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Adalbert of Prague

Saint Adalbert (Czech: ; Wojciech; c. 956–April 23, 997), a bishop of Prague, was martyred in his efforts, to convert the Baltic Prussians. He was later made the patron saint of Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, and Prussia.

Birth and youth

Adalbert (Vojtěch) was born in a Czech noble 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: Soběbor (Slavnik's heir), Spytimir, Pobraslav, Porej, Caslav and a half-brother Radim (Gaudentius) from his father's liaison with another woman. Radim chose a clerical career as did Adalbert, and 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 on the name Adalbert. Gifted and industrious, Adalbert soon became well-known all over Europe.

Religious acts

In 980 Adalbert finished his studies at 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 thirty years old, Adalbert became the Bishop of Prague. However, he strongly resented the participation of formally Christian inhabitants in the slave trade. 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.

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. Adalbert became the Bishop again. That time he founded a monastery in Břevnov, near Prague, the first one for men in the Czech lands. However, he continued to meet with the same kind of opposition to his ministry from the nobility that he had faced earlier. Also, according to Cosmas' chronicle, high clerical office was a burden to Adalbert, and in 994 he offered it to Strachkvas who was Přemyslid and Duke Boleslav's brother. Strachkvas, nevertheless, refused.

In 995 Slavniks' former rivalry with the Přemyslids resulted in the storming of Libice and a cruel murder of four (or five) of Adalbert's brothers. All this was done by the will of Boleslav II of Bohemia, and the key executioners were his confederates from a powerful clan of Vršovci. Thus the Zličan princedom became part of the Přemyslids' estate.

Adalbert damned the Vrśovci in church and predicted that they would be severely persecuted. 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

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. 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 (see Iconoclasm), 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.

When they did not heed warnings to stay away from the sacred oak groves, Adalbert was executed for sacrilege, which his co-religionists interpreted as martyrdom, 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.

Canonization and memory

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.

It is said that in 1039 the Bohemian duke Bretislav I retrieved the bones of Saint Adalbert from Gniezno and moved them to Prague. According to another version, he took only part of the bones, while the rest of Saint Adalbert's relics (including the skull) were hidden by the Poles (according to Roczniki Polskie) and found in 1127. 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 graves, and which bones are authentic is still not clear. For example, the saint has two skulls - one in Prague, a second in Gniezno (stolen in 1923).

June 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

References

  • Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0-140-51312-4.

External links

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