Saturday, May 07, 2022

The Life of St Stanislaus Depicted on a Chasuble

On the general calendar of the Roman Rite, today is the feast of St Stanislaus (1030-79), a priest of Krakow who was well-known as an excellent preacher, and elected bishop in 1072. The king of Poland at the time, Bolesław II, was a talented and capable man, but indulged in many evil deeds; he kidnapped a noblewoman after whom he lusted, and stole property from the Church. For this, Stanislaus excommunicated him, forbidding services to be celebrated in the Wawel Cathedral whenever he was present, in return for which, the king murdered him while he was in the midst of celebrating Mass. He has often been compared to St Thomas Becket, who likewise resisted the importunities of the sovereign against the Church.

St Stanislaus depicted in a manuscript of the Lives of the Bishops of Kraków by Jan Długosz, the principal source for his life, made in the 1530s for Bp Piotr Tomicki, who is depicted venerating him in the company of King Sigismund I and other dignitaries of the church and state. The tiny figure at his feet is the man whom he raised from the dead, as explained below. The inscription in the red plaque on the left reads, “Vir inclite Stanislae vita, signis, pasione, gregem tuam, pastor bone, fove benedictione, guberna protectione, sana salva sancta intercessione. – O Stanislaus, renowned for your life, miracles and passion! O good shepherd, support your flock with your blessing, govern it with your protection, heal and save it through your holy intercession!” This is the antiphon at the Magnificat for Second Vespers of his proper Office used in Poland. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.) 
It has to be noted that many details of the lives of both men are regarded as historically very uncertain, not least the day of the Stanislaus’ death. The Roman Martyrology places it on May 8th, which is still to this day his feast day in Poland, but he was assigned to today on the general calendar because the 8th was already taken by the Apparition of St Michael. Other sources place it on April 11th, the date to which he has been moved in the post-Conciliar Rite. In his memoire (p. 318 of the English edition), Abp Bugnini notes that in response to the proposed degradation of all the Polish Saints on the general calendar to optional memorials, the bishops of Poland requested that at least one remain obligatory, so that “at least once a year the entire Church might recall how much Poland has suffered for its fidelity to the gospel.” Stanislaus was chosen, but, adding injury to insult, his new date means that his feast will be omitted or reduced to a commemoration in 2 years out of 3.

The treasury of the Wawel cathedral preserves an extraordinary chasuble, made in 1503 for the 250th anniversary of Stanislaus’ canonization, a donation of the governor of Krakow, Piotr Kmita. The main events of his life are depicted in very high relief and incredibly complex embroidered panels, mounted on wooden boards, and detailed with pearls, and tiny accessories (like the Saint’s chalice in one of the scenes) made by goldsmiths. Our thanks to the administrators of the cathedral’s Facebook page for their kind permission to reproduce these detailed photographs of it. Below, we have some photos by our own Nicola de’ Grandi of some other things pertinent to the Saint.

Starting from the bottom, Piotr Kmita is depicted holding his coat of arms.
In the second panel, St Stanislaus buys a village from a knight named Piotr, who dies soon thereafter.
Stanislaus, having been accused of fraud in the transaction, which the king used to justify his theft of the village, raises Piotr from the dead to bear witness to the legitimacy of the sale; in the following panel, the Saint brings him before the king. (Note the incredibly realistic representation of the dead man in both panels.)
The murder of the Saint; here note the miniature chalice on the altar, and the king’s dagger.
To the right of the previous panel, Stanislaus’ body is quartered, and the pieces scattered. As noted in the Breviary lessons for his feast day, an eagle, shown at the bottom, drove away wild animals that would have eaten them, until they could be collected and given a proper burial, ass depicted in the next panel, which is to the left of the murder scene.
Pope Innocent IV canonizes Stanislaus in the year 1253.
Photos by Nicola: the cathedral is officially named for Ss Stanislaus and Wenceslaus; the high altar, built in the 17th century, contains the relics of the former in a silver arc.
A precious miter believed to have been made for the canonization in 1253.
A chalcedony ring, likely also made for the canonization.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: