Today is Saint Casimir’s Day. Saint Casimir Jagiellon (October 3, 1458 – March 4, 1484) was a crown prince of the Kingdom of Poland and of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania who became a patron saint of Lithuania, Poland, and the also of the young. His feast day is marked annually with Kaziuko mug? (a trade fair) held on the Sunday nearest to March 4, the anniversary of his death, in Vilnius.
Casimir was a member of the Jagiellon dynasty. He was born at Wawel, the royal palace in Kraków (in present-day Poland). Casimir was the third child and the second son of the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Casimir IV and Queen Elisabeth Habsburg of Hungary. From the age of nine, Casimir and his brother Vladislaus II were educated by the Polish priest Jan D?ugosz. The boys were taught Latin and German, law, history, rhetoric, and classical literature. D?ugosz was a strict and conservative teacher who emphasized ethics, morality, and religious devotion. D?ugosz noted Casimir’s skills in oratory when he delivered speeches to greet his father returning to Poland in 1469, and Jakub Sienienski, the Bishop of Kujawy, in 1470.
Casimir’s uncle Ladislaus the Posthumous, King of Hungary and Bohemia, died in 1457 at the age of 17, without leaving an heir. St. Casimir’s father, King Casimir IV, subsequently advanced his claims to Hungary and Bohemia, but could not enforce them due to the Thirteen Years’ War (1454–66). Instead, Hungarian nobles elected Matthias Corvinus, and Bohemian nobles selected George of Pod?brady as their kings. George of Pod?brady died in March 1471. In May 1471, Vladislaus II, eldest son of Casimir IV, was elected to the throne of Bohemia. However, a group of Catholic Bohemian nobles supported Matthias Corvinus instead of Vladislaus II. In turn, a group of Hungarian nobles conspired against Matthias Corvinus and invited the Polish king to overthrow him. King Casimir IV decided to install his son, future Saint Casimir, in Hungary.
Poland amassed an army of 12,000 men, commanded by Piotr Dunin and Dziers?aw of Rytwiany. Both King Casimir and Prince Casimir participated in the campaign. In October 1471, the Polish army crossed the Hungarian border and slowly marched towards Buda. Matthias Corvinus managed to win over the majority of the Hungarian nobles, including the main conspirator Archbishop János Vitéz, and the Polish army did not receive the expected reinforcement. Only Deák, Perény and Rozgonyi families sent troops. Upon hearing that Corvinus’ army of 16,000 men was camped outside of Pest, the Polish army decided to retreat from Hatvan to Nitra. There the soldiers battled food shortages, spreading infectious diseases, and the upcoming winter. The Polish King also lacked funds to pay the mercenaries. As a result, the Polish army decreased by about a third. In December 1471, Prince Casimir, fearing for his safety, was sent to Jihlava closer to the Polish border and further eroded their soldier’s morale. Corvinus took Nitra and a one-year truce was completed in March 1472 in Buda. Prince Casimir returned to Kraków to resume his studies with D?ugosz.
D?ugosz remarked that Prince Casimir felt “great sorrow and shame” regarding the failure in Hungary. Polish propaganda, however, portrayed him as a savior, sent by divine providence, to protect the people from a godless tyrant (i.e. Matthias Corvinus) and marauding pagans (i.e. Muslim Ottoman Turks). Prince Casimir was also exposed to the cult of his uncle King W?adys?aw III of Poland who died in the 1444 Battle of Varna against the Ottomans. This led some researchers, including Jacob Caro, to conclude that the Hungarian campaign pushed Prince Casimir into religious life.
Given that his elder brother, Vladislaus II, ruled Bohemia, Prince Casimir became crown prince and heir apparent to the throne of Poland and Lithuania. Italian humanist writer Filippo Buonaccorsi (also known as Filip Callimachus) was hired to become Casimir’s tutor in political matters, but his Renaissance views had less influence on Casimir than D?ugosz. In 1474, the Italian merchant and traveler Ambrogio Contarini met with Prince Casimir and was impressed by his wisdom. Prince Casimir completed his formal education at age 16 and spent most of his time with his father. In 1476, Prince Casimir accompanied his father to Royal Prussia to attempt to settle a dispute over Warmia, a region of Poland. In 1478 Seimas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania demanded that King Casimir IV leave either Prince Casimir or Prince John I Albert in Lithuania as a regent. King Casimir IV feared separatist moods and refused, but after settling the conflict in Prussia, moved to Vilnius.
