Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Saintly King

Magnet # 353:  Prague Waterfront

Material:  Wood

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

In Prague and throughout the rest of the Czech Republic, they're celebrating St. Wenceslas Day.  This is held every year on September 28, and honors Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia.  You've most likely heard of him before - he's the title character in the old Christmas Carol "Good King Wenceslas."  This day is also called Czech Statehood Day and is a public holiday throughout the nation.

Wenceslas was born in near Prague around the year 907.  By 915, his father Vratislaus I, had become ruler over Bohemia and Wenceslas was being raised by his maternal grandmother, a devout Christian who raised him in her faith.  While he lived with her, he came to love spending time outside, helping with the harvest and learning to prepare wine and bread.  But when his father died, trouble began for Wenceslas, who was only thirteen at the time.  His mother, Drahomira, a pagan who had converted to Christianity, became regent and set about restoring her faith and pressuring her son to follow her.  Conflict broke out between the Christians and pagans in the land and priests were persecuted and it's believed that Drahomira even had Wencelas' grandmother murdered out of jealousy.  Throughout this turmoil, he continued to worship in secret and sided with Christian nobles.  Together, they were able to take down Drahomira and send her into a short-lived exile.  At the age of eighteen, Wenceslas took the throne.  He restored the Christian faith to the land and became known for his acts of kindness to the poor, providing them with food, clothing, and shelter.  But the pagan nobles were not pleased with his rule, particularly when he swore allegiance to a Christian German monarch in the hopes of preventing a conquest.  They felt that Bohemia should have sovereignty and his pagan younger brother, Boleslav, turned this anger to his advantage, siding with those who had murdered his grandmother.  And when Wenceslas had a son, his brother became convinced he would never reign and plotted to kill the sovereign.  He invited him to a feast at his castle and although Wenceslas was warned that his live might be in danger, he trusted God to keep him safe.  Not only did he attend the feast, he also spent the night at Boleslav's castle.  When he awoke in the morning, he went to say his prayers at the chapel, only to be stabbed to death by his Boleslav's conspirators on the steps of the chapel.  Although he had only reigned for five years, he would remain beloved by the people of Bohemia for centuries.

Despite his violent, untimely death - or likely because of it - Wenceslas I has gone on to achieve almost a mythical status to his people not unlike that of King Arthur in England.  As he died a martyr, and there were miracles attributed to him, he soon was canonised as St. Wenceslas and went on to become the patron saint of Czechoslovakia.  And his feast day of September 28 has taken on a special meaning with the Czech people.  There are even legends told in his homeland that in the time of the Czech people's greatest need, he will come to lead an army against their enemies.  Some claim that he will come to life in the statue of him that is located in Prague's Wenceslas Square.  There are statues dedicated to him all over the Czech Republic, but the most unusual has got to be one that is located in Prague.  He's riding an upside down, dead horse that's hanging from the ceiling of a shopping complex.  The work is meant to be a parody, but it's odd that it's found in a country that so respects St. Wenceslas.  Interestingly, his grandmother who raised him in the Christian faith was also canonized not long after her murder and is known as St. Ludmilla and her feast day is September 16, just days before her grandson's. Both she and Wenceslas lived in tumultuous times, but they remained true to their faith, helping others and showing charity.  And all these years after their deaths, the pair are venerated in their homeland, and will likely be for many more to come.

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