Czech History for your genealogy: Svatý Václav. Saint, Patron Saint, Duke of Bohemia, King, Statehood Day honoree, and more!
Happy St. Wenceslaus Day or to be more appropriate Šťastný svatý Vaclav.
If you have been to Czech Republic you undoubtedly have seen St. Wenceslaus in Prague in, naturally, St. Wenceslaus Square and in Prague Castle you can find the Chapel of St. Wenceslaus. You’ve seen him on Czech money and in cities, towns, and villages across Czech Republic. Oh and don’t forget, in Czech Wenceslaus is Václav!
Even if you have not been to Czech Republic, you most likely know him from the wonderful and popular Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslaus”.
But did you know the declaration of independence of the Czechoslovak Republic was read in front of the St. Wenceslaus statue, the day of his death is proclaimed not only St. Wenceslaus Day but since the year 2000 has also been celebrated as Statehood Day, which is a national holiday in Czech Republic?
As with any figure from as far back as his estimated birth year of ca. 907, there is much legend attached to this famous Czech as well as the ‘real’ man. But let’s look at what we know for sure.
First, he is and has been beloved by the Czech people for centuries. Born to Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia, he was a member of the mighty Přemyslid, Přemyslovci in Czech, dynasty. His mother was Drahomira. Wenceslaus lost his father at the age of 13 and took the throne, as Duke of Bohemia, at the age of 18. While his mother was a pagan, Wenceslaus was raised by his grandmother and became a Christian.
He was known as a just and wise leader, worked to convert Bohemia to Christianity, and advocated for the use of Latin and Slavic languages for the saying of Mass. He helped the Czech lands become an ally of Henry the Fowler, a Saxon king as well as making peace with the neighboring Germans. He was very popular among his people. Unfortunately, this popularity did not extend to his younger brother, Boleslav (known as Boleslav the Cruel) who plotted the murder of Wencslaus and saw it carried out on September 28, 935 (sometimes reported in earlier materials as the same date in 929). Wenceslaus was canonized after his death, posthumously named King of Bohemia, and his popularity did nothing but grow. Within just a few years of his death a cult of supporters began in Bohemia and in Briton and no less than four biographies (more accurately hagiographies) were written about Wenceslaus and these biographies, it is said gave rise to the concept of rex justus or ‘Righteous King’ in the High Middle Ages.
September 28th, the day of his death is his feast day, plus as noted above since 2000 is also Statehood Day in Czech Republic. St. Wenceslaus medals are given out to individuals who have contributed to Czech statehood, a wreath is laid at his statue, and there is a pilgrimage at Stara Boleslav, the site of his death. At times his purported skull is carried around by representatives of the Catholic Church. As a national holiday, St. Wenceslaus Day is celebrated with gusto in Czech Republic and if looking at a dead fellow’s skull is not your cup of tea, by one count there are 152 other special events for today scheduled in Prague alone!
So no matter where you are today, if you have Czech roots, be sure to raise a glass and toast the good king, Wenceslaus. Folks who don’t know better might think you are pushing Christmas a bit early, but you can simply smile and say Na Zdraví!