Berka Zdislava was from a Moravian family, born in Křižanov, in what is now the Žďár nad Sázavou District of the Czech Republic. She was reportedly an unusually devout child, who at age seven ran away into the forest with the intention of living a hermit’s life of prayer and solitude. She was forcibly returned by her family, and made to live a normal childhood from that point on.
During her childhood, she had gone with her mother to serve Queen Kunegunda, who probably first exposed her to the Dominicans. It is possible that Zdislava met St. Hyacinth and Bl. Ceslaus, and she eventually became a lay Dominican. She continued to live a devout life, receiving Holy Communion nearly every day (which was an extremely rare practice in the beginning of the 13th century). She also had visions and worked many miracles (including raising someone from the dead)
Later, her family arranged for her to marry Bohemian lord Havel of Markvartice. He was a good man, but he tested Zdislava’s patience by asking her to dress in a worldly manner and join in his somewhat indulgent feasts.
As a married woman with four children, Zdislava continued to live a life of remarkable personal austerity, worked tirelessly in the care of the poor and dispossessed, and was, unusually for her era, a frequent recipient of the Eucharist. Tatar invasions of Central Europe (1240–42) were causing large numbers of people to leave their homes during this period, and a large number of refugees sought refuge at the Lemberk Castle in northern Bohemia, where Zdislava lived with her family and assisted these refugees as much as possible.
Her husband was concerned about what he considered the excessive degree of Zdislava’s charity to these refugees. In one incident, he is reported to have gone to the bed Zdislava had given to a feverish beggar the night before, but to have found a figure of the crucified Jesus there instead. He is said to have been so impressed by this apparition that he would later support her to found two Dominican priories in what is now the Czech Republic.
St. Zdislava is a wonderful example of faith, perseverance, and sanctity in the secular world. Through her intercession, may God raise up many saintly lay men and women. O God, the exaltation of the lowly, who willed that blessed Zdislava should excel in the beauty of her charity and patience, grant, through her merits and intercession, that, carrying our cross each day, we may always persevere in love for you. Through Christ our Lord.
Zdislava worked with this convent for the rest of her life, and was eventually buried there.
Several miracles have been attributed to her, including raising from the dead.
Shortly after her death Zdislava is reported to have appeared in an apparition to her husband. In 1907, Pope Pius X confirmed her veneration for her native country. She was canonized a saint in 1995 with John Sarkander in a ceremony in Olomouc, Czech Republic, by Pope John Paul II. In artwork, she is commonly depicted as a Dominican tertiary with a crucifix wound around with roses, or lying in the place of a sick person in bed. As a patron saint, she is asked for her intercession in difficult marriages and for people ridiculed for their piety.