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
Venerated 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.


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. When, as a child, he survived a serious illness, his parents decided to dedicate their son to God.[1] Adalbert was a well-educated man, having studied for about ten years (970-80) in Magdeburg under Saint Adalbert of Magdeburg. [2] The boy took his name at confirmation.

Bishop of Prague[edit]

In 981 Adalbert of Magdeburg died, and young Adalbert returned to Bohemia. Two years later Bishop Deitmar of Prague ordained him priest. Only months later, Bishop Deitmar died, and Adalbert, at the age of twenty-seven, was chosen to succeed him as Bishop of Prague.[2] Although Adalbert was from a wealthy family, he avoided comfort and luxury, and was noted for his charity, and austerity. After six years of prayer and preaching, he made little headway against the Bohemians' deeply embedded pagan beliefs. Adalbert opposed the participation of Christians in the slave trade, and complained of polygamy and idolatry, common among the people.

Adalbert unsuccessfully attempted to protect a woman convicted of adultery from a mob. He then responded by excommunicating the murderers, but public sentiment was against him[1] and he was eventually forced into exile by those opposed to his ideas of reform.[2] He went to Rome and lived as a hermit at the Benedictine monastery of St. Alexis. Five years later, the Archbishop of Mentz requested the pope to send Adalbert back to Prague. Pope John XV agreed, with the understanding that Adalbert was free to leave if he continued to encounter entrenched resistance.[1] Adalbert returned as bishop and founded a monastery in Břevnov, near Prague, the first one in the Czech lands. Although initially received with great demonstrations of joy, he was nevertheless expelled a second time and returned to Rome.[3]

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.

Adalbert went to Hungary and probably 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 and made bishop of Gnesen.[3]

Mission and martyrdom in Prussia[edit]

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

Adalbert again relinquished his see, and set out as a missionary to preach to the inhabitants near Prussia. After he had converted Hungary, he was sent by the Pope to convert the heathen Prussians.[4] 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.

Success attended his efforts at first, but his imperious manner in commanding the people to abandon paganism irritated them, and at the instigation of one of the pagan priests he was killed in April 997[3] 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.

Places and building named after it[edit]

St Adalberts gradeschool in Port Richmond Philadelphia is named after him St. Adalbert's Catholic Church and the attached school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is named after him. Also named after him are two cemeteries in the same city.


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.

Prag Adalbert von Prag Schädelreliquie.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]


  • 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]