The triumphant success of Christianity in Europe was well advanced during the 10th century. However, the sweeping consequences of Christianisation still remain for the most part unknown to this day. The seemingly purely religious position of a dynasty, actually led their way into far-reaching and profane conflicts: it was inevitably only about power, influence and subjugation.
Saint Wenzel is a prime example for the atrocities incurred following Christianisation in the small principalities of Bohemia at this time. His importance still remains unshaken today.
Wenzel of Bohemia was born the eldest son of Wratislav 1. and his wife Drahomira in 908. His father was a Christian: his mother on the other hand had never been baptized, like most of the population in princedoms.
Upon the death of Wratislav 1: in 921, his wife, Drahomira took over the government for the yet underage Wenzel. Wenzel was handed over to his Christian grandmother, Ludmilla and subsequently raised. Of course in this constellation lay a huge potential for conflict: Christianity represented a loss of power for Drahomira because it would weaken the autonomy of the small princedoms that would be forced to comply with the king in Rome. In order to demonstrate her power and make an example for the Bohemian Christians, Drahomira took a drastic measure: she had her mother-in-law, Ludmilla killed and sold all the missionaries, thereby eliminating every outside influence of a Christian monarchy on the princedom.
This all changed when Wenzel came to power in 925. He strove for a return of the missionary and set Christianity firmly in place with the construction of the so-called St. Veits.Rotunde – which today forms the foundation walls of the well-known St. Veits-Dom – a revealing indication for things to come. Wenzels goal was the implantation of Christianity as the state religion in his governmental domain.
With his religious endeavours, the young prince had thwarted his mother’s schemes. Next on the scene came the younger brother of Wenzel, Boleslaw: he also stood in suspicious opposition to this new religion. Furthermore, he wished to take the place of his brother as ruler and so he and Drahomira forged a murderous plot: under the false pretence of a family meeting, Wenzel was lured away from Prague where he was untouchable to Altbuzlau. On the way to Morning Prayer, Wenzel was killed in a battle by his brother and followers on the 28th of September in either 929 or 935. Boleslaw now had what he wanted. However, he couldn’t maintain the autonomy of his territory indefinitely. He had managed to enlarge and strengthen the position of Bohemia but he was forced to subjugate to Otto 1. in 950 and therefore was unable to up stand his much sought after autonomy for the small princedoms.
Boleslaw’s brother Wenzel had an exceptional reputation as a Christian during his lifetime. Thus his gravesite was established in Pilgerstätte and shortly following his death he would be honoured as a saint; it is said that miracles and healings were performed at his gravesite. Since this time, the adoration of Wenzel has remained unbroken; Wenzelsplatz in Prague has been used for special occasions and demonstrations throughout history, also during the famous “Samtenen Revolution” of 1989. Today, the 28th of September is the official holiday of Saint Wenzel.
The legend of Saint Wenzel portrays him as the role model Christian: he allowed for the baptism of children, provided the opportunity for a Christian upbringing, established soup kitchens, and the release of imprisoned witnesses in charity’s name. His close proximity to god was demonstrated throughout his life by his ability to heal the sick. Historically documented military victories were justified by the appearance of angels. Wenzel abstained from the subjugation of his adversaries. He saw the true victory in the conversion of opponents to Christianity.
In 1585, Matthias Hutsky, the master painter of Prag, bestowed this manuscript upon his benefactor and patron, Ferdinand II. from Tyrol. The extremely colourful decorated coat of arms of Erzherzogs greets one at the beginning of the manuscript on folio 1. Next follows a 2-sided hand-written dedication to his patron.
A historical description of the life of Wenzel precedes the legend and accompanying miniatures.
The legend of the saint is reproduced on 23 pages: a linked chain of gold form each border frame in which the text and pictures are intimately connected to each other. The artist not only designed the paintings in the book but also wrote the commentary for the manuscript.