the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of
Antioch, 1st c. A.D
Feast of St. Wenceslaus
The story of
"Good King Wenceslaus" -- known in his homeland as Václav -- is a story
of what we'd call now a "dysfunctional family." He paternal
grandparents were Bořivoj and St. Ludmilla, who were converted to the
Faith by Saints Cyril and Methodius. His father, Vratislaus, married
Drahomira, daughter of a pagan, but later baptized -- not that it did
her much good. Wenceslaus had a number of siblings, but among them was
Boleslaus who, for reasons we'll soon learn of, became known as "the
Cruel." A diagram to help you envision things:
Some more background: Though we speak of "Good King Wenceslaus," his
status as king was granted to him only after death. While he lived, he
was a Duke, and the area in which he lived was the Duchy of
Bohemia, or what is now known as the western part of the Czech
Republic. The first Duke of Bohemia was Bořivoj I, Wenceslaus's
paternal grandfather. The second Duke was Bořivoj's oldest son,
Spytihněv I, Wenceslaus's uncle. Then came Vratislaus I, Wenceslaus's
Wenceslaus's grandmother -- St. Ludmilla -- and Wenceslaus were very
close while he was growing up, and she made certain that he was raised
in the Faith. She also arranged
for him to attend, at a very young age, the college in Budeč where he
was taught not only Slavonic, but Latin, the Psalms, and all those
things that were considered fundamental to a well-rounded education at
When Wenceslaus was still a boy, his father died, and his grandmother
reigned in her son's stead. Her daughter-in-law -- Drahomira,
Wenceslaus's mother -- was so jealous of her power, and of her
influence over Wenceslaus that she sent two men to murder her. This
they did, strangling St. Ludmilla with her own veil (her relics can be
venerated in the Church of St. George in Prague, the historical capital
of Bohemia. Her feast is on September 16).
Upon his grandmother's death, Wenceslaus became the Duke. He placed
Bohemia under the protection of German princes, and brought into his
realm many Latin priests. He took a vow of virginity and excelled at
the virtues, becoming especially known for his charity. "He rendered
good unto all the needy, and fed and worked for the sake of the poor,
according to the teachings of the Gospel: He fed sick slaves, defended
widows, and had mercy upon all people, both the wanting and the
wealthy. And he adorned all the churches with gold, believed in God
with all his heart, and did all manner of good in his life."1
One tale expemplifying St. Wenceslaus's generosity is best told by John
Mason Neale,2 the Anglican priest who also told the story
against the music of a 13th-century spring carol Tempus adest floridum ("Springtime
has come"), thereby giving us the carol "Good King Wenceslaus," which
you can listen to on the page about the
Feast of St. Stephen:
Christmas-tide was drawing nigh. The Church was already far advanced in
Advent; and was now bidding her children to look forward to the coming
King. Winter had set in over Germany with unusual severity; hedges,
fields, and ways, were blotted out in the deep soft snow; the creaking
of the rude waggons was silent; the labourer was idle; the plough was
in the shed; the spade and mattock in the tool-house.
King Wenceslaus of Bohemia sat in his palace. He had been
watching, from the narrow window of the turret-chamber where he was,
the sunset, as its glory hung for a moment on the western clouds, and
then died away over the Erzgebirge, and the blue hills of Rabenstein.
Calm and cold was its brightness; the colours that but now were of ruby
and jasper, faded into purple, and were lost in grey; a freezing haze
came over the face of the earth; the short winter day was swallowed up
of night. But the crescent moon brightened towards the south-west; and
the leafless trees in the castle gardens, and the quaint turrets and
spires of the castle itself, threw clear dark shadows on the unspotted
Still the King gazed forth on the scene, for he had learnt to
draw lessons of wisdom from all these daily changes that we so little
regard; and he knew that God speaks to us by this beautiful world; he
was able, in a very true sense, thus to make the nights and days, the
summer and winter, to bless the Lord, and to praise Him and magnify Him
for ever. And so, in that sunset, he saw an emblem of our resurrection;
he felt that the night would come, the night in which no man could
work; but he knew also that the morning would follow, that morning
which shall have no evening.
The ground sloped down from the castle towards the forest.
Here and there on the side of the hill, a few bushes, gray with moss,
broke the unvaried sheet of white. And as the King turned his eyes in
that direction, a poor man—and the moonshine was bright enough to show
his misery and his rags— came up to these bushes, and seemed to pull
somewhat from them.
