Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Good (Gay?) King Wenceslas
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 "Good King Wenceslas" 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.”
Thoughts on a Queer Christmas: The Feast of Stephen (Impact Magazine)
To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
San Venceslao I de Bohemia y Podiven: Venceslao, el buen rey (gay?)
To read this post in French / en français, visit Pays de Zabulon Un blog qui parle d'amour:
Saint Wenceslas et son ami
Top image credit:
"St. Wenceslaus and Podiven" by Lewis Williams, SFO. © www.trinitystores.com
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.
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