A Brief History
On April 11, 1079, Bishop Stanislaus of Kraków, Poland, later Saint Stanislaus, was executed either by the order of or perhaps by the direct hand of King Bolesław II of Poland. After the execution, the body of the slain Bishop was chopped up into small pieces and scattered in the forest, presumably to be eaten by the forest critters. Lo and Behold! The pieces of the body of the future Catholic Saint reassembled themselves!
While no word of any coming back to life was noted, chroniclers did say that 4 eagles guarded the body of the murdered holy man while it “regenerated.” If such a tale gives you any pause for questioning the accuracy of the account of Stanislaus’ death and miraculous regeneration, the fact that the date of his execution is alternately given as May 8, 1079, as well as April 11, 1079. (You would think the date would be the easy part…)
Stanislaus had taken to a life in the Church and had been ordained a priest, culminating in his election to the rank of Bishop of Kraków in 1072. At first, Stanislaus refused the promotion, but was compelled to accept the post when ordered to do so by Pope Alexander II. Stanislaus became one of the earliest Polish born Bishops, then a powerful post that crossed lines between religion and politics. On the political front, Stanislaus participated in the political wrangling that led Duke Boleslaw to become King Boleslaw II.
In spite of the part Stanislaus played in Boleslaw gaining the throne of Poland, Stanislaus earned the ire of the King by the 2 men taking opposing sides in a property dispute over land acquired by Stanislaus for the Church. The sons of the man that sold the land to Stanislaus claimed the land was really theirs and had not been sold. The King had agreed with the sons. That particular case was marked by the highly unusual circumstances of a “witness” that Stanislaus called to testify on his behalf, the former property owner that had sold the land to Stanislaus. Did we mention that former property owner was already dead and buried? He was, and Stanislaus had the body dug up and dressed appropriately for “testimony” in court. Amazingly, when Stanislaus ordered the dead man to rise, he did! Not only did the deceased man rise, he also testified that the land had been properly sold to Stanislaus. The King had no choice but to grant Stanislaus the property! (The man that had risen from the dead declined the opportunity to remain alive and asked to be reburied. Remember, these events occurred before video recording equipment had been invented, so we just have to take the word of those that wrote the accounts for history.)
While the property incident rattled the King’s confidence and trust in Stanislaus, the fact that the Bishop later publicly chastised the King for sexual indiscretions and cruelty enraged the insulted monarch. When Stanislaus ordered the King excommunicated, a line had been crossed. The King was now angry to the point that Boleslaw ordered the execution of the wayward Bishop. When the King’s men refused to kill a Bishop, the King reportedly took matters into his own hands and cut down the holy man while Stanislaus was celebrating mass. The population of Poland was grieved by the brutal treatment of the Bishop and rebelled against Boleslaw, forcing the King to flee. The brother of the King, Władysław I Herman, assumed the throne.
Some details of when and where the execution and miraculous events that followed took place are debated by historians and religious scholars. But not the amazing stories of resurrection of the witness and regeneration of Stanislaus’ body. (If you have not picked up on it, we are just a tad skeptical…)
Stanislaus enjoyed popularity even into death, and he was venerated as a martyr. Pope Innocent IV had Stanislaus canonized as a Saint in 1253. The day assigned to celebrate this sainted martyr is either May 7 or May 8, depending on which authority you trust. The symbol of Saint Stanislaus the Martyr is the Sword, the very item that led to his martyrdom. Stanislaus remains a popular Catholic Saint in Poland, even in spite of the communist years in which the regime tried to stifle celebration of the Saint’s life and deeds. Traitor or patriot? Perspective is everything.
Question for students (and subscribers): Which Saint is your favorite, and why? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Kumor, Boleslaw. Saint Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr. Parish, 1987.
Mulvihill, Brenda. Treasury of Saints and Martyrs. Viking, 1999.
The featured image in this article, a painting showing the slashing of the body of Saint Stanislaus, is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason: This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or fewer.