"Without there!" cried King Wenceslaus. "Who is in waiting!"
and one of the servants of the palace entered, and answered to the call.
"This way, good Otto," said the King. " You see that poor man
on the hill-side. Step down to him and learn who he is, and where he
dwells, and what he is doing; and bring me word again."
Otto went forth on his errand, and the King watched him down
the hill. Meantime the frost grew more and more intense ; the east wind
breathed from the bleak mountains of Gallicia; the snow became more
crisp, and the air more clear. Ten minutes sufficed to bring back the
"Well, and who is it?" inquired King Wenceslaus.
"My liege," said Otto, "it is Rudolph the swineherd, he that
lives down by the Brunweiss. Fire he has none, nor food neither: and he
was gathering a few sticks where he might find them, lest, as he says,
all his family perish with cold. It is a most bitter night, Sire."
"This should have been better looked to," said the King; "and
a grievous fault is it that it has not been. But it shall be amended
now. Go to the ewery, Otto, and fetch some provisions, of the best; and
then come forth, and meet me at the wood-stacks by S. Mary's Chapel."
"Is your Majesty going forth?" asked Otto.
"To the Brunweiss," said the King; "and you shall go with me;
wherefore be speedy."
"I pray you, Sire, do not go yourself. Let some of the
men-at-arms go forth. It is a freezing wind; and a league it is at
least to the place."
"Nevertheless," said Wenceslaus, " I go. Go with me, if you
will; if not, stay; I can carry the food myself."
"God forbid, Sire, that I should let you go alone. But I pray
you to be persuaded."
"Not in this," said Wenceslaus. "Meet me, then, where I said;
and not a word to anyone besides."
The noblemen of the court were in the hall, where a mighty
fire went roaring up the chimney, and the shadows played and danced on
the steep sides of the dark roof. Gaily they laughed, and lightly they
talked, and they bade fresh logs be thrown into the chimney-place; and
one said to another, that sp bitter a winter had never been known in
But in the midst of that freezing night, the King of Bohemia
went forth. He had put on nothing to shelter himself from the nipping
air; for he desired to feel with the poor, that he might feel for them.
On his shoulder he bore a heap of logs for the swineherd's fire; and
stepped briskly on, while Otto followed with the provisions. He, too,
had imitated his master, and went in his common garments; and over the
crisp snow, across fields, by lanes where the hedgetrees were heavy
with their white load, past the frozen pool, through the little copse,
where the wind made sweet melody in summer with the leaves, and rivers
of gold streamed in upon the ground, but now silent and ghastly — over
the stile where the rime clustered thick, by the road with its ruts of
mire, and so out upon the moor, where the snow lay yet more unbroken,
and the wind seemed to nip the very heart.
Still the King went on first: still the servant followed. The
Saint thought it but little to go forth into the frost and the
darkness, remembering Him Who came into the cold night of this world of
ours; he disdained not, a King, to go to the beggar, for the King of
Kings had visited slaves; he grudged not to carry the logs on his
shoulder, for the LORD of all things had carried the Cross for his
sake. But the servant, though he long held out with a good heart, at
each step lost courage and zeal. Then very shame came to his aid; he
would not do less than his master; he could not return to the court,
while the King held on his way alone. But when they came forth on the
white, bleak moor, his courage failed.
"My liege," he said, "I cannot go on. The wind freezes my
very blood. Pray you, let us return."
"Seems it so much?" asked the King. "Was not His journey from
Heaven a wearier and a colder way than this?"
Otto answered not.
"Follow me on still," said S. Wenceslaus. "Only tread in my
footsteps, and you will proceed more easily."
The servant knew that his master spoke not at random. He
carefully looked for the footsteps of the King: he set his own feet in
the print of his lord's feet.
And so great was the virtue of this Saint of the Most High,
such was the fire of love that was kindled in him, that, as he trod in
those steps, Otto gained life and heat. He felt not the wind; he heeded
not the frost; the footprints glowed as with a holy fire, and zealously
he followed the King on his errand of mercy.
You can download the text above in
pdf format to more easily print it and read it to your children --
whom, as I say on the page about St. Stephen's feast, I hope you tell
to think of King St. Wenceslaus when they see footprints in the snow!
