Saint Wenceslaus (Václav); Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia

Born in 907, Wenceslaus was a member of the Přemysl dynasty that would rule Bohemia from the ninth century to 1306. His father was the founder of the Přemyslids, Bořivoj I, the duke of Bohemia from 870 to 889 who installed Christian values in his son. Wenceslaus’ mother, Drahomíra, came from a pagan background but was baptized when she married Bořivoj, according to some sources. Wenceslaus was an impressionable 13 years old when his father died, and then it was paternal grandmother, Ludmila of Bohemia turn to raise him.

However, Drahomíra argued with Christian subjects and aspired to gain recognition from the nobility. Because Ludmila had encouraged Wenceslaus in Christian beliefs, Drahomíra had Ludmila killed September 15, 921by strangled by them with her veil. Drahomíra then assumed the role of regent and immediately initiated measures against the Christians. When Wenceslaus was 18, those Christian nobles who remained rebelled against Drahomira. The uprising was successful, and Drahomira was sent into exile to Budeč.

After Wenceslaus took over the government at age 18, he scored an impressive victory against the rebel duke of Kouřim, Radislav. Ever since the Great Moravian Empire had been destroyed in 902, Saxon duke and East Frankish King Henry the Fowler (Jindřich I. Ptáčník) had posed a threat to the Czech lands, so his relationship with Bohemia was of great significance. When Henry the Fowler took office, he gave many privileges to Bavarian duke Arnulf the Bad. The Saxon duke expanded his territory, threatening Bohemia even more. Wenceslaus longed for the Czech principality to become independent.

In September 935, a group of nobles allied with Wenceslaus’s younger brother Boleslav plotted to kill him. He invited Wenceslaus to his seat in Stará Boleslav to celebrate either the feast of Saint Michael or the feast of Saints Damian and Cosmas (sources differ), when fate intervened. On Wenceslaus’ second day in town, he was walking to morning mass when he ran into Boleslav and had an argument with him. Boleslav hit him on the head with his sword, causing only a slight injury. Still, Wenceslaus did not stick up for himself because he did not want to fight his own brother. Boleslav ordered his retinue to kill Wenceslaus, which they did, September 28, either in 935 or 929, though contemporary historians tend to prefer 935. His remains are in the Saint Wenceslaus Chapel at Saint Vitus Cathedral of Prague Castle.

Wenceslaus was destined for sainthood immediately after his death. Although Wenceslaus was a duke during his lifetime, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I gave the pious Přemyslid the status of king posthumously. Even as far back as the 10th century, people revered Wenceslaus, who became the subject of many legends, including two of the first Old Slavonic tales. The late leader who excelled at riding horses is also a major player in the Kosmas Chronicle, the Gumpold Legend and the Vyšehrad Codex. The Dalimal Chronicle from the early 14th century recounts the legend of his life and death, too. A cult promoting Wenceslaus flourished by the second half of the 11th century and even spread to Russia. He is not only the symbol of the Czech state but also the only Czech saint whose name day appears on the worldwide Roman Catholic calendar.

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