There really was a King (or Duke) Wenceslas—though his life is shrouded in history and legend.
He lived from 907-929 AD in what was known as Bohemia and is now the Czech Republic.
It was a dark and violent time. Most people still worshiped a variety of tribal pagan gods. Many of the nobles in Bohemia were opposed to what was a new religion to them – Christianity.
Wenceslas was raised by his grandmother who was a Christian. Legend has it that Wenceslas’ mother, a pagan, had his grandmother strangled.
Wenceslas became a ruler in Bohemia when he was 18. He was known as a kind, just and wise ruler.
He remembered the faith his grandmother had taught him.
He built churches, brought back exiled priests, enacted laws to protect the poor and passed laws with severe consequences for violent crimes in an attempt to curb the terrible violence of the time.
The poor and common folk of Bohemia loved their Good King Wenceslas.
The nobles, who had grown wealthy from exploiting the poor and who enjoyed their violent ways, were not pleased with his new rule.
On the side of the nobles was Wenceslas’ brother. His brother invited him to a religious festival. Although he was warned against it, Wenceslas accepted and on the way to the church, his brother ambushed him and murdered him.
It is said that as he died he said, “My brother, may God forgive you.”
Today on the Feast of St. Stephen, we are reminded that the cross is never far from the manger. But even when the messenger is killed, the message is not.
The world is a better place because St. Stephen was here and King Wenceslas and all the saints and martyrs God has sent to enlighten our darkness until we join with all the saints in the place where grief and sorrow is no more.
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 printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing!