Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia

Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia

Infobox Saint
name=Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia
birth_date=c. 907
death_date=September 28, 935
feast_day=September 28
venerated_in=Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church

caption=Statue of Saint Wenceslaus in Olomouc, Czech Republic
birth_place=Prague, Bohemia
death_place=Stará Boleslav, Bohemia
attributes=Crown, dagger, eagle on a banner
patronage=Bohemia, Czech Republic, Prague
major_shrine=St Vitus Cathedral, Prague

Saint Wenceslaus or Saint Wenceslas ( _cs. Václav) Audio-IPA|Cs-svaty Vaclav.ogg| [ˈva:tslaf] , (c. 907 – September 28, 935) was duke ("kníže") of Bohemia from 921 until his death. Wenceslas is best known in the English-speaking world as the subject of the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas."

He was the son of Vratislav I, Duke of Bohemia from the Přemyslid dynasty. His father was raised in a Christian milieu through his father, Bořivoj, who was converted by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, the "apostles to the Slavs". His mother Drahomíra was the daughter of a pagan tribal chief of Havolans and was baptized at the time of her marriage. Wenceslaus himself is venerated as Saint Wenceslaus and is the main patron saint of the Czech state.


In 921, when Wenceslaus was thirteen, his father died and he was brought up by his grandmother, Saint Ludmila, who raised him as a Christian. A dispute between the fervently Christian regent and her daughter-in-law drove Ludmila to seek sanctuary at Tetín castle near Beroun. Drahomíra, who was trying to garner support from the nobility, was furious about losing influence on her son and arranged to have Ludmila strangled at Tetín on September 15, 921.

According to some legends, having regained control of her son, Drahomíra set out to convert him to the old pagan religion. According to other legends she was herself a Christian. Very little is known about her rule.


In 924 or 925 Wenceslaus assumed government for himself and had Drahomíra exiled. After gaining the throne at the age of eighteen, he defeated a rebellious duke of Kouřim named Radslav. He also founded a rotunda consecrated to St Vitus at Prague Castle in Prague, which exists as present-day St Vitus Cathedral.

Early in 929 the joint forces of Arnulf of Bavaria and Henry I the Fowler reached Prague in a sudden attack, which forced Wenceslaus to pledge allegiance to the latter.Clarifyme|date=March 2008 This resulted in resuming the payment of a traditional tribute which was first imposed in 806. One of the possible reasons for the attack was the formation of the anti-Saxon alliance between Bohemia, Polabian Slavs and Magyars.


In September of 935 (in older sources 929) a group of nobles allied with Wenceslaus's younger brother, Boleslaus (Boleslav I of Bohemia), in a plot to kill the prince. After inviting his brother to the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Stará Boleslav, three of Boleslaus' companions--Tira, Čsta and Hněvsa--murdered him on his way to church. Boleslaus thus succeeded him as the Duke/Prince ("kníže") of Bohemia.

According to Cosmas's Chronicle, one of Boleslav's sons was born on the day of Wenceslaus's death, and because of the ominous circumstance of his birth the infant was named Strachkvas, which means "a dreadful feast".

A statue of Saint Wenceslaus and other patrons of The Czech Republic (St Adalbert/Vojtěch of Prague, St Ludmila, St Prokop and St Agnes "Czech") is located at Wenceslaus square in Prague.

There are discrepancies in the records regarding the date of St Wenceslaus's death. It has been argued that Wenceslaus's remains were transferred to St Vitus's Church in 932, ruling out the later date; however, the year 935 is now favored by historians as the date of his murder. [The St Joseph's Catholic Missal, c. 1962, gives the date of his death as 938]

There is a tradition which states that Saint Wenceslaus's loyal servant, Podevin, avenged his death by killing one of the chief conspirators. Podevin was executed by Boleslav.

Canonization and other memorials

After his death, Wenceslaus was canonized as a saint due to his martyr's death, as well as several purported miracles that occurred after his death. Wenceslaus is the patron saint of the Czech people and the Czech Republic. His feast day is September 28.

Since 2000, this day is a public holiday in the Czech Republic, celebrated as "Czech Statehood Day".

In his honor, a statue of Wenceslaus clad in armour on horseback stands in Prague's "Václavské Náměstí" (Wenceslaus Square). The sculptor was Josef Václav Myslbek. A memorable parody of this statue, created by David Černý, hangs in a Lucerna Palace gallery near the square.

He is also the patron saint of one of Chicago's most architecturally significant churches, St. Wenceslaus.

Wenceslaus in legend

There are many legends about King Wenceslaus. An old one claims a huge army of knights sleep inside Blaník, a mountain in the Czech Republic. The knights will wake and under the command of St. Wenceslaus will help the Motherland when it is in ultimate danger (see also King in the mountain legends).

There is a similar legend in Prague which says that when the Motherland is in danger or in its darkest times and close to ruin, the equestrian statue of King Wenceslaus in Wenceclaus Square will come to life, raise the army sleeping in Blaník, and upon crossing the Charles Bridge his horse will stumble and trip over a stone, revealing the legendary sword of Bruncvík. With this sword, King Wenceslaus will slay all the enemies of the Czechs, bringing peace and prosperity to the land.

He is the subject of the popular Boxing Day and Christmas Carol "Good King Wenceslas."

There is a 1994 television film entitled "Good King Wenceslaus" which is a highly fictional account of his early life. The film stars Jonathan Brandis in the title role, supported by Leo McKern, Stefanie Powers, and Joan Fontaine as Ludmila. [imdb title|0109919|Good King Wenceslas (1994)]

Wenceslaus is a major character in Ogden Nash's comic epic poem "The Christmas that Almost Wasn't," in which a boy awakens Wenceslaus and his knights to save a kingdom from usurpers who have outlawed Christmas. [Ogden Nash, "The Christmas that Almost Wasn't," Little, Brown and Company, 1957 OCLC|1211904]


* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15587b.htm Catholic Encyclopedia: "St. Wenceslaus"]
* [http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/saintw03.htm Patron Saints Index: "St. Wenceslaus"]
* [http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=592 Catholic Online: "St. Wenceslaus"]


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