the Lord should come; our Saint waited for the Mother of his Lord to fetch him.
Neither labour nor the greatest sufferings, nor above all the most wonderful divine interventions were wanting to his beautiful life. Kiew, the holy city of the Russians, having for fifty years resisted his zeal, the Tartars, as avengers of God's justice, swept over it and sacked it. The universal devastation reached the very doors of the sanctuary where the man of God was just concluding the Holy Sacrifice. Clothed as he was in the sacred vestments, he took in one hand the most Holy Sacrament and in the other the statue of Mary, who asked him not to leave her to the barbarians; then, together with his brethren, he walked safe and sound through the very midst of the bloodthirsty pagans, along the streets all in flames, and lastly across the Dnieper, the ancient Borysthenes, whose waters, growing firm beneath his feet, retained the marks of his steps. Three centuries later, the witnesses examined for the process of canonisation attested on oath that the prodigy still continued; the footprints always visible upon the water, from one bank to the other, were called by the surrounding inhabitants St. Hyacinth's Way.
The Saint, continuing his miraculous retreat as far as Cracow, there laid down his precious burden in the convent of the Blessed Trinity. The statue of Mary, light as a reed while he was carrying it, now resumed its natural weight, which was so great that one man could not so much as move it. Beside this statue Hyacinth, after many more labours, would return to die. It was here that, at the beginning of his apostolic life, the Mother of God had appeared to him for the first time, saying: “Have great courage and be joyful, my son Hyacinth! Whatsoever thou shalt ask in my name, shall be granted thee.” This happy interview took place on the Vigil of the Assumption. The Saint gathered from it the superhuman confidence of the thaumaturgus, which no difficulty could ever shake; but above all he retained from it the virginal fragrance which embalmed his whole life, and the light of supernatural beauty which made him the picture of his father Dominic.
Years passed away: heroic Poland, the privileged centre of Hyacinth's labours, was ready to play its part, under Mary's shield, as the bulwark of Christendom; at the price of what sacrifices we shall hear in October from a contemporary of our Saint, St. Hedwiges, the blessed mother of the hero of Liegnitz. Meantime, like St. Stanislaus his predecessor in the labour, the son of St. Dominic came to Cracow, to breathe his last sigh and leave there the treasure of his sacred relics. Not on the Vigil this time, but on the very day of her triumph, August 15th, 1257, in the church of the Most Holy Trinity, our Lady came down once more, with a brilliant escort of Angels, and Virgins forming her court. “Oh! who art thou?” cried a holy soul who beheld all this in ecstasy; “I,” answered Mary, “am the Mother of mercy; and he whom I hold by the hand, is brother Hyacinth, my devoted son, whom I am leading to the eternal nuptials.” Then our Lady intoned herself with her sweet voice: “I will go to the mountain of Libanus,” and the Angels and Virgins continued the heavenly song with exquisite harmony, while the happy procession disappeared into the glory of heaven.
Let us read the notice of St. Hyacinth given by the Liturgy. We shall there see that his abovementioned passage over the Dnieper, was not the only circumstance wherein he showed his power over the waves.
Hyacinth was a Pole and born of noble and Christian parents in the town of Camien of the diocese of Breslau. In his childhood he received a liberal education, and later he studied law and Divinity. Having become a Canon of the church of Cracow, he surpassed all his fellow-priests by his remarkable piety and learning. He was received at Rome into the Order of Preachers by the founder St. Dominic, and till the end of his life he observed in a most holy manner the mode of life he learnt from him. He remained always a virgin, and had a great love for modesty, patience, humility, abstinence and other virtues, which are the true inheritance of the religious life.
In his burning love for God he would spend whole nights in prayer and chastising his body. He would allow himself no rest except by leaning against a stone, or lying on the bare ground. He was sent back to his own country; but first of all on the way there, he founded a large house of his Order at Friesach, and then another at Cracow. Then in different provinces of Poland he built four other monasteries, and it seems incredible what an amount of good he did in all these places by preaching the word of God and by the innocence of his life. Not a day passed but he gave some striking proof of his faith, his piety, and his innocence.
God honoured the holy man's zeal for the good of his neighbour by very great miracles. The following is one of the most striking: he crossed without a boat the river Vistula which had overflowed, near Wisgrade, and drew his companions also across on his cloak which he spread out over the water. After having persevered in his admirable manner of life for forty years after his Profession, he foretold to his brethren the day of his death. On the feast of our Lady's Assumption in the year 1257, having finished the Canonical Hours, and received the Sacraments of the Church with great devotion, saying these words: “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit,” he gave up his soul to God. He was illustrious for miracles in death as in life, and Pope Clement VIII numbered him among the Saints.
Another account of St. Hyacinth of Poland
St. Hyacinth, whom the Church historians call the apostle of the North, and the Thaumaturgus of his age, was of the ancient house of the counts of Oldrovans, one of the most illustrious of Silesia, a province at that time united to Poland, now to Bohemia, or Germany. His grandfather, the great general against the Tartars, left two sons. Yvo, the younger, was Chancellor of Poland and Bishop of Cracow. Eustachias, the elder, was Count of Konski, the first fruit of whose virtuous marriage was St. Hyacinth, born in 1185, in the castle of Saxony, in the diocess of Breslaw, in Silesia. His parents diligently cultivated his happy natural dispositions for virtue, and he preserved an unspotted innocence of manners through the slippery paths of youth during his studies at Cracow, Prague, and Bologna; in which last university he took the degree of doctor of the laws and divinity. Returning to the Bishop of Cracow, predecessor to Yvo of Konski, that pious prelate gave him a prebend in his cathedral, and employed him as his assistant and counsellor in the administration of his diocess. Hyacinth showed great prudence, capacity, and zeal in the multiplicity of his exterior occupations; but never suffered them to be any impediment to his spirit of prayer and recollection. He practised uncommon mortifications, and was assiduous in assisting at all the parts of the divine office, and in visiting and serving the sick in the hospitals; all his ecclesiastical revenue he bestowed in alms. Vincent, his bishop, abdicating his dignity with the view of preparing himself for death in holy solitude, Yvo of Konski, Chancellor of Poland, was placed in that see, and went to Rome, whether to obtain the confirmation of his election, or for other affairs, is not mentioned. He took with him his two nephews, Hyacinth and Ceslas. St. Dominic was then at Rome, this happening in the year 1218. Yvo and the Bishop of Prague, charmed with the sanctity of his life, the unction of his discourses, and the fruit of is sermons, and being eye-witnesses to some of his miracles, begged some of his preachers for their diocesses. The holy founder was obliged to excuse himself, having gent away so many, that he was not able to supply them. But four of the domestic attendants of the Bishop of Cracow desired to embrace his austere institute, namely the bishop's two nephews, Hyacinth and Ceslas, and two German gentlemen, Herman and Henry. They received the habit at the hands of St. Dominic, in his convent of St. Sabina, in March, 1218. The perfect disengagement from all things in this world, the contempt of themselves, the universal mortification of their senses, the denial of their own will, the love of continual prayer, and an ardent zeal to glorify God in all their actions and sufferings, were the solid foundation which they laid of the spiritual edifice of their own perfection, by which they laboured in the first place to sanctify their own souls. They made their solemn vows by a dispensation, after a novitiate of about six months only; and Hyacinth, then thirty-three years old, was appointed superior of their mission. Yvo of Konski set out for Poland with a suitable equipage. The missionaries took another road, that they might travel on foot, and without provisions, according to the spirit of their institute. Having passed through the Venetian territories, they entered Upper Carinthia, where they staid six months, and St. Hyacinth gave the habit to several of the clergymen and others, founded a convent, and left Herman to govern it. The Archbishop of Saltzburg received them with all possible respect, and the apostolic men passed through Stiria, Austria, Moravia, and Silesia, announcing every where the word of God.
In Poland they were received by all ranks with extraordinary marks of joy and honour. At Cracow the first sermons of St. Hyacinth were attended with incredible success, and in a short time the infamous public vices which reigned in that capital were banished; the spirit of prayer and charity, the holy and frequent use of the sacraments, watching, and mortification were revived as they had been practised in the primitive ages. Reconciliations of persons at variance, and restitutions for injustices, which seemed to be despaired of, were effected. The great ones, by their conversions, set the people an example of the most edifying docility. How great soever the power of the words of this apostle and of the example of his holy life were, they would have been less efficacious, had they not been supported by an extraordinary spirit of prayer; and also by miracles, though the saint strove to conceal them under the veil of humility. He founded a numerous convent of his Order, called of the Holy Trinity, in Cracow; another at Sendomir, and a third at Ploesko, upon the Vistula, in Moravia. The bull of the canonization of our saint mentions a miracle in that country, attested by above four hundred witnesses, and an ancient history of it is kept in the treasury of the church of Cracow. St. Hyacinth came with three companions to the banks of the Vistula, going to preach at Wisgrade; but the flood was so high, that none of the boats durst venture over. The disciple of Christ, having made the sign of the cross, walked upon the waters of that deep and rapid river as if it had been upon firm land, in the sight of a great multitude of people waiting for him on the opposite bank towards the town. We may easily imagine with what docility and respect he was heard by those, several of whom had been spectators of this prodigy.
Having preached through the principal cities of Poland, he undertook to carry the gospel into the vast and savage countries of the North. His zeal was too active for him to allow himself any rest whilst he saw souls perishing eternally in the ignorance of the true God: and the length of the journeys over rocks, precipices, and vast deserts, were not able to discourage his heroic soul, which delighted in labours and dangers, and could think nothing difficult which was undertaken for so great an end. He banished, in many places, superstition, vice, and idolatry, and built convents of his institute in Prussia, Pomerania, and other countries lying near the Baltic, as at Camyn upon the Oder, at Premislau or Ferzemysla, Culm, Elbin, Konisberg, in the isle of Rugen, and the peninsula of Gedan. In this last place, then a wilderness, he foretold a great city would be built; and in the same age, in 1295, Primislas, King of Poland, laid there the foundation of the famous city of Dantzic, capital of Regal Prussia; and though the Lutheran heresy in the sixteenth age destroyed or profaned all the other churches, that founded by St. Hyacinth [remained] in the hands of the Catholics, [was] their parish church, and served by Dominican friars. The saint left Prussia and Pomerania, to preach in Denmark, Swedeland, Gothia, and Norway; in all which countries there still remained many idolaters. Lest the devil should shortly destroy the fruits of his labours, he every where founded monasteries, and left disciples to preserve and extend them. Notwithstanding his fatigues and hardships amidst barbarous nations, in excessive cold climates, far from allowing himself any dispensation in the perpetual abstinence and other severities of his rule, he continually added to them new austerities. His fasts were almost perpetual, and on all Fridays and vigils, on bread and water; the bare ground was his bed, and sometimes in the open fields; neither hunger, thirst, weariness, rains, extreme cold, or dangers, could ever abate his ardour to gain a soul to Christ. He abhorred even the shadow of sin; was humble, charitable, and compassionate, bearing the bowels of a father towards all; every man's distress drew tears in abundance from his eyes; and he comforted and encouraged all that groaned under the burden of any affliction.
After the abovesaid missions he went into Lesser Russia, or Red Russia, where he made a long stay, and induced the prince, and great multitudes of people, to abjure the Greek schism, and unite themselves to the Catholic Church. He there built the flourishing convents of Leopol or Lemburg, and of Halitz, upon the river Neuter; from thence he penetrated as far as the Black-Sea, and into the isles of the Archipelago. Thence returning towards the north, he entered the great dukedom of Muscovy, called also Great Russia, or Black Russia, where he attacked a hundred-headed hydra of idolaters, Mahometans, and Greek schismatics. The few Catholics remaining there had not so much as one church to assemble in. He found the Duke Voldimir inflexible in his errors; however, he obtained of him permission to preach to the Catholics. He no sooner began to announce the gospel, confirming his doctrine by miracles, but Mahometans, heathens, and schismatics flocked to hear him, and in great multitudes became docile to the truth. St. Hyacinth founded a great convent at Kiow, then the capital of both Russias. Seeing one day an assembly of idolaters on their knees before a great tree in an island in the river Boristhenes, commonly called the Nieper, he walked over the water to them, and easily prevailed with them, after the sight of such a miracle, to destroy their idols, fell the great oak, and embrace the faith. All these conversions gave no small uneasiness to the duke, who hereupon began by threats and by overt acts to persecute the Catholics; by which he drew down the vengeance of heaven; for the Tartars, so formidable to all Europe in the thirteenth age, after a most bloody and obstinate siege, took Kiow by assault, sacked it, and, setting it on fire, reduced it to a heap of ashes. St. Hyacinth, in the midst of this desolation, whilst the streets run in streams of blood, and many parts of the city were on fire, carrying the holy ciborium in one hand, and an image of our Lady in the other, passed through the flames and over the river Nieper.
