Lidwina (Lydwine, Lydwid, Lidwid, Liduina of Schiedam) was a Dutch mystic who is honored as a saint by the Catholic Church. She is also thought to be one of the first documented cases of multiple sclerosis.
At age 15, Lidwina was ice skating when she fell and broke a leg. She never recovered and became progressively disabled for the rest of her life. Her biographers state that 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. Today some posit that Saint Lidwina is one of the first known multiple sclerosis patients and attribute her disability to the effects of the disease and her fall.
After her fall, Lidwina fasted continuously and acquired fame as a healer and holy woman. The town officials of Schiedam, her hometown, promulgated a document (which has survived) that attests to her complete lack of food and sleep. At first she ate a little piece of apple, then a bit of date and watered wine, then river water contaminated with salt from the tides. The authenticating document from Schiedam also attests that Lidwina 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.
Lidwina died at the age of 53. She is known as the patron saint of ice and wheels skaters, disease and suffering.
Several hagiographical accounts of her life exist. One of these states that while the soldiers of Philip of Burgundy were occupying Schiedam, a guard was set around her to test her fasts, which were authenticated. It is also reported that four soldiers abused her during this occupation, claiming that Lidwina's swollen body was due to her being impregnated by the local priest rather than from her sickness.
The well-known German preacher and poet, Friar John Brugman, wrote two Lives of St. Lidwina, the first of which, printed at Cologne in 1433, was reprinted anonymously at Leuven in 1448, and later epitomised by Thomas à Kempis at Cologne in his Vita Lidewigis. The second life appeared at Schiedam in 1498; both have been embodied by the Bollandists in the Acta Sanctorum under 2 April. More recently, in 1901, Joris-Karl Huysmans published a biography of Lidwina.
Lidwina's 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 Lidwina. 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.
In 1859 the Church of Our Lady of Visitation (Onze Lieve Vrouw Visitatie) was opened on the Nieuwe Haven in Schiedam, commonly called Frankelandsekerk after the area it was located in (West-Frankeland). In 1931 this church was officially dedicated to St. Lidwina and called Church of Lidwina (Lidwinakerk). The church was demolished in 1969, and the veneration of Lidwina was moved to the Singelkerk, hence known as the Church of St. Lidwina and Our Lady of the Rosary. This church was elevated to become a minor basilica on 18 June 1990 by Pope John Paul II. The church is now commonly known as the Basilica of Lidwina.
After the closure of the Church of Lidwina in 1969, the statue of the saint and her relics were removed to the chapel dedicated to her in the rest-home West-Frankeland on the Sint Liduinastraat in town. Only after the demolition of the chapel in 1987 were all devotional objects removed to the Singelkerk, i.e. the Basilica of Lidwina.
Lidwina's name is attached to numerous institutions in Schiedam. Since 2002, the Foundation Intorno Ensemble produces a bi-annual musical theatrical performance about the town saint in one of the Schiedam churches. Outside Schiedam, there is a modern (1960s) church in the Dutch town of Best carrying her name (Lidwina Parochie Best).
Lidwina and multiple sclerosis
Historical texts reveal that she was afflicted with a debilitating disease, sharing many characteristics with multiple sclerosis, such as the age of onset, duration, and course of disease. Lidwina’s disease began soon after her fall. From that time onward, she developed walking difficulties, headaches and violent pains in her teeth. By the age of 19, both her legs were paralyzed and her vision was disturbed.
Over the next 34 years, Lidwina's condition slowly deteriorated, although with apparent periods of remission, until her death at the age of 53. Together these factors suggest that a posthumous diagnosis of multiple sclerosis may be plausible, therefore dating the disease back to the 14th century.