Growing up in the Hershey, PA the most beautiful blonde gals were in a Polish family with the cute names of Laurie, Valerie and Natalie plus the not so cute name, Hedy, short for Hedwig. In Spanish Hedwig is Edugives. In any language, Hedwig is an ugly name but apparently not given to ugly gals.
The most famous Hedy was an Austrian actress named Hedy Lamarr. An MGM pin-up of the 1940s and part time inventor beyond compare. Fascinated by math, when not being a beautiful leading lady, Hedy invented a radio guidance system. Hedy’s invention allowed Allied weapons to not be jammed by the enemy and is incorporated into today’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technologies.
The most famous Hedy you’ll see locally is St. Hedwig of Poland, a rare person that instinctively knew how to use earthly power and wealth for real change. Hedwig not only pulled together what became Poland as their first female monarch but was also known for her generosity to the poor, disenfranchised and ill.
St. Hedwig is featured in churches all over town including to your left as you exit the Chapel of Good Health on Plaza Civica. But it is local art where St. Hedwig’s image takes an unexpected route for the statues I’ve found of her around the area don’t feature Hedwig, but rather her niece, St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary died much sooner and younger than her aunt at the age of 24, but was another queen known for her generosity to the poor. In art, she is seen as queen with a crown giving bread to the poor. St. Elizabeth of Hungary suffers a case of mistaken identity being labeled instead as her aunt, St. Hedwig.
St. Hedwig in art is seen as a queen, or nun as she lived in a convent following her husband’s death but never officially joined up. Instead she enjoyed control of her queenly money to fund her various charities until her death in 1399. In iconography, Hedwig is seen holding a model of a church.
Safe to assume the conquering Spanish weren’t all that fixated on whether it was St. Hedwig or St. Elizabeth correctly identified in statues. Either were kind and giving ruling class women, an image the Spanish felt behooved to promote and tie to themselves.
Fourteen of the oldest glasses known to still exist were owned by Hedwig and are called Hedwig’s glasses. A woman in childbirth that drank from one of the glasses is known to have an easy childbirth making Hedwig the patroness for childbirth. Hence her appearance in the Chapel of Good Health here in town.
St. Elizabeth on Hungary’s local claim to fame is her association with the Third Order, one of our oldest churches just off the jardin and next to the church of St. Francis. St. Francis felt the first order was priests, second order nuns and third order was for non-clergy to live a holy life. The Third Order still exists with members on my tour telling me they read prayers from a certain book daily. Members of the Third Order feel St. Elizabeth of Hungary was a founding member plus a pal of St. Francis and have long helped promote her popularity.
Pictured is a retablo (telling of a miracle by St. Hedwig) in the nineteenth century. In the retablo she is devoting her wealth to the indigenous in the prison behind her.
For Texans, St. Hedwig is the name of village outside of San Antonio started by Polish Catholic immigrants in 1855.
For Mexicans, a common greeting mini-limerick is to ask a lovely woman “How are you?” and for her to respond “Like St. Hedwig, pretty from every angle.” Funnier in Spanish as it rhymes!
by Joseph Toone
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkingTours.com, and JosephTooneTours.com.