Saint Wenceslaus

Written by Marie Subrtova

Category: Notables

Saint Wenceslaus

Saint Wenceslaus was a Duke of Bohemia living approximately between 907 and 935. He came from the Premyslid dynasty. After his death, he has proclaimed a saint and became a patron saint of the Czech lands and a symbol of Czech statehood. This happened due to his pious life and martyrdom. Nevertheless, the only source of information about his life is the legends, which are more or less idealized, and they do not say much about the real facts of the duke´s life.  

Wenceslaus´ parents were Duke Vratislaus I and his wife Drahomira, who was probably a pagan. He had a younger brother, Boleslaus. Wenceslaus´ upbringing was taken over by his grandmother Ludmila, with whom Drahomira had long-standing disputes. He received an unusually good education at the time, and Ludmila, who was also very pious, led him to the Christian faith. Interestingly, her husband and Wenceslaus´ grandfather was the first historically documented Premyslid Duke – Borivoj I. 

Duke Vratislaus died when Wenceslaus was not an adult, so his mother Drahomira took over the rule. She was more and more afraid of Ludmila´s influence on Wenceslaus and their disputes intensified, so Drahomira had her murdered. 

When Wenceslas reached adulthood (around 925), he took over the rule. He had the Church of St. Vitus built on the Prague fortified settlement during his reign. Wenceslaus wanted to keep peace in the Czech lands, so he undertook to pay a tribute to East Francia. His brother Boleslaus, who was very ambitious, did not like this and wanted to rule himself.  

According to legend, Boleslaus invited Wenceslaus to his residence in Stara Boleslav. The pretext was the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian (early Christian martyrs). Wenceslaus used to go to church every morning to pray. He did not break this habit even on the day after the feast. He met Boleslaus in front of the church door. Boleslaus hit him in the head with a sword, but almost nothing happened to Wenceslaus, and he suffered only minor injuries. The duke snatched the sword from Boleslaus´ hand, but otherwise, he did not defend himself in order not to hurt his brother. Then Boleslaus´ companions appeared and killed Wenceslaus.  

This event took place on Monday, September 28, in an unknown year, as legend describe it. There are two possible dates, in which September 28 falls on Monday – 929 and 935. Historians are now inclined to the later date. 

Interestingly, St. Wenceslaus is the first saint of Czech origin, and he is also the only Czech saint whose feast is a part of the worldwide calendar of the Roman Catholic church. His holiday in the Czech Republic is celebrated as the day of Czech Statehood on September 28. 

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