Between 1479 and 1484 Cosimir’s father spent most of his time in Vilnius attending to the affairs of Lithuania. In 1481, Mikhailo Olelkovich and his relatives planned to murder King Casimir and Prince Casimir during a hunt at a wedding of Feodor Ivanovich Belsky. The plan was discovered and Prince Casimir, perhaps fearing for his safety, was sent to Poland to act as vice-regent. Around the same time his father tried to arrange a marriage with Kunigunde of Austria, daughter of Emperor Frederick III. It is often claimed that Prince Casimir refused the match, preferring to remain celibate and sensing his approaching death. According to Maciej Miechowita, Prince Casimir developed tuberculosis. In May 1483, Prince Casimir joined his father in Vilnius. There, after the death of Andrzej Oporowski, Bishop and Vice-Chancellor of the Crown, Prince Casimir took over some of his duties in the chancellery. However, his health deteriorated while rumors about his piousness and good deeds spread further. He was known for his charitable work and help to the needy. In February 1484, the Polish parliament (general sejm) in Lublin was aborted as King Casimir IV rushed back to Lithuania to be with his ill son. Prince Casimir died on March 4, 1484, in Hrodna. His remains were interred in Vilnius Cathedral, where a dedicated Saint Casimir’s Chapel was built in 1636.
Surviving contemporary accounts described Prince Casimir as a young man of exceptional intellect and education, humility and politeness, striving for justice and fairness. Early sources do not attest to his piousness or devotion to God, but his inclination to religious life increased towards the end of his life. Later sources provide some stories of Casimir’s religious life. Marcin Kromer (1512–1589) claimed that Casimir refused his physician’s advise to have sexual relations with women in hopes to cure his illness. Other accounts claimed that Casimir contracted his lung disease after a particularly hard fast or that he could be found pre-dawn, kneeling by the church gates, waiting for a priest to open them. The first miracle attributed to Casimir was his appearance before the Lithuanian army during the Siege of Polotsk in 1518. Casimir showed where Lithuanian troops could safely cross the Daugava River and relieve the city, besieged by the army of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. After hearing about this miracle, Casimir’s brother Sigismund I the Old petitioned the pope to canonize Casimir.
Saint Casimir’s painting in Vilnius Cathedral is considered to be miraculous. The painting, probably completed around 1520, depicts the saint with two right hands. According to a legend, the painter attempted to redraw the hand in a different place and paint over the old hand, but the old hand miraculously reappeared. More conventional explanations claim that three-handed Casimir was the original intent of the painter to emphasize the exceptional generosity of Casimir (“But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Matthew 6:3) or that the old hand bled through a coat of new paint (similar to a palimpsest). Around 1636 the painting was covered in gilded silver clothing.
Casimir’s iconography sometimes follows the three-handed painting. He is usually depicted as a young man in long red robe lined with stoat fur. Sometimes he wears a red cap of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, but other times, to emphasize his devotion to spiritual life, the cap is placed near Casimir. Usually he holds a lily, a symbol of virginity, innocence, and purity. He might also hold a cross, a rosary, or a book with words from Omni die dic Mariae (Daily, Daily Sing to Mary). The towns of Kv?darna and Nemunaitis in Lithuania have Saint Casimir depicted on their coat of arms.
He was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in 1602 and is the patron saint of Poland and Lithuania. On June 11, 1948, Pope Pius XII named Saint Casimir the special patron of all youth.
Lithuanian cooking, of course, bears considerable likeness to general eastern European cuisine. But there are distinctive dishes. Cepelinai or Didžkukuliai are a national dish of Lithuania, but also also popular in northeastern Poland. So they seem to me to be perfect to celebrate St Casimir. They are stuffed potato dumplings. Their stuffing is commonly pork, but you can use a mixture of beef and pork, mushrooms, or cheese. This is a classic recipe. Cepelinai literally means “Zeppelins” because of their shape.
8 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and finely grated
2 large Idaho potatoes, peeled, boiled and riced
1 medium onion, peeled and finely grated
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 lb ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg, beaten
8 ounces bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons sour cream
Put the grated potatoes into a large piece of fine-mesh cheesecloth or smooth kitchen towel, grabbing the corners together to form a pouch. Wring the towel over a bowl, straining the excess liquid from the grated potatoes through the cloth, squeezing firmly with your hands until the potatoes are as dry as possible. Put the potatoes into a mixing bowl. Reserve the liquid. Let the starch settle to the bottom of the bowl of liquid, then pour the liquid off; add the starch back to the potatoes. Add the riced potatoes to the grated ones, add salt to taste, and knead well.
For the filling simply combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Bring a large wide pot of salted water to a boil.
Roll about 1 cup of the potato mixture into a ball with your hands. Gently flatten it into a ½ inch thick round patty. Place ¼ cup of the meat mixture into the center of the potatoes. Cup your hands together to seal the potato into a Zeppelin shape. Repeat forming more cepelinai with the remaining potato and meat mixtures.
Gently slip the cepelinai into the boiling water, allowing the water to return to a boil before the next dumpling is added. Do not overcrowd the cepelinai in the pot. Stir carefully and occasionally. Boil until the dumplings are translucent and the meat is cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the dumplings using a slotted spoon, drain and place on a heated platter. Work in batches if you are using a small pot.
For the bacon sauce, cook the bacon and onions in a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until the onions are lightly browned. Pour off some of the excess fat. Stir the sour cream carefully into the bacon-onion mixture. Blend well but do not boil. You can also serve the sour cream on the side. Spoon the bacon and onions over the cepelinai and serve.