Saint of the Day – 23 April – St Adalbert of Prague (c 956-997) Bishop and Martyr, Missionary – also known as Adalbert of Praha, Apostle of Bohemia, Apostle of the Prussians, Apostle of the Slavs – Patronages – of Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, Czech Republic, Archdiocese of Prague, Czech Republic, Prussia.
St Adalbert was born circa 956, in modern-day Czech Republic, with the given name of Vojtech. He came from a large, noble family and was one of seven sons to Prince Slavnik. Vojtech survived a serious illness as a child and was consecrated for service to God. He studied in Magdeburg, under St Adalbert of Magdeburg and Vojtech took his mentor’s name at his confirmation. The younger St Adalbert returned home and was Ordained a Priest and soon became Bishop of Prague at the age of 27. Adalbert was consecrated as the Bishop of Prague just months after becoming a priest. “It is an easy thing to wear the mitre and a cross,” Adalbert reflected, “but it is a most dreadful circumstance to have an account to give of a bishopric to the Judge of the living and the dead.”
Bohemia was still a mostly pagan area at the time and Adalbert condemned their practices of polygamy, idolatry and slavery. He tried to protect a woman accused of adultery but was unsuccessful and the woman was killed. St Adalbert excommunicated the murderers and was soon forced to exile in Hungary. He was welcomed by King Boleslaw I and made bishop of Gnesen. Here, he baptised St Stephen of Hungary and converted many pagans.
St Adalbert eventually resigned from the See to become a missionary in modern-day Poland. He converted many and angered pagan priests in the process. St Adalbert was Martyred in April of 997 and the king paid his weight in gold to have the body returned.
A few years after his Martyrdom, Adalbert was Canonised as St Adalbert of Prague. His life was written in Vita Sancti Adalberti Pragensis by various authors, the earliest being traced to imperial Aachen and the Bishop of Liège, Notger von Lüttich, although it was previously assumed that the Roman monk John Canaparius wrote the first Vita in 999. Another famous biographer of St Adalbert was St Bruno of Querfurt who wrote a hagiography of him in 1001-4.
Notably, the Přemyslid rulers of Bohemia initially refused to ransom St Adalbert’s body from the Prussians who murdered him and therefore it was purchased by Poles. This fact may be explained by the Saint belonging to the Slavniks family which was rival to the Přemyslids. Thus St Adalbert’s bones were preserved in Gniezno, which assisted Boleslaus I of Poland in increasing Polish political and diplomatic power in Europe.
According to Bohemian accounts, in 1039 the Bohemian Duke Břetislav I looted the bones of St Adalbert from Gniezno in a raid and translated them to Prague. According to Polish accounts, however, he stole the wrong relics, namely those of St Gaudentius, while the Poles concealed St Adalbert’s relics and consequently remain in Gniezno. In 1127 his severed head, which was not in the original purchase according to Roczniki Polskie, was discovered and translated to Gniezno. In 1928, one of the arms of St Adalbert, which Bolesław I had given to Holy Roman Emperor Otto III in 1000, was added to the bones preserved in Gniezno. Therefore, today St Adalbert has two elaborate shrines in the Prague Cathedral and Royal Cathedral of Gniezno, each of which claims to possess his relics, but which of their bones are his authentic relics, is unknown. For example, pursuant to both claims the Saint has two skulls. The one in Gniezno was stolen in 1923. However in the 1970s the relics in Prague, below, were examined by anthropologists and confirmed as belonging to St Adalbert.
The massive bronze doors of Gniezno Cathedral, dating from around 1175, are decorated with eighteen reliefs of scenes from the Saint’s life. They are the only Romanesque ecclesiastical doors in Europe depicting a cycle illustrating the life of a saint and therefore are a precious relic documenting Adalbert’s martyrdom.
23 April 1997 was the one thousandth anniversary of St Adalbert’s martyrdom. It was commemorated in Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Russia and other nations. Representatives of Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Evangelical churches travelled on a pilgrimage to the Saint’s tomb located in Gniezno. St Pope John Paul II visited the Cathedral and celebrated a Liturgy there in which heads of seven European nations and approximately one million faithful participated.
A ten-meter cross was erected near the village of Beregovoe (formerly Tenkitten), Kaliningrad Oblast where St Adalbert is thought to have been martyred by the Prussians.