Idols in Oriente iam sole (East of the Sun)


 Prologue – Introducing the Cast of Characters

Saint Vaclav (Wenceslas) is one of the two first saints of Bohemia.  He was the son of Vratislav and Drahomira.  His father Vratislav was the son of Borivoj I, the first historically attested ruler of the Czechs and of Ludmila (the other early Bohemian saint).  His mother was Drahomira, a princess of the Hevellians, a Slavic tribe from the area around Berlin.  After Borivoj passed away (about 889), the throne was inherited by Spytihnev, his first son but after Spytihnev died (915), the throne went to his younger brother Vratislav (who was, as we said, married to Drahomira).  After Vratislav died (921), his older son Vaclav (born about 907) became duke at the age of thirteen.

It also happened that Vratislav and Drahomira had a second son, Boleslav (the Cruel) (born about 915) who was about six at the time of his brother Vaclav ‘s becoming duke – as well as, possibly, a daughter – Stretislava (who married the famous Slavnik – about whom there will be more in the future).

(BTW It was this Boleslav the Cruel’s daughter – Dobrava – that married the first historically attested Polish duke, Mieszko I).

Exit Ludmila

He was being raised by both his mother Drahomira and his grandmother Ludmila.  Ludmila was a Christian while Drahomira was a devoted pagan and the grandmother, apparently, began to assert herself more as the regent.


Surprisingly, this led to some tension in the family which tension percolated to the surface such that shortly after Vaclav took the reigns of dukedom, his mother Drahomira caused Ludmila to ascend to sainthood by having her assassinated via strangulation.


Drahomira checking out what’s left of Ludmila

Thereafter, Drahomira began to reinstitute Slavic beliefs (also, presumably, so as get out from under the political overlordship of the Bavarian Church).  Nonetheless, at some point Vaclav sent his mother away as a result (though may later have forgiven her).

Exit Vaclav

In any event, the “good” king Vaclav reigned for many years until, in 935 his brother – Boleslav – decided that it was his turn now and that Vaclav would make an excellent saint.


Boleslav invited Vaclav to a feast, got into a quarrel with him and, apparently, three of Boleslav’s buddies did the dirty deed on the King.  Apparently, Boleslav tried to escape and hide in a chapel but the priest would not let him in.


“Sorry, closed for repairs”

(It is not clear whether Boleslav already then carried the moniker, the Cruel, but if he did then Vaclav was a dumbass for accepting Boleslav’s invitation).


Boleslav was seen as “just a regular guy” – quite understandably then Vaclav was surprised by his brother’s treachery

Thus, did the Czechs, being god fearing people, got two saints in record time and Boleslav got to rule for over 30 years.  Everyone was happy.  (Apparently, too, Drahomira was still alive at that time).

Enter the Literati

Vaclav became a saint almost right away after his passing and a number of Vaclav and Ludmila legends were written already in the X century.  The first one may have been in Old Slavonic but soon Latin versions followed suit as the legend of Vaclav grew and expanded to countries outside of Bohemia.  One of those Latin versions was Christian’s Vita et passio sancta Wenceslai et Sanctae Ludmile ave emus written about 992-994.  It was, it seems, based on that version that a later version of the legend – Oriente iam sole – was based on.  It was, in its shorter version, written in the mid-XIII century and in the longer version in the second half of the XIV century.

Oriente iam sole

[east of the Sun]

Our interest in this version of the Vaclav story is, however, rooted in something else and the above was just for context – the mention therein, however scant, once again of Slavic idols (unfortunately, this time with no names).

“[Denique] cum irent omnes ad immolandum ydolis, que colebat mater eius nequissima, hic solus fugiebat consorcia eorum et pergebat occulte ad ecclesias, quas pater eius construxerant… Sed iam dicta cultrix ydolorum, Yezabel immitatrix… cum autem factus esset vir exprobravit incredulitatem illorum et duriciam cordis, dicens ad omnes, qui erant infideles: Servus christi sum, ydolis vestris non serviam, non sub alicuius vestrum amplius redigar potestatem…. Et extunc ceperunt eo iubente [?] ydola minui, christi ecclesie aperiri, et fideles, qui dispersi fuerant, affluere.”


(When all went to sacrifice to the idols that were worshipped by his mother, he alone escaped and went secretly to the churches constructed by his father [i.e., Vratislav]… But the already the aforementioned worshipper of idols, imitating Jezabel [presumably reference to his mother]… But when he became a man he upbraided them for their lack of faith and their hardness of heart saying unto all of them who were unbelievers: “I am a servant of Christ.  I will not serve your idols.  I will not remain under your power anymore”… And thereafter, at his command, the idols were removed and Christ’s churches reopened and the faithful became bountiful [once more]).

We should say that other version also do have a few mentions of idols, e.g., Oporte nos fratres from the 2nd half of the XI century as well as the aforementioned Christian’s version as set forth in Vita et passio sancta Wenceslai et Sanctae Ludmile ave emus.  You can read more about these in Josef Pekar’s 1905 authoritative Wenzels- und Ludmila – Legenden und die Echtheit Christians.



Shaettner Rickover & Borg Corporation – Copyright ©2015, All Rights Reserved

January 9, 2015

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  1. Pingback: On the Pagan Rebellion | In Nomine Jassa

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