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St. Wenceslaus and Podiven, his assistant

St. Wenceslaus and Podiven, his assistant by Lewis Williams, OFS

Artwork Narrative:

St. Wenceslaus (b.903AD - d.979AD) was declared ruler of Bohemia (Czech Republic) after a coup. Later, his brother Bolelaus was angered that he was superseded as heir to the throne when Wenceslaus begat a son. He responded by murdering his brother at the door of a church September 28, 979 and gained the throne. Wenceslaus asked forgiveness of his brother as his dying wish.

The patron saint of Bohemia, as well as the “Good King Wenceslaus” of Christmas carol fame, Podiven served as his ‘page’, mentioned at the start of that carols’ second verse. Podiven is noted to be the most trustworthy of all his valets. Boleslaus later had him killed to end his spreading stories of the saintly Wenceslaus. His body remained incorrupt despite being hung outdoors on a gibbet for three years.

Wenceslaus was extremely generous. Nightly he made rounds to accomplish charitable work with Podiven at his side. In this icon the snowstorm is representative of the miracle story of the ‘warm footprints in the snow.’ On this night, Podiven complained that he could go no further on his frozen, bare feet. Wenceslaus asked that he trod in his footsteps and his feet warmed immediately.

This icon is dedicated to the memory of Fr. Larry Craig (d.06.10.06) whose countenance served as the model for Podiven. He was known in the Chicago area for his dedication to the Latino community, and his prison ministry. He would stand outside the Cook County Jail through the night, passing out sandwiches and bus passes to surprised inmates who had just been released. In a way, he did Podiven’s work, walking in warm footprints.

His feast day is September 28.

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Wencelsaus was the Duke of Bohemia and grandson and student of Saint Ludmilla. He ascended to power when his father was killed during a pagan backlash against Christianity, which he fought against with prayer and patience. He was murdered by his brother Boleslaus at the door of a church; killed for political reasons, but normally listed as a martyr since the politics arose from his faith. Miracles are reported at his tomb.

Born: 907 at Prague, Bohemia (Czech Republic)

Died: Martyred September 28, 929 at Stara Boleslaw

Readings:

At the death of Vratislaus, the people of Bohemia made his son Wencelsaus their king. He was by God's grace a man of utmost faith. He was charitable to the poor, and he would clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and offer hospitality to travelers according to the summons of the Gospel. He would not allow widows to be treated unjustly; he loved all his people, both rich and poor; he also provided for the servants of God, and he adorned many churches.

The men of Bohemia, however, became arrogant and prevailed upon Boleslaus, his younger brother. They told him, "Your brother Wenceslaus is conspiring with his mother and his men to kill you."

On the feasts of the dedication of the churches in various cities, Wenceslaus was in the habit of paying them a visit. One Sunday he entered the city of Boleslaus, on the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, and after hearing Mass, he planned to return to Prague. But Boleslaus, with his wicked plan in mind, detained him with the words, "Why are you leaving brother?"

The next morning when they rang the bell for matins, Wencelaus, on hearing the sound, said, "Praise to you, Lord; you have allowed me to live to this morning." And so he rose and went to matins. Immediately Boleslaus followed him to the church door. Wenceslaus looked back at him and said, "Brother, you were a good subject to me yesterday."

But the devil had already blocked the ears of Boleslaus, and perverted his heart. Drawing his sword, Boleslaus replied, "And now I intend to be a better one!" With these words, he struck his brother's head with his sword.

But Wenceslaus turned and said, "Brother, what are you trying to do?" And with that he seized Boleslaus and threw him to the ground. But one of Boleslaus' counselors ran up and stabbed Wenceslaus in the hand. With his hand wounded, he let go of his brother and took refuge in the church. But two evil men struck him down at the church door; and then another rushed up and ran him through with a sword. Thereupon, Wenceslaus died with the words, "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit."

—Excerpts from an old Slavic legend about Saint Wenceslaus