Adalbert of Prague

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This article is about Adalbert of Prague. For other uses, see Adalbert (disambiguation).
Saint Adalbert of Prague
Adalbert of Prague.jpg
Martyr and Bishop
Born c. 956
Libice nad Cidlinou, Bohemia
Died April 23, 997 (41)
Truso (Elbląg) or Kaliningrad Oblast
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church Orthodox Church
Canonized 999, Rome by Sylwester II
Major shrine Gniezno, Prague
Feast April 23
Patronage Bohemia; Poland; Prussia

Adalbert of Prague (Czech: About this sound Vojtěch , Polish: Wojciech, c. 956 – April 23, 997), was a Czech Roman Catholic saint, a Bishop of Prague and a missionary who was martyred in his efforts to convert the Baltic Prussians. He evangelized Poles and Hungarians. Adalbert was later made the patron saint of Bohemia, Poland, Hungary and Prussia.

Life[edit]

Early years[edit]

Adalbert (named Vojtěch at birth) was born into a noble Czech family of Prince Slavník and his wife Střezislava in Libice nad Cidlinou, Bohemia. His father was a rich and independent ruler of the Zličan princedom that rivaled Prague (see Slavník's dynasty). Adalbert had five full brothers: Soběslav (Slavnik's heir), Spytimír, Pobraslav, Pořej, Čáslav and a half-brother Radim (Gaudentius) from his father's liaison with another woman. Radim chose a clerical career as did Adalbert, and took the name Gaudentius. Adalbert was a well-educated man, having studied for about ten years (970-80) in Magdeburg under Saint Adalbert of Magdeburg. Upon the death of his mentor, he took the name Adalbert.

Religious acts[edit]

In 980 Adalbert finished his studies at the Magdeburg school and returned to Prague, where he became a priest. In 981 his father, Prince Slavnik, and both his mentors died. In 982, still not yet 30 years old, Adalbert became the Bishop of Prague.[1] Although Adalbert descended from a rich family and could afford comfort and luxury, he lived poorly of his own free will. He was noted for charity, austerity, and zealous service to the Church. His duty was difficult even in baptized Bohemia, as the pagan creed was deeply embedded in the peoples' minds. Adalbert complained of polygamy and idolatry, which still were not unusual among the Czechs. He also strongly resented the participation of baptized Christians in the slave trade.

In 989 he resigned from his bishop's cloth and left Prague. He went to Rome and lived as a hermit in St. Alexis Benedictine monastery. Four years later, in 993, Pope John XV sent him back to Bohemia, and Adalbert became the bishop again. That time he founded a monastery in Břevnov, near Prague, the first one in the Czech lands. Nonetheless, the nobility there continued to oppose his ministry. Also, according to Cosmas of Prague's chronicle, high clerical office was a burden to Adalbert, and in 994 he offered it to Strachkvas who was a member of the Přemyslid dynasty and Duke Boleslav's brother. Strachkvas, nevertheless, refused.

In 995, the Slavniks' former rivalry with the Přemyslids (allied with the powerful Bohemian clan, the Vršovcis) resulted in the storming of the Slavnik town of Libice nad Cidlinou led by the Přemyslid Boleslaus II the Pious. During the struggle four (or five) of Adalbert's brothers were killed. Nonetheless, the Zličan princedom became part of the Přemyslids' estate.

After the tragedy he could not stay in Bohemia and escaped from Prague, despite the Pope's call for him to return to his episcopal see. Strachkvas was eventually appointed to be his successor. However, when he was going to assume the Bishop office in Prague, he suddenly died during the ceremony itself. Circumstances of his death are still unclear.

As for Adalbert, he went to Hungary and baptized Géza of Hungary and his son Stephen in the city of Esztergom. Then he went to Poland where he was cordially welcomed by Bolesław I the Brave. After the short visit Adalbert went to Prussia with a Christian mission.

