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Lutheran Aardvark

Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

28 September 2005
  + Good King Wenceslaus … Wenceslas … +
Václav … Wenzel … Whatever

28 September AD 935

Actually, he wasn't a king (he was Duke of Bohemia), but we can reckon Wenceslaus I as "good" because of his fidelity to the Christian Faith.

His grandfather, Bořivoj I, Kníze (Duke) of the Czechs was converted by Saints Cyril and Methodius, the noted missionaries to the Slavic people. After his father Wratislaus I died in battle against the Magyars, Wenceslaus succeeded him. His religious life followed the teaching of the Church rather than that of his mother Drahomíra the Arrogant while his brother Boleslaus I (the Cruel) apparently pursued his mother's pagan ways. Their sister Střezislava received the appellation "the Pretty."

After Vratislav died, Wenceslaus was raised by his grandmother Ludmila, who reared him in the Faith. A dispute between the fervently Christian regent and Drahomíra drove her to seek sanctuary near Beroun. Wenceslaus's conversion enraged his mother, who was trying to gain support among the pagan nobility. Drahomíra's revenge was having Ludmila killed by two nobles at Tetin on 15 September 921.

Regency passed to Drahomíra, who is accounted well in that area. She strengthened Czech borders against foreign incursions and suppressed the rival Slavnik clan. However, she still worked to reconvert her son to paganism, but Wenceslaus continued practicing Christianity in secret.

Upon attaining his majority, Wenceslaus assumed the rule and exiled Drahomíra. He aided Christianity's spread throughout Bohemia by building churches and cathedrals and also by accepting the influence of the Holy Roman Empire. To the nobles, such behavior threatened both their pagan traditions and Czech sovereignty. He became a vassal of King Henry I the Fowler of Germany in 929. This submission, whether by choice or by force, further increased the hostility of his non-Christian lieges.

The Death of WenceslausBoleslaus gathered some of these disaffected nobles around himself for several overlapping purposes. First of all, Wenceslaus was a threat to their paganism (unlike Wenceslaus, Boleslaus completely agreed with his mother's beliefs). Secondly, they considered Wenceslaus a "sell-out" if not an outright traitor to Czech heritage and governance. Finally, Boleslaus was next in line for the throne — something he strongly coveted.

These factors led the younger brother to invite the elder to a celebration of the Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian. On the way there, Boleslaus or his henchmen murdered Wenceslaus — the most commonly purported venue being at the very doors of the church toward which they traveled. Bolesaus claimed the title "Prince" — "Duke" being considered recognition of vassalage to the Holy Roman Empire.

Upon his death, his son Boleslaus II became Duke of Bohemia. Contrary to the father's nickname "the Cruel," the younger son was known as Boleslav the Pious. Included among his accomplishments was the establishment of the Bishopric of Prague.

Meanwhile, the legend of Wenceslaus continued to grow in the telling. His piety and refusal to abandon Christianity remain part of the story of the Faith. The Church considered him a martyr and purported miracles followed his invocation. Thus, he was canonized as Saint Wenceslaus. He is the primary patron of the Czech people and the Czech Republic.

The Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas" was based upon a perception of his piety, humility, and desire to serve. Whether or not grounded in an actual event, it reflects the esteem in which the Czech people hold him.
 
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