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.
At that time, all of Christendom groaned under the weight and confusion of the Great Schism. At 15, while ice-skating with her friends, Lydwine broke a rib, forcing her into a bed she would never leave. She became paralyzed except for her left hand and that great pieces of her body fell off, and that blood poured from her mouth, ears, and nose.
Over the next 38 years, she would frightfully endure every known ailment of the time with the exception of leprosy. Swollen with liquids, her stomach would expand to such an extent that she appeared to be with child; intolerably sensitive, her eyes would shed blood whenever they were struck by light and transfixed by agony, she bore the side wound of Christ’s passion through the stigmata.
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.
Compensating her many sufferings, Saint Lydwine was graced with a heavily mystical spiritual life. She was often taken to the earthly paradise, and held colloquies with Our Lord, Our Lady, the angels and saints.
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. She also experienced mystical gifts, including supernatural visions of heaven, hell, purgatory, apparitions of Christ, and the stigmata. The authenticating document from Schiedam also attests that Lydwine shed skin, bones, parts of her intestines, which her parents kept in a vase and which gave off a sweet odor. These excited so much attention that Lidwina had her mother bury them.
Lydwine died at the age of 53. Her grave became a place of pilgrimage after her death and in 1434, a chapel was built over it. Thomas à Kempis’s publication caused an increase in veneration. In 1615 her relics were taken to Brussels, but in 1871 they were returned to Schiedam. On 14 March 1890, Pope Leo XIII officially canonized Lydwine. She is the patron saint of ice skaters and the chronically ill, as well as of the town of Schiedam. Her feast day occurs on 18 March, 14 April, or 14 June, depending on region and tradition.