06 January 2010

Saint Zedislava Berkiana

6 JANUARY 2010. This past Monday, 4 January, was the feast day of Saint Zedislava Berkiana (sometimes spelled Zedislava Berka), a lay Dominican, wife and mother that was canonized by Vernerable Pope John Paul II.

Because her feast day is always supplanted in the United States by the memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Dominican calendar permits a votive mass to be celebrated for Saint Zedislava today or on 8 January. In light of this permission, let's take the opportunity today to learn about Saint Zedislava Berkiana.

Saint Zedislava was born into a wealthy Bohemian (today Czech Republic) military family in A.D. 1215. Her father was the commander of a fortified castle between Vienna and Prague where Saint Zedislava grew up. During her childhood, Bohemia was a place of warfare, facing the great Mongol hordes that continually attacked Christendom. Growing up in a castle, Saint Zedislava assisted her mother with all the things that women were traditionally responsible for, including caring for indigents who daily presented themselves at the castle gates.Saint Zedislava learned not only the faith, but how to minister to the sick and injured with homespun remedies, always with a prayer, from her mother.

As an adult, Saint Zedislava married a soldier and had four children, to whom she was devoted. Her husband was Duke Havel of Lembert, but her marriage was not a happy one. The Duke was a good man, but a battle-hardened rough man with a bad temper; he took his aristocratic function seriously and insisted that Saint Zedislava wear sumptuous clothing and participate fully in the galmorous, but superficial social life exepected of the Duke and his wife.

Given her retiring disposition and being given to prayer, Saint Zedislava's position as the wife of a Duke and mother of four children in a large castle presented many hardships. However, she disciplined herself to spirtualize the many trials that she endured.

For her part, Saint Zedislava felt called to devote her life to Christ. She spent time in a hermitage prior to marrying Duke Havel, and was famous for her loving devotion for the poor. To her husband's displeasure, Saint Zedislava spent much of the family's money on aiding the poor. She convinced the Duke to build hospices and to support the care of refugees that came pouring into Bohemia after the Tartar invasions. Saint Zedislava ministered to the needy with great sincerity in serving Christ and, in doing so, became a model and inspiration for all Christians in the area.

When Saint Zedislava came into contact with the newly arrived Dominicans in Bohemia (Saint Hyacinth and Blessed Ceslaus), she found her calling and the perfect match for her heart. Saint Zedislava became a Dominican tertiary and the founding benefactor of the Order in Bohemia. Saint Zedislava is responsible for building the Priory of Saint Lawrence near her castle, where she received communion daily (an unusual practice for those times), and a convent in Jablonne.

Soon after the completion of the Priory of Saint Lawrence Saint Zedislava died of natural causes at the convent Jablonne on 1 January 1252. The mourning people who knelt by her bedside could see the monuments to the Christian life Saint Zedislava had led: her children, her church, and the inspiration of a saintly wife and mother. In fact, Saint Zedislava appeared to her husband in glory after her death and strongly influenced his own desire for conversion. Numerous miracles have been attributed to Saint Zedislava Berkiana, both during her life and after her death.

Saint Zedislava was beatified by Pope Saint Pius X on 28 August 1907 (cultus confirmed), and was canonized by Venerable Pope John Paul II on 21 May 1995

In art, Saint Zedislava is usually depicted as a Dominican tertiary (in the Dominican habit) wearing a rosary wound with roses, lying in the place of a sick person in bed. Saint Zedislava is the patron saint of difficult marriages and people who are ridiculed for their piety.

What we learn from Saint Zedislava is that a great love of Christ does not require extensive travel or doing extraordinary things, it only requires serving those in need with extraordinary love--love for Christ manifest in service to others. Each of us can follow this model in our own lives. Pray that Saint Zedislava, by her intercession, may assist each of us to pursue perfection in our love of Christ in our own families and daily lives.


Faithful God,
by her married life and works of charity
you taught Saint Zedislava to pursue
the way of perfection.
By her prayers, may family life
be strengthened and be a witness to Christian virtue.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


IMAGE: Saints Zedislava Berkiana and John Sarkander,  from Sts. Cyril and Methodius' Church in Olomouc, Czech Republic, (Wikimedia Commons).


  1. Thanks for your excellent post!:-) I would like to point out that the correct name is St. Zdislava of Lemberk. She is the patron saint of Czech families (feast day 30 May), of the Czech Dominican province and of a Czech congregation of Dominican sisters.

    I have been to the tomb of St. Zdislava in Jablonné and to the nearby castle Lemberk (only the foundations are mediaeval, I'm afraid) and recommend the pilgrimage (30 May is the ideal day, of course).

    The name "Berkiana" comes from the 17th Century family Berka who claimed her as one of their ancestors. Whether or not they really were her descendants is not important, the important thing is that "Berka" became a family name four hundred years after St. Zdislava's time. To use it as St. Zdislava's family name is at best anachronistic, at worst simply mistaken.

  2. Thanks. I hope that these posts bring readers to a deeper understanding of the models for holiness that we have in the Church.

    As for the spelling, I found several different spellings in the books I have and online. I ended up settling on the spelling that was used in the Dominican supplement (draft) to the Liturgy of the Hours.

  3. The "Catalogus Hagiographicus Ordinis Praedicatorum" (Dominican Liturgical Commission, 2001) was made available online only a week ago, from http://curia.op.org/en/
    See under "Latest Downloads" at the left. There her name is written "S. ZDISLAVA DE LEMBERK -
    Materfamilias". The ONLY Materfamilias in the catalogue, by the way!

  4. The next General Chapter will be in an unspecified place in Czechoslovakia.

  5. saint Zdislava of Lemberk
    traditio feastday is on 1. january (4. january dominican)
    modern 30. may