The saint returned to Cracow, upon this accident, in 1231, being then fifty-six years old, and enjoyed some repose in his house of the Holy Trinity the two following years, still continuing to preach and instruct, both in the city and the country. After two years, he made the painful visitation of his convents and communities among the Danes, Swedes, Prussians, Muscovites, and other nations; and penetrated among the Tartars. To preach in Cumania, a country inhabited by the Jazyges, on the Danube, had been the object of the zealous desires of St. Dominic, this being regarded as the most barbarous and obstinate of all infidel nations. Some Dominican preachers had entered this province in the year 1228. St. Hyacinth came into their ungrateful vineyard, and, in consequence of his preaching, in a short time several thousands of these barbarians received the sacrament of baptism, and among them a prince of the Tartars, who went with several lords of his nation to the first general council of Lateran in 1245. We read in the life of St. Lewis, that when he landed in Cyprus in 1248, he met an embassy, sent him from a powerful Christian prince of these Tartars. Though Great Tartary be a vast wild tract of land, St. Hyacinth travelled quite through it, announcing Christ every where, penetrating into Thibet, near the East Indies, and into Catay, which is the most northern province of China. The missionaries who in the last age visited these parts, found in them many remains of Christianity once planted there.
St. Hyacinth returning into Poland, entered again Red Russia, and there converted many from the schism, particularly Prince Caloman, and his wife Salome, who both embraced a state of continency and perfection. Also the inhabitants of Podolia, Volhinia, and Lithuania, were exceedingly animated by his zealous sermons to the practice of penance, and to a change of manners. The great convent he founded at Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, is the mother-house of a large province of this religious Order. After having travelled above four thousand leagues, he arrived at Cracow in the year 1257, which was the seventy-second and last of his life. Boleslas V, surnamed the Chaste, and his pious wife, Cunegunda, were directed by his advice to square their lives by the maxims of Christian perfection. Primislava, a noble lady, having sent her son to invite the saint to come and preach to her vassals, the young nobleman was drowned on his return in crossing a great river. The afflicted mother caused the corpse to be laid at the feet of the servant of God, who, after a fervent prayer, took him by the hand, and restored him to her alive and sound. This is the last miracle recorded in his life. In his last sickness he was forewarned by God, on the 14th of August, that he should leave this world on the next day, the feast of the Assumption of our Lady, his great patroness. He made a pathetic exhortation to his religious brethren, recommending to them especially meekness and humility of heart, and to have great care always to preserve mutual love and charity, and to esteem poverty as men that have renounced all things of the earth. “For this,” said he, “is the testament or authentic instrument by which we claim eternal life.” The next morning he assisted at matins and mass; after which he received the viaticum and extreme unction at the steps of the altar, and expired a few hours after in fervent prayer on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, being seventy-two years old. His glory was manifested by a revelation to Pandrotta, the Bishop of Cracow, and attested by innumerable miracles, with the history of which the Bollandists have filled thirty-five pages in folio. He was canonized by Clement VIII in 1594. His relics are preserved in a rich chapel built in his honour at Cracow. Anne of Austria, Queen of France, mother of Lewis XIV, obtained of Ladislas, King of Poland, a portion of them, which she deposited in the great church of the Dominicans in Paris.
All Christians are not called to the apostolic functions of the ministry; but every one is bound to preach to his neighbour by the modesty of his deportment; by a sincere spirit of meekness, humility, patience, charity, and religion; by an exact fidelity in all duties; by fervour and zeal in the divine service; by temperance and the mortification of all passions and ill humours. These if not suppressed, easily scandalize and injure those who are witnesses of them. Nothing is more contagious than self-love. He that is nice, fretful, hard to please, full of himself, or a slave to sensuality, easily communicates his malady even to those who see and condemn it in him; but no sermon is usually more powerful than the edifying example of a man of prayer, and of a mortified Christian spirit. This qualification every one owes to God and his neighbour; zeal for the divine honour, and charity for our neighbour, lay us under this obligation.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Hyacinth of Poland, pray for us.