‘St Adalbert of Prague’, by Wojciech Magier

St Adalbert of Prague

From the Editor: One here for the rather substantial Polish contingent among our ranks… Merry Feast!

If one were to look at the proper of saints in a Polish breviary today (because he forgot that, at the end of April,  we are still in the octave of Easter), he would see: St Adalbert, bishop, martyr, and principal patron of Poland. However, this is far from an exhaustive list. He is also the patron of Czechia and parts of Hungary as well as apostle to the Prussians and baptist of the first Hungarian king. With such a versatile and great saint, one wonders why so few people in this country have heard of him. From profuse experience, most can’t even pronounce his name.

Saint Adalbert was born circa 952 and given the long and widespread devotion to him, many legends have arisen about every stage of his life. There is however agreement that he was born into a powerful family and, following a grave childhood illness, was given by his parents into the service of God. He studied under Adalbert of Magdeburg (also a saint) and took his patron’s name at confirmation. As some will know, he was born Vojtěch (Wojciech) under which name he is still venerated in Central and Eastern Europe, but he is known in the West by the confirmation name which he used in the latter part of his life. He was ordained in 981 and, since there was a consensus that he would not cause trouble, he became the second Bishop of Prague a year later, despite being below the canonical age. As is so often the case with clerics selected for a See because they ‘would not cause trouble’, Adalbert began vehemently evangelising the recently converted Czechs. Particularly, and unsurprisingly, he focused on reform which would root out the pagan practices of idolatry, polygamy and slave trade. This met with opposition and he began his first exile in 988 at St Alexis monastery in Rome. In 993, John XV sent him back to Prague to try again and Adalbert founded a monastery there that year. As expected, things didn’t go too well this time either and two years later he was once again exiled for excommunicating the murderers of a woman who was caught in adultery but sought refuge in a convent. This time, when the Pope told him to go back, Adalbert asked instead to be allowed to go on mission. He baptised the Grand Prince of Hungary Géza and his son Stephen who would become the nation’s first king and a saint. Travelling on to Poland, he was welcomed by the Grand Duke, and later King, Boleslaus I who provided him with an escort to Prussia. The Saint, along with some companions, rowed up the Vistula river and attempted to evangelise the Prussians, though with little success. He gained the last attribute which I described in the introduction when he was martyred by a pagan priest. In an action which always reminds me of the first letter of St Peter, King Boleslaus ransomed Adalbert’s body for its weight in gold. His relics still reside in the Royal Cathedral of Gniezno, though the Czechs claim to have transferred them to Prague Cathedral.

On the surface it may seem that he achieved little, at the end of his life, the Czechs were far from devout and the Prussians far from converted. Yet, as King Boleslaus saw, Adalbert was a man of true faith and a great Saint indeed. Willing to work tirelessly for The Church, even if God wasn’t willing to grant that work fruition in his lifetime. We ask his intercession for all Slavic peoples at this difficult time.

Wojciech Magier, 2nd Year MPhys, Exeter