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St. Casimir

Life and activities

Painting "Blessed Casimir (Tree-Armed") with the state emblems of Lithuania and Poland.CASIMIR, Saint (Lith. Kazimieras; 1458-1484), patron saint of Lithuania, born at the royal palace of Cracow on Oct. 3, 1458. His father was Casimir IV, King of Poland and Grand Prince of Lithuania; his mother, Eliza-beth of Austria, was daughter of Emperor Albrecht II Habsburg. They had six sons and five daughters. Casimir was their third child and their second son. His grandfather was Jogaila, one of the most influential of the Lithuanian grand dukes, who, together with his cousin Vytautas, Christianized Lithuania. Although of both Lithuanian and German descent, St. Casimir was raised and educated in the Polish cultural atmosphere of the times. The most influential teacher of the royal children was Canon John Dlugosz, an outstanding Polish scholar, chronicler, and later bishop, well versed in matters of government and international politics. He described his student Casimir as "an excellent youth of rare talents and remarkable knowledge". His other teacher, a humanist from Italy, Callimachus Buonacorsi, remembered him as "a holy youth". One contemporary Prussian chronicler referred to him as "very wise and virtuous, and all the people could only speak much good about him". In general, he im-pressed people as a gifted, well-educated and virtuous youth.

In 1471, when he was 13 years old, for reasons of dynastic pol-icy, his parents sent him with an army and advisers to occupy the throne of Hungary, to which his mother Elizabeth claimed the right of succession. In 1472, after his unsuccessful military campaign, Casimir returned to Cracow and for some time continued his education. At the same time his older brother had obtained the throne of Bohemia. Prince Casimir as second-born became the successor to his father's throne. When Casimir was approximately 16 or 17 years old, he began traveling with his father through their realm, attending diets, meetings of the State Council, and receptions of representatives of foreign countries, in order to gain experience in affairs of state. When he reached the age of 22, his father assigned him an active part in the government, including administrative duties, responsibilities in the judicial system and in military and financial matters. In 1481-83 he represented his father in Poland when he remained in Lithuania. During that time the young Casimir strengthened the financial condition of the state; repaid debts on mortgaged estates; curbed banditry in the provinces; improved the tone of the royal palace by removing unsuitable courtiers; and strength-ened relations with the Holy See. While performing his difficult duties and leading a strict ascetical life, he impaired his health and contracted tuberculosis.

Casimir was recalled from these duties by his father, who bade him come to Vilnius in 1483. He lived in Vilnius and Trakai and was in charge of the Chancellery of the Grand Princi-pality of Lithuania. Some of the surviving documents contain inscriptions in Latin made in his own hand. When his father returned to Poland, Casimir and his mother remained in Gardinas in the winter of 1483-84, where his health was rapidly deteriorating and where he died on March 4. Prince Casimir had lived only twenty-five years and five months. His body was brought for burial to the Cathedral of Vilnius.


The very fact that he was buried not in the cathedral's cellars but in the sanctuary itself indicates that his contemporaries considered him worthy of such an honor. Soon after his death it was said of him that "everyone marveled at his virtuousness, his intelligence and extraordinary erudition; these qualities caused men of various nationalities to love him sincerely" (Jan Targowiski, the secretary of the royal chancellary). Callimachus wrote: "He should either never have been born or should have abided with us forever."

The saintly life of Prince Casimir drew attention while he was still living. After his death people began to pray at his tomb and steps were taken for his canonization. Barely seventeen years had passed since his death when Pope Alexander VI, while granting an indulgence to the chapel in the Vilnius cathedral in which Casimir had been buried, noted that "as has been reported, his coffin is becoming renowned for the numerous miracles that have been occurring”. In 1517 Pope Leo X ap-pointed a commission for the process of canonization. After making interviews with living witnesses and scrutiny of miracles, the papal nuncio Zacharias Ferrerri, a Benedictine monk and bishop, set out the results he had collected in the first biography of St. Casimir, Vita Beati Casimiri, 1521. It related that Casimir matured into a person of strong character, successfully able to resist the lure of a life of luxury and earthly pleasures, he used to wear a hairshirt under his royal robes, the book described his acts of mortification, his sleeping on the bare ground, his prayers at the door of a closed church, his alms to the poor, widows and orphans and his meditations on the Passion of Christ. Among his numerous virtues his justice and self-discipline are also attested by other sources. It is known that he was particularly determined to preserve perfect chastity by refusing to marry and adhering to the principle Malo mori quam foedari (I prefer to die than to be defiled).


Traditionally it is accepted that St. Casimir was canonized by Pope Leo X, who died in 1521. This is based on the Bull by the later Pope Clement VIII (Nov. 7, 1602), proclaiming that Leo X had canonized St. Casimir and that permission had been granted to celebrate his feast with a solemn liturgy in Lithuania and in Poland. This document was brought to Vilnius and a colorful manifestation, lasting three days (May 10-12, 1604) took place with divine services and processions in the city and the opening of the tomb of the Saint. His body was found miraculously preserved through the period of 120 years. Near his head was found the text of his favorite hymn Omni die dic Mariae (Daily. daily sing to Mary). His son's strong and tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary was known also to King Casimir IV, who had begun the construction of the first chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Cathedral of Vilnius where precious relics were to be placed. A new and beau-tiful chapel of St. Casimir was built in 1636. It was at-tached and incorporated into the Cathedral of Vilnius. The remains of the Saint were placed in a silver coffin and elevated above the altar. In connection with the transfer of the remains. Pope Urban VIII declared St. Casimir the Patron Saint of Lithuania. Much later Pope Pius XII, in 1948, pronounced St. Casimir special patron of Lithuanian youth.

Cult of St. Casimir

Lithuanian Jesuit missions and colleges contributed considerably to the development of the cult of St. Casimir. He was chosen as an example of chastity and piety. Through Jesuit colleges and through dynastic ties of Lithuanian-Polish kings the cult of St. Casimir spread to Austria, Bavaria, Belgium, Italy, and other countries. Pope Paul V in 1621 proclaimed the cult of St. Casimir as part of the universal worship of the Catholic Church, by including it in the missal and the breviary for priests. In the liturgical calendar his feast falls on March 4. Many churches of St. Casimir were built in Lithuania and in the United States, many religious and cultural institutions were named after him (schools, societies, convents); numerous works of art were painted and poetry composed in his honor.

To Lithuanians St. Casimir is, in the words of the German writer and thinker Hermann Hesse, "the kind of man I am seeking and one that I would wish to meet up with: one who is equally likeable in company, as well as in solitude; one who is equally effective in action as in contemplation".

When the soviets closed the Cathedral of Vilnius in 1948 the coffin with the body of St. Casimir was moved to the church of St apostles Peter and Paul. After the political change, the coffin was brought back to the Cathedral in a big and solemn procession and celebration on March 4, 1989.

In 2004 the Church in Lithuania celebrated the Jubilee Year of St. Casimir.

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