Perhaps you can get them, when seeing snowprints, to consider how they
can be more
charitable to others -- and how others have been charitable with them,
helping them to develop a deep sense of
In spite of Wenceslaus's goodness, his brother, Boleslaus came to truly
earn his nickname of "the Cruel." On this day -- September 28 -- in
935, Boleslaus invited his
brother to the Church of SS. Cosmas and Damian in
Stará Boleslav, and when Wenceslaus arrived, three of his brother's
stabbed him. When the Saint was down, Boleslaus himself ran him through
with a lance.
The site of his assassination immediately became a place of pilgrimage, and St. Wenceslaus came to be
venerated all over Europe, being given the title "King" by Holy Roman
Emperer Otto the Great, who died in 973. In 1046, a new, Romanesque
basilica was built at the site of his murder, and great pilrgimrages
are made there to this day, especially around his feast. His relics,
though, can be venerated in the St. Wenceslas Chapel of the great
gothic St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague (his sword, later used in
coronations, can be seen there as well). Each year on his feast, his
skull is carried in a procession from
St. Vitus Cathedral to the place where he was martyred in Stará
Boleslav, twelve miles away. As his relics they make their way, church
bells peal all over the republic.
Wenceslaus Chapel of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague
Also at the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague is the "St.Wenceslaus Crown"
-- a crown made in 1346 by King Charles IV of Bohemia, and named for
our Saint. It was last used for the coronation of Ferdinand V in 1836
and, since then, has been kept in a secret room behind seven locks,
with the key for each lock being in the possession of seven different
people of very high status, two of them being the Archbishop of Prague
and the President of the Czech Republic. Legend says that anyone who
places the crown on his head unworthily will die within a year.
St. Wenceslaus is depicted in art with a crown, a dagger, and a banner
adorned by an eagle whose wings are set with little red flames.
And now the upshot of the story of Good King Wenceslaus: The daughter
of Wenceslaus's assassin brother -- a
woman named Doubravka of Bohemia -- married Mieszko I of Poland. And
she converted him to the Christian Faith. Mieszko, the very first ruler
of Poland, brought the citizens of his country along with him into the
Church -- and still
today, Poland, along with Hungary, remains one of the most faithful
countries on earth.
The gorgeous hymn "Svatý Václave" (Saint Wenceslaus) -- also known as
Wenceslaus Chorale" -- dates to the 12th century and is so revered in
the Czech Republic that it was once in consideration to become the
country's national anthem. It is perfect for the day (translation by
vévodo Ceské zeme
pros za ny Boha
Nebeské tot dvorstvo krásné
blaze tomu ktož tam pójde
vévodo Ceské zeme
pros za ny Boha
Pomoci tvé žádámy
smiluj se nad námi
odžen vše zlé
vévodo Ceské zeme
pros za ny Boha
Duke of Bohemia
pray to God for them
of the Holy Spirit
The heavenly court is beautiful
blessed is he who goes there
of the Holy Spirit
Duke of Bohemia
pray to God for them
of the Holy Spirit
We ask for your help
have mercy on us
comfort the sad
drive away all evil
Duke of Bohemia
pray to God for them
of the Holy Spirit
As to foods, how about Czech garlic soup, Czech roasted duck, Czech
potato dumplings or potato pancakes, and an appley dessert?
Česnečka (Garlic Soup)
2 tablespoons bacon fat or unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or beef stock, hot
2 large waxy potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp marjoram
3 cloves garlic, crushed, optional
Rye bread croutons *
Grated cheese (Emmental, Gruyere, or Camembert–rind removed)
In a medium saucepan, melt bacon fat or butter. Add onions and garlic
and cook until translucent. Add hot stock and bring to a boil. Add
potatoes, return to the boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes
are tender. Add and adjust seasonings and, for a stronger garlic taste,
cloves crushed garlic (not minced). Serve immediately with croutons and
grated cheese of choice. (The man who gave my this recipe says, "This
soup is said to be the number one
hangover cure in the Czech Republic.")
* To make rye bread croutons, cut 6 or so slices of light rye bread up
into crouton-sized bites, toss lightly with olive oil, and toast in
oven at 350oF for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring
occasionally, until golden brown and crispy.
