Wenceslaus


wenceslas.jpg

Like a lot of saints, I know Wenceslaus from just scraps of information in popular culture. In this case, a Christmas carol that was one of my favorites growing up. It tells a good story of a man of wealth and privilege providing a feast for a poor peasant. It’s a good story and a lesson worth sharing the complete lyrics:

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, tho’ 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 them 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.

I also know that Wenceslaus is the patron saint of Prague, a place I’d much like to visit. But who was the real Wenceslaus? Apparently, the carol is not factually accurate and the song writer Neale used the name as much for meter as for tribue the real man. But Wenceslaus was good, a Prince of Bohemia who ruled with principles at the time of political unrest. For his troubles he was murdered on the way to church by a rival younger brother.

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