Thursday, September 28, 2006

Good King Wenceslas

Today is the feast of one of the best known Saints. Its true that many don't know him as a Saint of the Catholic Church, and probably even fewer know anything past the lyrics of the song.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia: www.newadvent.org
Duke, martyr, and patron of Bohemia, born probably 903; died at Alt-Bunzlau, 28 September, 935.

His parents were Duke Wratislaw, a Christian, and Dragomir, [his mother] a heathen. He received a good Christian education from his grandmother (St. Ludmilla) and at Budweis. After the death of Wratislaw, Dragomir, acting as regent, opposed Christianity, and Wenceslaus, being urged by the people, took the reins of government. He placed his duchy under the protection of Germany, introduced German priests, and favoured the Latin rite instead of the old Slavic, which had gone into disuse in many places for want of priests. Wenceslaus had taken the vow of virginity and was known for his virtues. The Emperor Otto I conferred on him the regal dignity and title. For religious and national motives, and at the instigation of Dragomir, Wenceslaus was murdered by his brother Boleslaw. The body, hacked to pieces, was buried at the place of murder, but three years later Boleslaw, having repented of his deed, ordered its translation to the Church of St. Vitus in Prague. The gathering of his relics is noted in the calendars on 27 June, their translation on 4 March; his feast is celebrated on 28 September.

And this from the Catholic Forum Patron Saint index:

At the death of Vratislaus, the people of Bohemia made his son Wencelsaus their king. He was by God's grace a man of utmost faith. He was charitable to the poor, and he would clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and offer hospitality to travelers according to the summons of the Gospel. He would not allow widows to be treated unjustly; he loved all his people, both rich and poor; he also provided for the servants of God, and he adorned many churches.

The men of Bohemia, however, became arrogant and prevailed upon Boleslaus, his younger brother. They told him, "Your brother Wenceslaus is conspiring with his mother and his men to kill you."

On the feasts of the dedication of the churches in various cities, Wenceslaus was in the habit of paying them a visit. One Sunday he entered the city of Boleslaus, on the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, and after hearing Mass, he planned to return to Prague. But Boleslaus, with his wicked plan in mind, detained him with the words, "Why are you leaving brother?"

The next morning when they rang the bell for matins, Wencelaus, on hearing the sound, said, "Praise to you, Lord; you have allowed me to live to this morning." And so he rose and went to matins. Immediately Boleslaus followed him to the church door. Wenceslaus looked back at him and said, "Brother, you were a good subject to me yesterday."

But the devil had already blocked the ears of Boleslaus, and perverted his heart. Drawing his sword, Boleslaus replied, "And now I intend to be a better one!" With these words, he struck his brother's head with his sword.

But Wenceslaus turned and said, "Brother, what are you trying to do?" And with that he seized Boleslaus and threw him to the ground. But one of Boleslaus' counselors ran up and stabbed Wenceslaus in the hand. With his hand wounded, he let go of his brother and took refuge in the church. But two evil men struck him down at the church door; and then another rushed up and ran him through with a sword. Thereupon, Wenceslaus died with the words, "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit."

from an old Slavic legend about Saint Wenceslaus


The song "Good King Wenceslas" is a nice tune about showing Christian charity to those in need at Christmas time (Feast of Stephen is December 26th). Also note that the lowly page and the king go together to feed the poor man, as Christ shows no partiality to our place in life. Both King and peasant are called to serve God and show love for mankind. Read all of the verses and you'll see the message is rather clear.


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 him 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 printedTherefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Interesting how the lyric author mentions St. Agnes fountain. St. Agnes is also a patron saint of Behomia, but live in the 1200s (whose brother was also a King Wenceslas, though a different one.) Clearly this is not an historic account, but a lesson in Christian charity.

Plus it makes me excited for Christmas in late September. Heck with the pumpkin, its time to put up the tree...

1 comment:

Chrissy Joy said...

now i have "good king wenceslas" going through my head!

"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton