Hedwig of Silesia (1174–1243)

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Hedwig of Silesia (1174–1243)

Duchess of Silesia, German noble, and saint. Name variations: Saint Hedwig; Jadwiga of Silesia. Pronunciation: Hate-vik. Born in Andrechs castle, Bavaria, in 1174; died in Silesia in 1243; daughter of Count Berthold III of Andrechs (marquis of Meran, count of Tirol, and duke of Carinthia and Istria) and Agnes of Dedo (daughter of the count of Rotletchs); sister of Agnes of Meran (queen of France for five years) and Gertrude of Andrechs-Meran (queen of Hungary); aunt of Elizabeth of Hungary (1207–1231); married Duke Henry I of Silesia also known as Henry the Bearded, duke of Cracow (r. 1228–1229, 1232–1238), in 1186 (died 1238); children: Henry II the Pious, duke of Cracow (r. 1238–1241); Conrad; Boleslas; Agnes; Sophia; and Gertrude.

Duchess Hedwig of Silesia, a German noble, was renowned as a holy woman. Born to Count Berthold III of Andrechs, marquis of Meran, and Agnes of Dedo , she had two sisters: the eldest, Agnes of Meran , was queen of France; the second, Gertrude of Andrechs-Meran , was queen of Hungary and mother of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (1207–1231). Hedwig spent her early years at the convent of Franken. At 13, she married Duke Henry I of Silesia and would eventually have a large family. Always a deeply pious woman (probably due in part to her years at the convent), Hedwig was distressed at her husband's refusal to become a Christian and worked for years to convert him to the faith, eventually succeeding. Her children were also raised as Christians, and the entire family was soon noted for its devotion and generosity to charitable causes.

Hedwig used her substantial resources to establish numerous hospitals, especially for lepers. She herself worked in the hospitals, as did most of her children. Hedwig also founded and endowed many monasteries and convents, of which the most famous is the Cistercian convent at Treibnitz, near Breslau. When her husband died in March 1238, she retired to the convent at Treibnitz, where she lived her remaining years in great austerity, although she did not become a nun. Her reputation for piety grew until it included allegations of miracles of healing she had performed, and she was said to be so blessed that she could bring the dead back to life. Hedwig was 69 when she died; over two decades later, she was canonized (1266 or 1267) and became the patron saint of Silesia. Her feast day is celebrated on October 17. (See also entry on Elizabeth of Hungary.)


Anderson, Bonnie S., and Judith P. Zinsser. A History of Their Own. Vol. I. NY: Harper & Row, 1988.

Echols, Anne, and Marty Williams. An Annotated Index of Medieval Women. NY: Markus Wiener, 1992.

Laura York , Riverside, California