We know of good King Wenceslas primarily because he happened to look out his window “on the feast of Stephen, while the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.”

Actually, we aren’t even certain of that.

Wenceslas was born in Bohemia, in modern Czechoslovakia, in the early 900s. His father, the Czech ruler, Duke Ratislav, gave him a good education supervised by his grandmother, Ludmilla. Ludmilla, a devout woman, did a good job.

He became a king. When his father died, Wenceslas, seeing his mother mishandle affairs of state, stepped in and seized the reins of government. But he took control on his terms. From the beginning, King Wenceslas was a different sort of king. He sought good relations with surrounding nations, particularly with Germany. He took steps to reform the judicial system, reducing the number of death sentences and the arbitrary power of judges. He reportedly encouraged the building of churches. Most of all, he showed heartfelt concern for the poor of the realm. He cut firewood for orphans and widows, it is said, often carrying the provisions on his own shoulders through the snow—thus inspiring J. M. Neale’s Christmas carol.

Wenceslas’ brief reign ended suddenly. His brother Boleslav, pagan and rebellious, invited him to a banquet, then murdered him the next morning, September 28, 929, as he left for church. There is no direct evidence, apart from his virtuous reputation, that Wenceslas was a genuine Christian, for he left behind no written testimony. Much of our information about him comes from legend. But his people venerated him as a martyr, and today he is the patron saint of Czechoslovakia.

Therefore, Christian men be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil. (James 1:27)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Sept. 28.

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