“Mark my footsteps, good my page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shall find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”
By this, Wenceslaus both helps the poor peasant and teaches his page that by boldly doing God’s will, one will find the warmth and peace to go on. In other words, by walking in the path of God through self-sacrifice and abandonment to God’s will, one finds comfort and joy.
Though the exact facts that led to the song’s creation are lost to history, Wenceslaus was indeed beloved by his people and renowned in his day as a pious and generous noble.
He was actually a duke and was given the title of “king” posthumously by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I.
Wenceslaus was born less than a hundred years after Sts. Cyril and Methodius first brought Christianity to Bohemia and the Slavic lands. His father, Duke Wratislaw, was Catholic while his mother, Princess Dragomir, was a practicing pagan.
Educated in the faith by his grandmother, who also became a canonized saint, St. Ludmilla, Wenceslaus grew to become a defender and promoter of the Catholic faith.
After the death of his father, Wenceslaus, though still very young, was faced with a political and spiritual crisis. His mother turned on the Catholic Church, purging Catholics from public office, closing churches, and preventing all Christian preaching.
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While Wenceslaus could have chosen the path of less resistance and went along with his mother’s anti-Christian schemes, he chose to defy her and use his position to defend the Catholic faith.
The end result of the struggle was that Wenceslaus ruled one half of the realm, while his mother and brother, Boleslaus, who also hated the Catholic faith, ruled the other half.
Wenceslaus, who would have preferred to become a monk and not a duke, fortified himself in this struggle through fervent prayer, extreme asceticism, charitable service, and a vow of chastity. He is said to have built many churches throughout Bohemia and took extensive actions to care for the widowed, poor, and orphaned.
Meanwhile, his mother carried out a plot to kill Ludmilla, having her strangled in her private chapel. St. Ludmilla’s feast day is Sept. 16.
The Bohemian duke also faced the threat of invasion from abroad. When Prince Radislaus of Gurima demanded that Bohemia submit to his rule, Wenceslaus, seeking to avoid a war, challenged him to single combat. It is said that two angels appeared during the duel, deflecting the javelin thrown at Wenceslaus and immediately inspiring Radislaus to drop to his knees in surrender.
Just as his strict morals and Christian piety inspired the love of his subjects, it also further incited the hatred of his brother and some nobles who sought to subvert Wenceslaus’ rule.