Pecená kachna (Roast Duck)
1 (5-pound) duck, thoroughly cleaned
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Cut the wing tips off of the duck and remove any excess fatty skin
around the neck and from the cavity. If the duck is right out of the
refrigerator, let sit about 2 hours to come to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Pierce the duck fat all over with a fork,
but do not pierce the meat.
Liberally salt the exterior and interior of the duck, rub with the
chopped garlic, and sprinkle with the caraway seeds.
Place the duck breast-side down on a rack in a roasting pan with a lid.
Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom of the roasting pan.
Cover the pan and roast the duck for 1 hour, checking every so often to
skim off the excess fat.
Turn the duck breast-side up and continue to roast, uncovered, for
another hour, basting often, or until an instant-read thermometer
inserted into the thigh registers 150oF and the skin is
Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes before carving.
Serve with braised cabbage and potato dumplings.
Tip: to ensure extra-crispy skin, unwrap the raw duck and leave it in
the refrigerator for 24 hours. This will help the skin dry out and
crisp up when roasted.
2 cups mashed potatoes, cooled, unseasoned (about 2 large russets)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, or more if needed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons fine dry breadcrumbs
In a large bowl, thoroughly combine mashed potatoes, eggs and salt. Add
enough flour to form a stiff dough. It will be a little sticky. Place a
large saucepan of water on to boil. Meanwhile, with floured hands,
shape the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Cook 10 dumplings at a time by
dropping into the boiling water. Return the water to a boil and boil
gently for about 12 minutes or until dumplings rise to the surface and
test done when pulled apart with two forks. Drain in a colander or on a
clean kitchen towel.
Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, combine butter with breadcrumbs and
cook until golden brown and crisp. Roll dumplings in this mixture and
serve immediately. Note: Instead of coating the dumplings in buttered
breadcrumbs, they can be placed in a roasting pan and glazed with meat
drippings from a roasted duck, or a pork, beef, lamb or veal roast.
Bramboráky (Potato Pancakes)
2 lbs potatoes
5 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup milk, heated up
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tbsp marjoram
Salt & pepper
1 tsp caraway seeds
Grate the raw potatoes and put them in a mixing bowl. Pour
the hot milk
over the potatoes and mix. Add garlic, flour, eggs, marjoram,
caraway seeds, and salt. Stir well to combine (the batter will be
semi-liquid) .Melt the lard in a pan on medium heat and scoop the
mixture onto the pan. Fry until the pancakes are golden brown on both
sides. Before serving, drain the pancakes of excess grease with a paper
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup milk
5 medium apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin, and tossed with lemon juice
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup walnuts, chopped coarsely
1 teaspoon cinnamon ground
4 egg whites
1/2 cup coarse sugar
You'll also need:
Butter and flour to prepare jelly roll pan
Powdered sugar to dust the baked apple slice
Butter and flour a jelly roll pan. Preheat the oven to 3400F.
Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg yolks, one at a time.
Separately, mix flour and baking powder, then add that to the creamed
mixture. Add the milk and work into a soft, smooth dough.
Separate a third of the dough, wrap it in plastic, and place it in the
freezer until it gets hard enough to grate.
Press the remaining dough into a thin layer on the bottom of the
prepared jelly roll pan.
Toss the apples with the cinnamon, 2 TBSP sugar, and walnuts together.
Spread the apples over the dough.
Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Whisk in a tablespoon of wine
vinegar. Carefully spread this meringue over the apple layer.
Take the remaining third of the dough out of the freezer and grate it
coarsely with a cheese grater over the meringue so the little bits of
dough dot the meringue which should still be visible underneath
them. Bake for 45 minutes at 340oF.
