Saturday, November 12, 2011

Surname Saturday - Szymanski

My father is first-generation American; his mother was born in 1900, in what is now known as the country of Poland.  In September 2008, before I began researching my family’s history, my husband and I traveled to Poland.  Over the course of 10 days, we visited the cities of  Wrocław and Kraków, with day trips to CzęstochowaOświęcim (the location of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps), and Wadowice, the boyhood home of Pope John Paul II. 

Wawel Castle, Krakow

We logged miles in every city, touring the sights. 

In Krakow, as we walked from our apartment up the hill to Wawel Castle, we came upon the Baroque Church of St. Bernard’s.  

 Imagine my delight at seeing a colorful banner, featuring St. Szymon, draped down the right side of the church's ornate façade. 

I’d always been told our surname, Szymanski, means “son of Simon.”  And here was two-thirds of our surname, in living color, flying high on a Krakow church. 

The beautiful banner translates: 

St. Simon, Patron of Krakow
and Young Academics

At the time, I knew of two saints with the name.  St. Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus’ cross on Good Friday.  Simon Peter, later known as St. Peter, was one of the Twelve Apostles and first Pope of the Catholic Church.  So I wondered, "Which Simon is this Simon?

That's when I learned about Simon of Lipnica:

Lipnica is a town not far from Krakow.  Simon is a genealogist’s nightmare, in that his exact birth date is unknown.  Based on his attendance at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University in 1454, his birth is estimated somewhere between 1435 and 1440.  Influenced by St. Bernardine of Siena and St. John Capistran, Simon took up a pious life and joined  the Franciscans of St. Bernardine, where he was honored to preach at the Polish monarchy’s Wawel Cathedral in 1463.  In his later years, he cared for the suffering in plague-infested Krakow, by administering the sacraments and sharing God’s Word.  He soon contracted the plague himself, and died on July 18, 1482. 

Simon of Lipnica was beatified in 1685; centuries later, his sainthood became official through his June 3, 2007 canonization.  Of course!  That was the reason for the beautiful banner: Krakow was honoring its new saint, Simon of Lipnica!

In considering my surname, I wonder, who is the Simon that my Szymanski ancestors are the "sons of"?  Someone of sturdy Polish stock, no doubt.  But since surnames are a centuries-old addition in most cultures, I still have many, many generations to uncover.  I’ll just keep working on that one...

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"