Mission and martyrdom in Prussia[edit]

The execution of St. Adalbert by the pagan Prussians, Gniezno Doors panel

Adalbert of Prague had already in 977 entertained the idea of becoming a missionary in Prussia. After he had converted Hungary, he was sent by the Pope to convert the heathen Prussians.[2] Boleslaus the Brave, duke of Poland (later king), sent soldiers with Adalbert. The bishop and his followers - including his half-brother Radim (Gaudentius) - entered Prussian territory and went along the Baltic Sea coast to Gdańsk.

It was a standard procedure of Christian missionaries to try to chop down sacred oak trees, which they had done in many other places, including Saxony. Because the trees were worshipped and the spirits who were believed to inhabit the trees were feared for their powers, this was done to demonstrate to the non-Christians that no supernatural powers protected the trees from the Christians. (See: Iconoclasm)

When they did not heed warnings to stay away from the sacred oak groves, Adalbert was martyred in April 997 on the Baltic Sea coast east of Truso (currently Elbląg, Elbing), or near Tenkitten and Fischhausen (see external link map St. Albrecht). It is recorded that his body was bought back for its weight in gold by Boleslaus the Brave.

Veneration[edit]

Silver coffin of St. Wojciech, Cathedral in Gniezno

A few years later Adalbert was canonized as Saint Adalbert of Prague. His life has been written about in Vita Sancti Adalberti Pragensis by various writers, the earliest being traced to imperial Aachen and Liège/Lüttich's bishop Notger von Lüttich, although it was assumed for many years that the Roman monk John Canaparius wrote the first Vita in 999. Another famous biographer of Adalbert was Saint Bruno of Querfurt who wrote his hagiography in 1001–1004.

Notably, Bohemian rulers (i.e., Přemyslids) initially refused to ransom Saint Adalbert's body from the Prussians who murdered him, so it was purchased by Poles. This fact may be explained by Saint Adalbert's belonging to the Slavniks family; it highlights the strength of the two clans' conflict. Thus Saint Adalbert's bones were stored in Gniezno and helped Boleslaus the Brave to improve Poland's position in Europe.

St.Vojtěch and his brother Gaudentius (Radim) monument in Libice (Czech Republic)

According to Bohemian accounts, in 1039 the Bohemian duke Břetislav I looted the bones of Saint Adalbert from Gniezno in a raid and moved them to Prague. According to Polish accounts he took the wrong relics, those of St Gaudensius, while Saint Adalbert's relics were hidden by the Poles and remain in Gniezno.

Schädelreliquie Adalbert von Prag.jpg

In 1127 the severed head, which was not in the original purchase (according to Roczniki Polskie) was found and moved to Gniezno. In 1928, one of the arms of Saint Adalbert, which Bolesław I had given to Otto III in the year 1000, was added to the bones preserved in Gniezno. Today Saint Adalbert has two elaborate shrines claiming to contain his remains, in the cathedrals of Prague and Gniezno, and which bones are authentic is not clear. For example, the saint has two skulls - one in Prague, a second in Gniezno (stolen in 1923).

The massive bronze Gniezno Doors of Gniezno Cathedral, of about 1175, are decorated with 18 reliefs of scenes from the saint's life, the only Romanesque church doors in Europe to contain a cycle illustrating the life of a saint.

April 1997 was the thousandth anniversary of Saint Adalbert's martyrdom. It was commemorated in the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Russia and other countries. Representatives of Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Evangelical churches pilgrimaged to Gniezno, to the saint's tomb. John Paul II visited Gniezno and held a ceremonial divine service in which heads of seven European states and about a million believers took part.

In Kaliningrad Oblast, near Beregovoe village (former Tenkitten), where Adalbert's death hypothetically took place, a ten-meter cross was established.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ “Saint Adalbert of Prague”. Saints.SQPN.com. 1 May 2012. Web. {2012-9--20}. <http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-adalbert-of-prague
  2. ^ Monks of Ramsgate. “Adalbert”. Book of Saints, 1921. Saints.SQPN.com. 30 April 2012. Web. {2012-9-20}. <http://saints.sqpn.com/book-of-saints-adalbert
  • Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0-14-051312-4.

External links[edit]