Friday, September 26, 2008
St. Wencelas--Patron Saint of Czech Republic
I've been living here for almost two years, and still have so much to learn about the culture and so many new things to experience! There are many festivals and feast days celebrated during the year that I'm very unacquainted with due to my Protestant upbringing. This weekend, the Czech Republic will be celebrating two holidays on September 28th--Statehood Day and the feast day of St. Wenceslas. My husband and I are going to visit his mother this weekend and celebrate this very important feast day for Czech Catholics.
St. Wenceslas is the patron saint of the Czech Republic. He was born to Vratislav I, Duke of Bohemia (of the Premyslid line) and Drahomira (daughter of a pagan tribal chielf of the Havolans) sometime in the beginning of the 10th century--probably around the year 907. This was during the age when the Czech lands were in religious turmoil as there were still many pagans in the land, anda these were constantly fighting with the new Christian believers. St. Wenceslas was raised in the midst of this religious turmoil. After the death of his father, in 921, St. Wenceslas was raised by his grandmother, Ludmila. She raised him as a Christian and Wenceslas became a very strong believer. His mother, Drahomira, became angry at losing control of her son, and had Ludmila murdered, and later,Drahomira is said to have tried to turn her son back to pagan ways.
When I first heard of this story, it sounded more like a soap opera! But this is historical stuff...it is true and was the way Life was lived back in the Middle Ages. The store continues with St. Wenceslas becoming the ruler and ruling for only about fourteen years. During this time there was much political upheaval taking place in and around the Czech lands, as well as the religious turmoil between those of the pagan faiths and Christianity. In the year 935, Wenceslas' brother, Boleslav I, of Bohemia, began plotting to kil Wenceslas.
Boleslav was a paga, but he used Wenceslas' Christian beliefs to stage the murder. Boleslav invited Wenceslas to the feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian in the town of Stare Boleslav. It is said that Boleslav murdered Wenceslas on the way to church, or in the doorway of the church--depending on which version you think is most creditable. You can still see the spot where Wenceslas was murdered at the St. Wenceslas Basilica in Stare Boleslav. Wenceslas' remains were buried in St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. After Wenceslas' death, he was canonized and became a saint due to his martyr's death, and due to many miracles he is said to have performed after his death. His feast day is September 28th. Many began to make pilgrimages to the place of his death, and to his crypt in St. Vitus Cathedral.
Last year I first hear of this story near St. Wenceslas' feast day. Then, I saw on TV how the Czech's celebrate this day...and at first I was horrified! I don't know when this practice began...if someone could show me the information on the web I would be very interested in reading how this developed! Anyway, on TV, they showed a procession of priests carrying a glass box...in the box was a skull wearing a crown! I asked my husband what was going on, and he told me that on the feast day of St. Wenceslas, his skull s taken from the crypt at St. Vitus and is transported to Stare Boleslav where they process through the town with the skull! The procession ends at the church where St. Wenceslas was murdered. They have a special mass ther,e and then take the skull (crown and all) back to the city square, where another mass is celebrated. I had never heard of anything like this before! And I really didn't expect this in a country where so many people are self-professed atheists! But this is done every year. During communist times, however, the practice was not allowed. Since then, the procession and celebrations ahve taken place each year. You can view the slide show of the procession here.
I feel a bit sorry for poor Wenceslas...he doesn't get much rest with all that traveling about!
Well, that's all for today...you all have a great weekend!
Photo credit: firstname.lastname@example.org (c) 2007; www.staraboleslav.com
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