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Bohemia 90210

Bohemia 90210

Move Over 90210 and Dawson’s Creek. St. Wenceslaus is a Real Teenage Drama—Only From 1,000 Years Ago

A teenager thrust into a position of power and popularity, a jealous brother, a supportive grandmother torn away from her grandchild, a mother plotting against her own son—is this the synopsis of the latest teen drama?

It has all the makings of a prime time teen soap opera, but Dawson’s Creek and Beverly Hills 90210 can’t hold a candle to the real-life drama of St. Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia, whose feast we celebrate Sept. 28.

Wenceslaus? Isn’t he the guy in the Christmas carol? That’s him all right. Turns out he wasn’t a king at all, but the Duke of Bohemia. When he was born in 903, Bohemia (part of Czechoslovakia) still struggled between Christianity and paganism. In fact, Wenceslaus grew up in a mixed home—dad was a Christian, mom a pagan. And like many kids in interfaith homes, Wenceslaus chose Christianity while his brother Boleslaus chose paganism.

All in the family: When his father died, Wenceslaus became duke, even though he was only 15 years old. That’s when the troubles began. His mom, Drahomira, took to the throne as regent and forbade Christianity. She even went so far as to murder Wenceslaus’ grandmother, Ludmilla, who had taught her grandson the Christian faith. After a few years, the people couldn’t bear Drahomira’s cruelty, and begged Wenceslaus to get rid of her.

He overthrew her and took the throne, but didn’t have her killed. That would have been un-Christian, right? Wenceslaus encouraged Christianity, demonstrated charity to the poor, built Churches and brought in German missionaries to the region.

Oh, brother!: Wenceslaus’ brother was jealous of his power and position, but figured that he’d be the next in line to rule Bohemia. But when Wenceslaus married, then had a son, Boleslaus saw his chances at succession ruined. Boleslaus, egged on by Drahomira, plotted to kill Wenceslaus. He assassinated him on the doorstep of a church, where the “good king” had been on his way to attend Mass. He was only 26.

But that’s all Old World stuff, right?: Right here in Michigan, you can visit St. Wenceslaus Church near Leland, on the Leelanau Peninsula. The church, which has been honored with a Michigan Historical Marker, was founded in 1890 by Bohemians who came to Michigan in the 1860s and ‘70s to work in the iron foundries and sawmills of the area.

What about that song?: The carol, “Good King Wenceslaus,” which tells of the saint’s generosity to the poor, was written by Anglican minister John Mason Neale in 1853. Although he never left England, Neale heard the story of Good King Wenceslaus from British soldiers returning from Eastern Europe and set the tale to music to teach children about the virtue of generosity.