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Saint Wenceslaus

The saint whose name is well-known to us from the 'Good King Wenceslaus' carol was not in fact a duke!

His grandparents had been devout converts, the first Christian rulers of Bohemia, but many of their subjects were hostile to this new religion and clung to the old ways. Their son married a pagan princess and in due course there were two sons but from an early age they were separated. Their grandmother, Ludmilla, took charge of Wenceslaus, born around 910 and saw to it that he was taught to love the Catholic faith. Boleslaw, however, was brought up by his mother who had nothing but contempt for the Christian religion.

While Wenceslaus was still quite young his father died. His mother immediately took control of the government and did all she could to eradicate Christianity. She ordered the closure of churches and forbade priests to teach religion to children. Wherever Christians held public office she removed them and replaced them with pagans. Ludmilla was distressed to see this attack on the church which she and her husband had tried so hard to establish and encouraged her grandson Wenceslaus to take up his rightful place as Duke.

He became a just and courageous ruler, and in spite of some opposition he did his best to promote the Christian faith. With Ludmilla’s guidance he appointed Christian ministers and directed all his efforts to maintaining peace and justice in the land. His mother, angry at the influence of Ludmilla, had her strangled.

Wenceslaus and his brother Boleslaw agreed to divide the territory of Bohemia between them in an attempt to avoid disputes. But Boleslaw was envious of his brother and with his mother's support he formed an alliance with some of the Bohemian nobility who resented the growing power of the church. On 28 September 935 Boleslaw invited his brother to a feast, after which Wenceslaus went into the church to make his usual night prayers. Boleslaw, urged on by his mother, followed him with some servants and stabbed the young Duke to death.

Wenceslaus was quickly acclaimed as a martyr and many miracles occurred at his tomb. This frightened Boleslaw who repented of his crime and arranged for the saint's body to be reburied in Prague where it is still a pilgrimage shrine. Bohemia is now the Czech Republic and Wenceslaus is its patron saint.

Whether the story told in the Christmas carol is fact or legend we have no way of knowing but such an act of charity seems characteristic of St, Wenceslaus. He loved his people. He loved the Mass, too, and the Blessed Sacrament. He was a man who both lived and ruled by his Catholic faith.

His life and death remind us that there is nothing new under the sun. If there is conflict in our family today we can pray to St. Wenceslaus to help us to bring about a healing in our relationships. We can also learn from the life of this saint the important role of grandmothers in a family: Ludmilla played a great part in guiding and influencing her grandson and strengthening him in his faith. The greatest grace we can ask of St. Wenceslaus is to give us a share of his ardent love and devotion for the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament. It is here that we will find all the inspiration, help and satisfaction we need in our lives.

Saint Wenceslaus … pray for us and for the people of Czech Republic.