St. Wenceslaus, King and Martyr

When we think of St. Wenceslaus we usually think of Christmas due to the Christmas Carol about him. But today is his feast day and we ought to reflect a bit on his life. In so doing remember to pray for all kings and rulers that they might be so faithful as was he. Here is an excerpt of his life from a popular history:

St. Wenceslaus was born about the year 907 at Prague, Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic. His father was killed in battle when he was young, and the kingdom came to be ruled by his pagan mother. But Wenceslaus was educated by his grandmother, St. Ludmilla and she taught him to be a Christian and to be a good king. She was killed by pagan nobles before she saw him king, but she left him with a deep commitment to the Christian faith.

In his years as a duke he was most kind to his subjects, and quite generous toward the poor.  He was known frequently to carry wood on his own shoulders to the houses of the needy. He often attended the funerals of the poor and ransomed captives. He was filled with a deep reverence for the Church and labored with his own hands to sow the wheat for making altar breads. He also pressed grapes for the wine used in the Mass. During winter he would visit the churches barefoot through snow and ice, frequently leaving behind bloody footprints.

Wenceslaus was eighteen years old when became king. He worked to convert his largely pagan country. He ended the persecution of Christians, built churches and brought back exiled priests. As king he gave an example of a devout life and of great Christian charity, with his people calling him “Good King” of Bohemia.

His brother Boleslaus, however, turned to paganism. One day he invited Wenceslaus to his house for a banquet. The next morning, on September 28, 929, as Wenceslaus was on the way to Mass, Boleslaus struck him down at the door of the church. Before he died, Wenceslaus forgave his brother and asked God’s mercy for his soul. Martyred at the age of twenty-two, St. Wenceslaus is the national hero and patron of the Czech Republic. He is the first Slav to be canonized.

It is a rare combination that those who have the reigns of world power are so turned to God. In an increasingly secular age such as ours we ought to pray through the intercession of St. Wenceslaus that God would move the hearts of the powerful to deep faith, hope and profound charity.

I want to ask you to look carefully at the Carol: Good King Wenceslaus. Look beyond the first verse. It is a little masterpiece of the English Language. Consider well its powerful message. In the verses is described the King who sees a poor man who has recently moved into the area. On the Feast of St. Stephen, (Dec 26), he wishes to welcome him and share with him a feast that he will provide. He enlists the help of one of his pages who accompanies him. Yet in a winter storm the page almost dies on the way. St. Wenceslaus, on fire with the love of God, is unaffected by the chill and bids his page to stay close. Because of the the fiery love the saint, the page is saved.

Isn’t that to be the life of the Christian? In a cold world that seeks to chill the hearts of others, we are to bring warmth and light. We are to radiate the fire of God’s love to all we meet and help them endure the deep winter of this world.

Please read all the verses of this beautiful carol and (according to me) small masterpiece of the English Language written by John Mason Neale and published in 1853. The video contains the music if you’d like to listen and read:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel 

“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

12 Replies to “St. Wenceslaus, King and Martyr”

  1. Thank you for the history lesson on the Good King Wenceslaus! I have always loved this song. Not only should we ask for the St. Wencelslaus to intercede for the powerful, but should ask him to intercede on behalf of all of us who live in such a blessed prosperity.

    St. Wencelslaus! Pray for me that God will create in me a generous heart full of love for the poor!

  2. I can’t help but be struck by the number of kings and queens who are saints, as opposed to presidents or prime ministers.

  3. Wonderful! Thank you. Fr. talked about St. Wencelslaus this morning as mass and made us all curious what he had to do with Christmas. Thank you for this wonderufl post!

  4. Translation of above from Prag i Tjeckien: “Now in the autumn, Prague is quite fantastic. Try to visit the Bone Church while you’re visiting Prague.” [Not that I could translate it. That is from Google Translate.]

    Thanks for great article. Will share this my children!

  5. Thank you. Very interesting to see the beginnings of the spread of Christianity into Eastern Europe.

  6. Thank you for this interesting and powerful teaching I have had from your post. I have always loved this song but did not know the background. Thanks for this historical lesson to know about what Kings and rulers could do to change their world. I pray for the intersession of St Wenceslaus for today’s rulers to rule with love and care and all of us to help the needy.

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