Today is the feast day of Saint Lydwina. Ora pro nobis.
In 1380, Saint Lydwine was born in the small town of Schiedam in Holland. Her father was a wealthy noble named Peter, and her mother was from a poor family who worked their own farm. Her father’s family lost their fortune, and the whole family was reduced to poverty. (6) She was the only daughter among nine children. Her name means suffer in plenitude, and indeed her entire life was nothing but a continuous suffering. Even in the cradle a grievous illness afflicted her. (2)
At twelve years of age her beauty was admired by all; her father wanted her to marry, but she told him she had already given herself to the divine Spouse of virgins. When at the age of fifteen she fell on the ice, she suffered a broken rib; and this injury, spreading, it would seem, to other parts of her body, reduced her to the state of an invalid for the last thirty-eight years of her life. For seventeen years, she could move no part of her body except, very slightly, her head and left arm. For a long time she could scarcely take any nourishment, and finally could no longer support any food at all. In this state she remained for nineteen years. (2)
Although in the onset of her sickness, she was given to despair, and rejected this torrent of sufferings, she soon became inflamed with an intense love of God that no pain could extinguish. Then, crippled by the agony of her infirmities, she donned a hair shirt and took to an insufficiently thin mattress of straw strewn on the floor, to augment her already unspeakable pain. (6)
Through the counsel of her parish priest, Saint Lydwine came to realize that there was no earthly reason for her suffering, and that it must be a gift from the Lord. She eagerly consecrated herself to enduring the pain and suffering for the good of others, in atonement for their sins. Lydwine fasted in earnest, receiving only the Holy Eucharist as sustenance in the last 19 years of her life. Lydwine further gave away all her possessions to the poor, sleeping on a mound of hay. (5)
Our Lord kept Lydwina company in her sufferings, and at times transported her in spirit elsewhere; she saw the pains of the damned and those of the souls in purgatory. For the latter she prayed much and delivered many, having suffered their torments for them. Our Saviour granted her His stigmata, but she prayed that they might remain invisible, in order not to derive any attention from them.
He taught us all a lesson through His Saint, when she became too afflicted by the death of a dear brother. He sent to her a holy hermit to tell her that the servants of Christ must be purified from the too tender affections of human nature, even though these are not unreasonable and are not condemned by Holy Scripture. (2)
By the time of her death, her body bore all the repugnant signs of a lifetime of suffering. However, upon dying, she was miraculously restored to all the former youth and beauty she possessed before her illnesses. (6)
She was buried in the parish church of Saint John the Baptist in Schiedam. Her relics were later taken to Brussels and placed in the collegial church of Saint Gudule. Her life was written by three persons who knew her personally, and an abridged life was prepared by Thomas a Kempis. (2)
Image: Schilderij van Jan Dunselman: de Heilige Liduina valt op het ijs. (7)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff