Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Good (Gay?) King Wenceslas

St. Wenceslaus and Podiven
By Lewis Williams, SFO. ©

There’s good reason to believe that Good King Wenceslas was gay. Yes, the king in the Christmas carol.  His feast day is today (Sept. 28).

Saint Wenceslaus I (907–935) was duke of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). The carol is based on a legend about Wenceslaus and his loyal page Podiven. According to the story, it was a bitterly cold night when they went out to give alms to the poor on the Feast of St. Stephen, Dec. 26. Podiven could not walk any farther on his bare, frozen feet, so Wenceslas urged him to follow in his footsteps. His footprints in the snow stayed miraculously warm, allowing the pair to continue safely together.

Many details in the Christmas carol are pious fiction, but the king and his page are both grounded in historical truth. The following is based partly on research from Dennis O’Neill, author of “Passionate Holiness.”

The earliest accounts of Wenceslaus’ life mention his page -- but not the woman who supposedly gave birth to his son in more recent versions. An account written in the late 10th or early 11th century describes the young man who was a “worthy page” and “chamber valet” to Wenceslaus.

It says that Wenceslaus used to wake his page in the middle of the night to join him in doing charitable works. The page is described as “a youth from among his valets who, of all his servants, was the most trustworthy in secret matters. The saint himself truly loved him during his lifetime.”

Wenceslaus was murdered in a coup by his brother at the door of a church on Sept. 28 in the year 935. The records say that Podiven “was often overcome by grief, sorrowing for days on end.” The brother also had Podiven killed to stop him from spreading stories of the saintly Wenceslaus. Both Wenceslaus and his beloved Podiven are buried at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.

The icon above was painted by Colorado artist Lewis Williams of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO). He studied with master iconographer Robert Lentz and has made social justice a theme of his icons. It is dedicated to the memory of Father Larry Craig, a Chicago priest known for service to the Latino community and prison ministry. Before his death in 2006, Father Craig used to stand outside the Cook County Jail at night, giving sandwiches and bus passes to surprised inmates who had just been released. He served as the model for Podiven’s face in this icon.

May these facts warm your heart whenever you hear or sing the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.”
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

The Wenceslaus and Podiven icon and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores


Ann said...

You would think the king could have given his servant a pair of boots and some warm socks! But thanks for the icon.

Trudie said...

I think Ann makes a very good point. Unfortunately, there is a strong undercurrent in Christianity that seems to teach that suffering is noble and a good pathway to sanctity. Suffering may be inevitable, and should be accepted in the spirit of love, but I don't believe it should be actually sought out as some believers, in the past as well as the present, seem to do.

KittKatt said...

Ann’s comment made me smile. But seriously, I don’t think the Good King Wenceslas carol is glorifying suffering. It’s more about the value of giving to the poor. The good king was able to warm his servant’s feet miraculously, without having to resort to socks and boots like the rest of us.

Ann said...

So true KittKatt - I was just kidding around.