On this day in 1066, William the Bastard (as he was then called) invaded England, beginning the Norman Conquest. Mostly because he was sick of his moniker, and thought “William the Conqueror” sounded better.
Wenceslaus (ca. 907 – 935) (aka Vaclav) was the son of Vratislaus, the second Christian Duke of Bohemia, and grandson of Borivoj and Ludmila, converts of Cyril and Methodius. His mother was Drahomira, a pagan princess who was baptized just before her marriage, although word on the street was that it never really “took.” Vratislaus died when Wenceslaus was 13, and Ludmila became his guardian and regent, until Drahomira had her strangled. And you thought you had in-law problems.
Wenceslaus was intelligent and pious, so when he ascended the throne at 18 the first thing he did was have his mother exiled (intelligent) but not killed (pious). Like his father before him, he battled and made and broke alliances with the surrounding kinglets (think of a badly played game of Risk with very, very small regions). He was made to pay tribute to King Henry of the Franks, who used it to pay his tribute to the Magyars. Whether the Magyars were paying tribute to someone else, my sources do not say.
Meanwhile Drohomira had not been idle. She raised her second son, Boleslaw (“bowl of cabbage”), and roused up various Bohemian nobles to support him. (Wenceslaus had earlier put down a rebellion led by a rebellious duke, which presumably earned him some enmity.) Boleslaw invited Wenceslaus to join him for the dedication of the Church of Cosmas and Damien (whose feast was celebrated on September 27 in those days) in Stará Boleslav (his stronghold). On the day after the feast Wenceslaus greeted his brother going into the church, saying, “Yesterday you were a good subject to me.” Boleslaw replied, “And today I will be a better,” and struck him with his sword. A tussle ensued, three henchmen hurried up, and Wenceslaus was murdered, his last words being, “Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit” (albeit in Bohemian).
Drohomira, perhaps in penitence for her part in the fratricide, came later and buried her son’s body. The stain of his blood could not be washed from the door of the church, but three days later it disappeared of its own accord (the stain, not the door). The church rapidly became a pilgrimage destination. Within three years Boleslaw repented of his crime, and had his brother’s body taken to Prague and buried in the great church, now a cathedral, of St. Vitus, which Wenceslaus had built years before.
Was Wenceslaus a martyr for the Christian faith? Or was his murder merely political? While many believe Drohomira reverted to her pagan ways after her husband died, it is also true that Boleslaw showed no pagan tendencies as Duke, and two of his children, at least, entered religious life. His son Strachkvas (literally, “dreadful feast”) was born on the day of Wenceslaus’s murder, and Boleslaw promised to educate him into the priesthood, which he did. Strachkvas’ sister Mlada became a nun and abbess, and went as her father’s emissary to Rome to ask that Prague be promoted to a bishopric. (Strachkvas was to have been made its second bishop, but died on the day of his consecration.) So if Boleslaw was a pagan, he appears to have gotten over it fairly early.
Martyr or no, Wenceslaus was hailed from very early on as a saint, and was granted the title “king” posthumously by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I (perhaps in atonement for his father Henry’s treatment of Wenceslas). He (Winnie) was the patron saint of Bohemia and is the patron saint of the Czech Republic, Prague, and brewers.
A curious legend states that an army sleeps inside the mountain of Blaník, to awake when the Czech lands are attacked by four or more enemy armies (from the four cardinal points). Then the equestrian statue of Wenceslaus in Prague will come alive (important: the horse will be white, not coppery green with pigeon streaks) to lead the ghost army, defeating the enemies before the gates of the city.
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
September 28 (Wikipedia)
Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (Wikipedia) – Main source
Martyr Wenceslaus the Prince of the Czechs (OCA)
Saint Wenceslaus of Bohemia (SQPN)
StWenceslaus (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Ludmila of Bohemia (Wikipedia)
Boleslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (Wikipedia)
Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia (Wikipedia)
Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor (Wikipedia)
Illumination of Wenceslaus’ murder (X cent., Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Guelf. 11,2 Augusteus 4, fol. 21r.) from Wikimedia (Public domain according to this rule). (Note Boleslaw is so young he doesn’t have a beard!)
Statue of Wenceslaus in St. Vitus’ Cathedral, Prague (probably by Peter Parler, XIV cent.) from Wikimedia. (public domain) (The head of the statue was sized to Wenceslaus’ actual skull)