Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Carol: "Good King Wenceslas"

Although this carol was written in 19th century England, it's about a real king who lived more than 1,000 years earlier in Central Europe. Wenceslas was king of Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), and his story is rather gory.

Wenceslas's father was King of Bohemia and was a Christian. But he was married to a woman from a pagan tribe. The king died when Wenceslas was 12 years old and he was sent to his grandmother, Ludmilla, to bring him up while his mother took control of the land as regent. Ludmilla brought the young boy up in the Christian faith. When Wenceslas's mother found this out, she banished Ludmilla to a distant castle where she was murdered by the Queen's guards.

When he turned 18 and took the throne of Bohemia, Wenceslas was still a Christian. He had learned to read and write, which was unusual even for kings in those days. He had local Christian bishops smuggled into the castle at night to teach him the Bible. He banished his mother and her pagan followers from the castle.

Wenceslas was truly a good king. He put in a good educational system and a successful system of law and order. But after four years of happiness, when the king was 22, his brother Boleslav became very jealous of him and plotted with the pagan followers of his mother to kill him. Boleslav invited Wenceslas to a pretend celebration of the dedication of a new chapel. When Wenceslas was in the chapel, the doors were locked, he was trapped, and Boleslav and his men stabbed Wenceslas to death.

We celebrate the deeds of this good king in the following carol:

ALL SING:

Good King Wenceslas looked out,
Upon the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shown the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight
Gathering winter fuel.

KING:

Hither, page,and stand by me!
I you know it telling:
Yonder man, who is he,
Where and what his dwelling?

PAGE:

Sir, he lives a good way hence,
Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes' fountain.

KING:

Bring me food and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither;
You and I will see him dine
When we take them thither.

ALL:

Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together
Through the wild wind's loud lament,
And the bitter weather.

PAGE:

Sir, the night is darker now,
And the wind grows stronger;
Fails my heart – I know not how
I can go no longer.

KING:

Mark my footsteps well, my page,
Follow in them boldly;
You shall find the winter's rage,
Chills your blood less coldly.

ALL:

In his master's steps he trod,
Where the snow lay even,
Strong to do the will of God,
In the hope of heaven;
Therefore, Christians, all be sure,
Grace and wealth possessing,
You that now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.