Archive for Monday, December 15, 2014

True story behind fictional Christmas song still inspirational

December 15, 2014

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Good King Wenceslaus,” and I certainly enjoy the story it tells.

To me, it conjures up a vision of a large, benevolent, concerned king who saves a poor man from freezing. The king tromps through deep snow, and the poor man follows in his footsteps reaching safety. While not about the birth of Jesus, it is a great tale of kindness and service to others.

While Wenceslaus, from what I read, had some outstanding accomplishments in his life he probably never led a “poor man seeking winter fuel” to safety. I decided to do a bit of research on Wenceslaus and found some interesting stories, and again, most of them are probably exaggerations. But beyond that, he was a good man who was murdered in the prime of his life.

First, he wasn’t a king but was the Duke of Bohemia who lived in a time of war, turmoil and internal treachery. He was probably born in 907 A.D. and was murdered on Sept. 28, 935 A.D. It isn’t surprising that he was murdered since he came from a violent family. In fact, his mother had his grandmother strangled in a power struggle over control of government and religion.

After Wenceslaus’ father died he was taken to live with his grandmother. This meant his mother would lose control over her son and, ultimately, the government. His mother was later murdered.

Wenceslaus took control of the government when he was about 18 and proved to be a good military leader. He was able to forge an alliance with surrounding governments, which probably angered his brother, Boselav, who conspired to have him murdered on his way to church.

From what I could find Wenceslaus was a good and kind man. He secretly provided support to the needy. He was a well-educated man who spent some of his youth in England. Obviously he was well liked by his subjects because immediately after his death, there were glowing biographies written crediting him with many miracles. He became the patron saint of the downtrodden and was canonized a couple of centuries later.

Books about his life became some of the most influential early literature. Within a short time following his murder four biographies were written. The biographies often conflict but what emerges is a picture of a heroic and kind leader who was struck down in a treacherous attack. He was an instant martyr and soon was a bigger than life person.

He is now the patron saint of the Czech Republic, and Wenceslaus Square is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Prague and has millions of visitors annually. By the way, I found out that the feast of Stephen is on Dec. 26.

We probably would never have heard much about Wenceslaus had it not been for the popular carol written in 1853 by James Mason Neal along with music editor Thomas Helmore. One of the reasons for the carol’s popularity may be its catchy tune. The music was based on a 13th century carol “Tempus adest Floridum.”

Reading about Wenceslas certainly impressed me. It seems there is a lot we can learn from his example. Apparently he was a man who cared about his country and went out of his way to help the poor and downtrodden. He died for what he believed was the best for Bohemia. Despite the exaggerated stories, Wenceslas is a man who is an excellent role model. We can all benefit from his example of kindness and courage.

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