"Good King Wenceslaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen, When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even..." This carol is probably all that most of us know about St. Wenceslaus (also spelled Wenceslas) who lived from about 907 to 935. He is the patron saint of Bohemia, or the Czech Republic as it is called today. He is an early example of rex justus, a just king. His feast day is September 28 and remains a national holiday in the Czech Republic.
When I think of Wenceslaus now, I don't think only of Christmas and carols, but of Cain and Abel, for "good king" Wenceslaus was murdered out of jealously by his brother.
Wenceslaus became a Christian duke (later posthumously given the title of king) when Bohemia was still in the middle of converting to Christianity. Wenceslaus' father, Vratislaus, was a Christian. His mother Dragomir, was a pagan who had accepted baptism as part of the marriage agreement with Vratislaus. Based on Dragomir's persecution of the Church to come, she put no credence in the sacrament.
Wenceslaus also had a paternal grandmother, St. Ludmila, who was praying for him and who educated him in the faith. After Vratislaus died, the young teenage Wenceslaus looked to his grandmother for spiritual formation. Dragomir became regent in her son's name until he would be old enough to rule in his own right. Newly empowered Dragomir sought to convert Wenceslaus back to the old pagan religion. St. Ludmila fled with the boy to a Christian castle named Tetin and refused to return Wenceslaus to his mother under such circumstances. Dragomir sent her agents to strangle St. Ludmila which they succeeded in doing. She also banished priests from the realm.
Wenceslaus had fully internalized his own beliefs as a Christian. The nobility saw Dragomir as a danger and so promoted the idea that Wenceslaus should rule earlier than was customary. When Wenceslaus ascended to the ducal throne, he protected the priests and the churches.
As the stained glass depicts, Wenceslaus is said to have lived a pious life, giving food and alms to the poor, visited prisoners and educated the people in the faith. He also had a reputation of ruling justly according to Church teachings. Wenceslaus also faced invasion by his neighbors and saved many lives by paying a tribute instead of fighting further. This was no easy feat and required a great deal of diplomacy including gaining the neutrality of his own mother so that he could rule unfettered.
Dragomir's second son, Boleslaus (or Boleslav) was more influenced by her. He wanted to be Duke. Wenceslaus was on his way to celebrate Mass in the early autumn when Boleslaus hit him. A struggle ensued, but Boleslaus' companions joined in and mortally wounded Wenceslaus. It is said that Wenceslaus' dying words were that he forgave his brother.
Wenceslaus is considered a martyr immediately. He was remembered for being a good king. Although only a duke in title, the legends and rumors of his piety quickly spread. Later, the German Emperor promoted Wenceslaus to King because of these deeds, although Wenceslaus had long since died. His piety and miracles attributed to his intervention as well as the steady course towards Christianity that Wenceslaus put Bohemia on, led to his canonization in the 1400s.
St. Wenceslaus, pray for us.
Glavich, Kathleen. "Saints and Feast Days [Tapa Blanda]." Saints and Feast Days: Amazon.es: Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon Ohio, Kathleen Glavich: Libros En Idiomas Extranjeros. Loyola Press, 1985. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.
Mausolfe, A. J. M., and J. K. Mausolfe. Saint Companions for Each Day. Mumbai: St. Pauls, 2002. Print.