Stanislaus of Szczepanów

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Saint Stanislaus of Szczepanów
Stanisław Samostrzelnik, Św Stanisław.jpg
Saint Stanislaus
Bishop and Martyr
BornJuly 26, 1030
Szczepanów, Kingdom of Poland
DiedApril 11, 1079(1079-04-11) (aged 48)
Kraków, Kingdom of Poland
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
CanonizedSeptember 17, 1253, Assisi, Italy by Pope Innocent IV
Major shrineWawel Cathedral
FeastApril 11, May 7 (Traditional Roman Catholics), May 8 (in Poland)
AttributesEpiscopal insignia, sword, resurrected Piotr
PatronagePoland, Kraków, moral order

Stanislaus of Szczepanów (Polish: Stanisław Szczepanowski; July 26, 1030 – April 11, 1079) was Bishop of Kraków known chiefly for having been martyred by the Polish king Bolesław II the Generous. Stanislaus is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Stanislaus the Martyr (as distinct from the 16th-century Jesuit Stanislaus Kostka).


According to tradition, Stanislaus, or Stanisław in Polish, was born at Szczepanów, a village in Lesser Poland, the only son of the noble and pious Wielisław and Bogna. He was educated at a cathedral school in Gniezno (then the capital of Poland) and later, according to different sources, in Paris or Liège.[1] On his return to Poland, Stanislaus was ordained a priest by Lambert II Suła, Bishop of Kraków. He was subsequently made pastor of Czembocz near Cracow, canon and preacher at the cathedral, and later, vicar-general.

After the Bishop's death (1072), Stanislaus was elected his successor[1][2] but accepted the office only at the explicit command of Pope Alexander II. Stanislaus was one of the earliest native Polish bishops. He also became a ducal advisor and had some influence on Polish politics.

Stanislaus' major accomplishments included bringing papal legates to Poland, and reestablishment of a metropolitan see in Gniezno. The latter was a precondition for Duke Bolesław's coronation as king, which took place in 1076. Stanislaus then encouraged King Bolesław to establish Benedictine monasteries to aid in the Christianization of Poland.

Property dispute[]

Saint Stanislaus leads Piotr before the royal tribunal

Stanislaus initial conflict with King Bolesław was over a land dispute. The Bishop had purchased for the diocese a piece of land on the banks of the Vistula river near Lublin from a certain Peter (Piotr), but after Piotr's death the land had been claimed by his family. The King ruled for the claimants, but – according to legend – Stanislaus resurrected Piotr so that he could confirm that he had sold the land to the Bishop.

According to Augustin Calmet, an 18th-century Bible scholar, Stanislaus asked the King for three days to produce his witness, Piotr. The King and court were said to have laughed at the absurd request, but the King granted Stanislaus the three days. Stanislaus spent them in ceaseless prayer, then, dressed in full bishop's regalia, went with a procession to the cemetery where Piotr had been buried three years earlier. He had Piotr's grave dug up until his remains were discovered. Then, before a multitude of witnesses, Stanislaus bade Piotr rise, and Piotr did so.

Piotr was then dressed in a cloak and brought before King Bolesław to testify on Stanislaus' behalf. The dumbfounded court heard Piotr reprimand his three sons and testify that Stanislaus had indeed paid for the land. Unable to give any other verdict, the King dismissed the suit against the Bishop. Stanislaus asked Piotr whether he would remain alive but Piotr declined, and so was laid to rest once more in his grave and was reburied.

Bishop's chastisement of King Bolesław[]

A more substantial conflict with King Bolesław arose after a prolonged war in Ruthenia, when weary warriors deserted and went home, alarmed at tidings that their overseers were taking over their estates and wives. According to Kadłubek, the King punished the soldiers' faithless wives very cruelly and was criticized for it by Bishop Stanislaus. Jan Długosz, however, writes that the Bishop had in fact criticized the King for his own sexual immorality. Gallus Anonymus in his laconic account only condemned both "traitor bishop" and violent king.

13th century effigy of Saint Stanislaus

Whatever the actual cause of the conflict between them, the result was that the Bishop excommunicated King Bolesław, which included forbidding the saying of the Divine Office by the canons of Krakow Cathedral in case Bolesław attended.[3] The excommunication aided the King's political opponents, and the King accused Bishop Stanislaus of treason.


1- Saint Stanislaus being ordained as bishop. 2- Saint Stanislaus resurrects Peter. 3-King Bolesław murders Saint Stanislaus. 4-Stanislaus' body is cut in pieces. Image from the Hungarian Kings' Anjou Legendarium of the 14th century.