From a Homily by Pope Benedict XVI during
an Apostolic Visit to the Czech Republic Monday, 28 September 2009
This morning, we are gathered around the altar for the glorious
commemoration of the martyr Saint Wenceslaus, whose relics I was able
to venerate before Mass in the Basilica dedicated to him. He shed his
blood in your land, and his eagle, which – as the Cardinal Archbishop
has just mentioned – you chose as a symbol for this visit, constitutes
the historical emblem of the noble Czech nation. This great saint, whom
you are pleased to call the “eternal” Prince of the Czechs, invites us
always to follow Christ faithfully, he invites us to be holy. He
himself is a model of holiness for all people, especially the leaders
of communities and peoples. Yet we ask ourselves: in our day, is
holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and
unimportant? Do we not place more value today on worldly success and
glory? Yet how long does earthly success last, and what value does it
The last century – as this land of yours can bear witness – saw the
fall of a number of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost
unattainable heights. Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their
power. Those who denied and continue to deny God, and in consequence
have no respect for man, appear to have a comfortable life and to be
materially successful. Yet one need only scratch the surface to realize
how sad and unfulfilled these people are. Only those who maintain in
their hearts a holy “fear of God” can also put their trust in man and
spend their lives building a more just and fraternal world. Today there
is a need for believers with credibility, who are ready to spread in
every area of society the Christian principles and ideals by which
their action is inspired. This is holiness, the universal vocation of
all the baptized, which motivates people to carry out their duty with
fidelity and courage, looking not to their own selfish interests but to
the common good, seeking God’s will at every moment.
In the Gospel we heard Jesus speaking clearly on this subject: “What
will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his
life?” (Mt 16:26). In this way we are led to consider that the true
value of human life is measured not merely in terms of material goods
and transient interests, because it is not material goods that quench
the profound thirst for meaning and happiness in the heart of every
person. This is why Jesus does not hesitate to propose to his disciples
the “narrow” path of holiness: “whoever loses his life for my sake will
find it” (16:25). And he resolutely repeats to us this morning: “If any
man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and
follow me” (16:24). Without doubt, this is hard language, difficult to
accept and put into practice, but the testimony of the saints assures
us that it is possible for all who trust and entrust themselves to
Christ. Their example encourages those who call themselves Christian to
be credible, that is, consistent with the principles and the faith that
they profess. It is not enough to appear good and honest: one must
truly be so. And the good and honest person is one who does not obscure
God’s light with his own ego, does not put himself forward, but allows
God to shine through.
This is the lesson we can learn from Saint Wenceslaus, who had the
courage to prefer the kingdom of heaven to the enticement of worldly
power. His gaze never moved away from Jesus Christ, who suffered for
us, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps, as Saint
Peter writes in the second reading that we just heard. As an obedient
disciple of the Lord, the young prince Wenceslaus remained faithful to
the Gospel teachings he had learned from his saintly grandmother, the
martyr Ludmila. In observing these, even before committing himself to
build peaceful relations within his lands and with neighbouring
countries, he took steps to spread the Christian faith, summoning
priests and building churches. In the first Old Slavonic “narration”,
we read that “he assisted God’s ministers and he also adorned many
churches” and that “he was benevolent to the poor, clothed the naked,
gave food to the hungry, welcomed pilgrims, just as the Gospel enjoins.
He did not allow injustice to be done to widows, he loved all people,
whether poor or rich”. He learned from the Lord to be “merciful and
gracious” (Responsorial Psalm), and animated by the Gospel spirit he
was even able to pardon his brother who tried to kill him. Rightly,
then, you invoke him as the “heir” of your nation, and in a well-known
song, you ask him not to let it perish.
Wenceslaus died as a martyr for Christ. It is interesting to note that,
by killing him, his brother Boleslaus succeeded in taking possession of
the throne of Prague, but the crown placed on the heads of his
successors did not bear his name. Rather, it bears the name of
Wenceslaus, as a testimony that “the throne of the king who judges the
poor in truth will remain firm for ever” (cf. today’s Office of
Readings). This fact is judged as a miraculous intervention by God, who
does not abandon his faithful: “the conquered innocent defeated the
cruel conqueror just as Christ did on the cross” (cf. The Legend of
Saint Wenceslaus), and the blood of the martyr did not cry out for
hatred or revenge, but rather for pardon and peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, together let us give thanks to the Lord in
this Eucharist for giving this saintly ruler to your country and to the
Church. Let us also pray that, like him, we too may walk along the path
of holiness. It is certainly difficult, since faith is always exposed
to multiple challenges, but when we allow ourselves to be drawn towards
God who is Truth, the path becomes decisive, because we experience the
power of his love. May the intercession of Saint Wenceslaus and of the
other patron saints of the Czech Lands obtain this grace for us. May we
always be protected and assisted by Mary, Queen of Peace and Mother of
1 From a translation of the Vladislav Grammaticus manuscript
(dated 1469), made by Marvin Kantor
2 "Deeds of Faith" by John Mason Neale.
London: J. And C.