St. Adalbert of Prague, Bishop and Martyr

April 22, 2016

The Pastor's Page

StAdalbertSt. Adalbert of Prague was born in 956 in Bohemia into the Christian upper class Slavnik family.  His baptismal name is variously reported as Wojciech, Voytiekh, and Voytech.  He went to Magdeburg, Germany, and was educated by its archbishop, St. Adalbert of Magdeburg, who changed his name to Adalbert when he received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

When the older St. Adalbert died in 981, the younger Adalbert returned to Bohemia, and a year later, in 982, at the age of 26, was elected the bishop of Prague.  He entered the city barefoot, intent on bringing Christianity to the Czechs.

As bishop, he worked tirelessly to inspire Christians to live holier lives, to bring the gospel to non-believers in Hungary and Bohemia, and to reform the clergy. It was a bitter struggle.  He was resisted by stubborn clergy and political opponents.  His missionary work had achieved modest success.  Deeply disappointed, he was forced to leave Prague in 990 and fled to Rome.

Upon his arrival in Rome, Bishop Adalbert went to the Benedictine Abbey of Saints Boniface and Alexis where he became a monk.  Meanwhile, in 992 Duke Boleslaus of Poland petitioned the Pope that Bishop Adalbert be sent back to Prague, and subsequently Pope John XV reassigned Adalbert to his former post.

Bishop Adalbert had a tumultuous return.  A noblewoman had been convicted of adultery.  The crowd wanted her punished, but because she was repentant and the mob unruly, as an act of compassion the bishop gave her safe haven in the church.  The mob attacked, stormed the church, and killed her, by some reports, at the altar, by other reports, in the street.  In punishment for their evildoing, Bishop Adalbert excommunicated all those who participated in her execution.  The throng considered the penalty excessive and shifted their rage toward the bishop and his family.  Some of his relatives were murdered.  He was rejected, and fled to Rome a second time.

Again, there was a papal intervention.  The new pope, Gregory V, ordered Bishop Adalbert to return, but not to Prague.  Instead, the Pope allowed Adalbert to be a missionary.  Initially, he went to Poland, and then to the Prussians in Pomerania along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea.  While he went to preach the gospel, the local residents thought he was a Polish spy and executed him with his two companions, Benedict and Gaudentius, near Gdansk (Danzig) on April 23, 997, and was buried in Gniezno, the first capital of Poland.  His relics were transferred to Prague in 1039.

St. Adalbert of Prague was held in great esteem as a courageous martyr, outstanding missionary, and a monastic, and his popularity spread rapidly throughout Poland, eastern Russia, Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia, and his heroic witness served to inspire further missionary efforts in central and eastern Europe.  He is the patron saint of Poland, Bohemia, the Czech Republic, and Prussia.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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