Born of a warrior race to noble parents in the diocese of Litomerici, Bavaria , Zedislava lived in a fortified castle on the borders of Christendom, in an age when the fierce Mongol hordes were the world’s worst menace. Her whole life was spent surrounded by the sounds of clashing arms, and the moans of the dying. The gentleness and purity of her life stand out in surprising beauty against the dark background of a warlike and materialistic people.
Zedislava learned Christian charity early in life from her mother, who taught her not only the secrets of preparing medicinal herbs but also the healing balm of prayer. Going each day to the castle gates with alms and medicines for the poor and the wretched who crowded there for help, she was soon well acquainted with human misery. Cheerful, prayerful, and alert to see the sorrows of others, the child became a light of hope to the miserable. Because of her sweetness and natural charm, she was able to teach many lessons to those about her.
As a child, she is said to have fled from her home for a time to live as a hermit, but she returned to live a more normal life that included an early marriage to a soldier, the duke of Lemmberk, who, like her own father, was a rich nobleman in command of a castle on the frontier. The couple produced four children. Zedislava cared judiciously for her own family and lavished great care on the poor, especially the fugitives and victims of the Tartar invasions.
Her husband was a good man, but a rough and battle-hardened soldier who liked nothing better than the clash of swords. He may have treated Zedislava badly and he certainly tried his young wife’s patience and obedience in a thousand ways. He insisted that she dress in her finest gowns and attend the long and barbarous banquets that pleased him so. (In return, she tried his patience because of her generosity towards the poor.)
Being of a retiring disposition and much given to prayer–and having a family and a large castle to care for–she found this a real sacrifice. However, obedience and patience had been an important part of her training, and she taught herself to spiritualize the endless trials that would beset the mother of four children in a medieval fortress.
The Polish missionaries, Saint Hyacinth and Blessed Ceslaus, brought Zedislava the first knowledge of the new religious order which had begun but a few years before. Saint Dominic, had met them in Italy, where he had gone to have his order approved. Zedislava was the first Slavic Tertiary of the Dominican Order.
Enchanted with the possibilities of an order that allowed her to share in its benefits and works while caring for her family, Zedislava threw herself into the new project with enviable zeal. She encouraged her husband to build a hostel for the many poor pilgrims who came homeless to the gate. She visited the prisoners in the frightful dungeons, and used her influence to obtain pardons from the severe sentences meted out to them. She fed and cared for the poor, taught catechism to the children of the servants, and showed all, by the sweetness of her life, just what it meant to be a Christian lady and a Dominican Tertiary. On the occasion of a Mongol (Tartar) attack, when homeless refugees poured into the castle stronghold, her calm, invincible charity was a bulwark of strength to all.
With her own funds, Zedislava determined to build a church (Priory of Saint Lawrence) where God might be fittingly worshipped. As an act of zeal and penance, she herself carried many of the heavy beams and materials that went into the building. She did this at night so that no one would know of her hard work. Zedislava experienced visions and ecstasies during this time. She also received Holy Communion nearly every day in an age when this was not customary.
Her death came soon after the completion of the church in 1252. The mourning people who knelt by her deathbed could see evidence of her strong Christian virtues in the monuments she had left: her children, her church, and the inspiration of a saintly wife and mother. She consoled her husband in life and appeared to him in glory after death, which strongly encouraged his desire for conversion. Numerous miracles are ascribed to Saint Zedislava, including the raising of the dead to life. She was beatified in 1907 by Pope Pius X.
What a power of example!