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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1843-1849 > Polish

Sample of Mezzofanti's handwriting in Polish : Click to enlarge picture
Sample of Mezzofanti's handwriting in Polish
As regards the Polish language, however, the year 1845 supplies other and more direct testimonies than that of the Emperor Nicholas.

In an extract cited by Mr. Watts from the Posthumous Works of the eminent Polish authoress, Klementyna z Tanskich Hoffmanowa, who visited Rome in the March of that year, it is stated that " the cardinal spoke Polish well, though with somewhat strained and far-fetched expressions;" and that he was master of the great difficulty of Polish pronunciation—that of the marked I—" although he often forgot it." This lady has preserved in her Diary a Polish couplet, written for her by the Cardinal with his own hand, under a little picture of the Madonna.

Ten ogien ktory zyia w sercu twoiem O Matko Boza ! zapal w sercu moiem.

Another, and to the Cardinal far more interesting, representative of the Polish language appeared in Eome during the same year. Mezzofanti had long felt deeply the wrongs of his oppressed fellow-Catholics in Poland and Lithuania. A few months before the Emperor's arrival in Rome, they had been brought most painfully under his eyes by the visit of a refugee of that vast empire, and a victim of the atrocious policy which had become its ruling spirit—the heroic Makrena Mirazylawski, abbess of the Basilian convent of Minsk, the capital of the province of that name. The organized measures of coercion by which the Emperor endeavoured to compel the Catholic popu¬lation of Lithuania and Poland, and the other Catholic subjects of the empire, into renunciation of their allegiance to the Holy See, and conformity with the doctrine and discipline of the Russian- church, comprised all the members of the Catholic church in Russia without exception, even the nuns of the various communities throughout their provinces. Among these was a sisterhood of the Basilian order in the city of Minsk, thirty-five in number. The bishop of the diocese and the chaplain of the convent, having themselves conformed to the imperial will, first endeavoured to bend the resolution of these sisters by bland-ishment, but in the end sought by open violence to compel them into submission. But the noble minded sisters, with their abbess at their head, firmly refused to yield ; and, in the year 1839, the entire community (with the exception of one who died from grief and terror) were driven from their convent, and marched in chains to "Witepsk, and afterwards to Polosk, where, with two other communities equally firm in their attachment to their creed, they were subjected, for nearly six years, to a series of cruelties and indignities of which it is difficult to think without horror, and which would revolt all credibility, were they not attested by authorities far from partial to the monastic institute. Chained hand and foot; flogged ; beaten with the fist and with clubs ; thrown to the earth and trampled under foot; compelled to break stones and to labour at quarries and earthworks j dragged in sacks after a boat through a lake in the depth of winter ; supplied only with the most loathsome food and in most insufficient quantity ; lodged in cells creeping with maggots and with vermin ; fed for a time exclusively on salt herrings, without a drop of water ; tried, in a word, by every conceivable device of cruelty ;—the perseverance of these heroic women is a living miracle of martyr-like fidelity. Nine of the number died from the effects of the excessive and repeated floggings to which, week after week, they were subjected, three fell dead in the course of their cruel tasks ; two were trampled to death by their drunken guards ; three were drowned in these brutal noyades ; nine were killed by the falling of a wall, and five were crushed in an excavation, while engaged in the works already referred to; eight became blind; two lost their reason ; several others were maimed and crippled in various ways ; so that, in the year 1845, out of the three united communities (which at the first had numbered fifty-eight) only four, of whom Makrena was the chief, retained the use of their limbs! These heroines of faith and endurance contrived at last to effect their escape from Polosk, from which place it had been resolved to transport them to Siberia; and, through a thousand difficulties and dangers, Makrena Mirazylawski made her adventurous way to Rome.

The sufferings and the wrongs of this interesting stranger found a ready sympathy in Cardinal Mezzofanti's generous heart. He listened to her narrative with deep indignation, and took the liveliest interest in all the arrangements for her safe and fitting reception and that of her companions.

I was naturally anxious to hear what, on the other hand, were the abbess's impressions of the cardinal. In reply to the inquiries of my friend, Rev. Dr. Morris, she " spoke of him in the very highest terms." " He was," she said, " a living saint," and she described both his charity and his spirituality as very remarkable. When Father Ryllo (the Jesuit Rector of the Propaganda before F. Bresciani) left Rome for the African Mission, Cardinal Mezzofanti became Mother Makrena's director, and continued to be so for two years. "He spoke Polish," she declares, "like a native of Poland, and wrote it with great correctness." Having ascertained that the abbess had had a considerable packet of papers written by him in Polish, generally on those occasions when he could not come to her as usual, on various spiritual subjects, I was most anxious to obtain copies of them ; but I was deeply mortified to learn that they were all unfortunately lost in the Revolution, when she was driven out of her little convent near Sanfca Maria Maggiore. This humble community was afterwards increased by the arrival of other fugitives from different parts of the Russian Empire ; nor did the cardinal cease till the very last days of his life his anxious care of all their spiritual and temporal interests.

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