King Bolesław sent his men to execute Bishop Stanislaus without trial but when they didn't dare to touch the Bishop, the King decided to kill the bishop himself.[1] He is said to have slain Stanislaus while he was celebrating Mass in the Skałka outside the walls of Kraków.[2] According to Paweł Jasienica: Polska Piastów, it was actually in the Wawel castle. The guards then cut the Bishop's body into pieces and scattered them to be devoured by wild beasts.[2] According to the legend, his members miraculously reintegrated while the pool was guarded by four eagles.

The exact date of Stanislaus' death is uncertain. According to different sources, it was either April 11 or May 8, 1079.

The murder stirred outrage through the land and led to the dethronement of King Bolesław II the Bold, who had to seek refuge in Hungary and was succeeded by his brother, Władysław I Herman.

Whether Stanislaus should be regarded as a traitor or a hero, remains one of the classic unresolved questions of Polish history. His story has a parallel in the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 by henchmen of England's King Henry II.

Original sources[]

There is little information about Stanislaus' life. The only near-contemporary source was a chronicle of Gallus Anonymus, but the author evaded writing details about a conflict with the king. Later sources are the chronicles of Wincenty Kadłubek, and two hagiographies by Wincenty of Kielcza. All contain hagiographic matter.

Veneration as a saint[]

The cult of Saint Stanislaus the Martyr began immediately upon his death. In 1245 his relics were translated (i.e., moved) to Kraków's Wawel Cathedral. In the early 13th century, Bishop Iwo Odrowąż initiated preparations for Stanislaus' canonization and ordered Wincenty of Kielce to write the martyr's vita. On September 17, 1253, at Assisi, he was canonized by Pope Innocent IV.[4]

Pope Pius V did not include the Saint's feast day in the Tridentine Calendar for use throughout the Roman Catholic Church. Subsequently, Pope Clement VIII inserted it, setting it for May 7, but Kraków observes it on May 8, a supposed date of the Saint's death, having done so since May 8, 1254, when it was attended by many Polish bishops and princes. In 1969, the Church moved the feast to April 11, considered to be the date of his death in 1079.[5]

Silver sarcophagus of St. Stanislaus in the Wawel Cathedral

As the first native Polish saint, Stanislaus is the patron of Poland and Kraków, and of some Polish dioceses. He shares the patronage of Poland with Saint Adalbert of Prague, Florian, 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 his 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 Stanislaus' 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 his 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 Stanislaus, whose feast day fell close to the date of the Constitution's adoption.

Each year on the first Sunday following May 8, a procession, led by the Bishop of Kraków, goes out from Wawel to the Church on the Rock.[4] The procession, once a local event, was popularized in the 20th century by Polish Primate Stefan Wyszyński and Archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyła. Wojtyla, as Pope John Paul II, called Saint Stanislaus the patron saint of moral order and wanted his first papal return to Poland to occur in April 1979 in observance of the 900th anniversary to the day of his martyrdom, but the Communist rulers of that time blocked this, causing the visit to be delayed until June of that year.

Roman Catholic churches belonging to Polish communities outside Poland are often dedicated to Saint Stanislaus.

In iconography, Saint Stanislaus is usually depicted as a bishop holding a sword, the instrument of his martyrdom, and sometimes with Piotr rising from the dead at his feet.

See also[]

For further reading[]

  • Dlugosh, Joannes (1711). Cracoviensis historiae Polonicae libri XII (in Latin). Vol. I. Leipzig: sumptibus Ioannis Ludovici Gleditschii. pp. 269–295. |volume= has extra text (help)


  1. ^ Jump up to: a b c Foley O.F.M., Leonard. Saint of the Day, Lives, Lessons, and Feast, (revised by Pat McCloskey O.F.M.), Franciscan Media[failed verification]
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b c Fr. Paolo O. Pirlo, SHMI (1997). "St. Stanislaus". My First Book of Saints. Sons of Holy Mary Immaculate - Quality Catholic Publications. pp. 80–81. ISBN 971-91595-4-5.
  3. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "St. Stanislaus of Cracow" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  4. ^ Jump up to: a b Canaris, Michael M., "Remembering Saint Stanislaus the Martyr", Catholic Star Herald, April 11, 2019[dead link]
  5. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 122
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Lambert Suła
Bishop of Kraków
Succeeded by
Lambert III (bishop of Kraków)
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