We have all heard the carol of “Good King Wenceslaus,” but who was this man and what is the message of the carol?
Wenceslaus stands as an example for Christian values in the midst of the political intrigues which characterized 10th-century Bohemia.
Wenceslaus was born near Prague, son of the Duke of Bohemia. His saintly grandmother Ludmilla raised him and sought to promote him as ruler of Bohemia in place of his mother, who favored the anti-Christian factions. Ludmilla was eventually murdered, but rival Christian forces enabled Wenceslaus to assume leadership of the government.
His rule was marked by efforts toward unification within Bohemia, support of the church and peace-making negotiations with Germany, a policy which caused him trouble with the anti-Christian opposition.
His brother Boleslav joined in the plotting, and in September 929 invited Wenceslaus to Alt Bunglou for the celebration of the feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. On the way to Mass, Boleslav attacked his brother, and in the struggle Wenceslaus was killed by supporters of Boleslav.
Although his death resulted primarily from political upheaval, Wenceslaus was hailed as a martyr for the faith, and his tomb became a pilgrimage shrine. He is hailed as the patron of the Bohemian people and of the former Czechoslovakia.
In the carol, Wenceslaus sees a man collecting firewood in the snow and asks his page who he is. The page explains he is a poor soul who lives in the woods.
Feeling sorry for the man, the king orders firewood, meat and wine brought forward. He and the page set out to bring the provisions to the poor man’s hovel but the page complains of cold and lack of strength to carry on. Wenceslaus instructs the boy to follow in his footsteps, which warmed the soil wherever he trod. An act of charity always warms the heart.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini