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The Life of Saint Ludmila, Patron Saint of Czechia

Saint Ludmila, Slavic Martyr and Patron Saint of Czechia

Saint Ludmila of Czechia

Like a morning star, she rose in the land of Bohemia
Like a harbinger of the Bright Sun of Truth, she brought the truth of Christ to her land
With the light of her faith, she dispelled the darkness of ignorance
She projected Christ’s grace like the first flower of spring,
For she was known to be the first saint glorified in her land.
Like the light of day,
She opened a day of worship with the light of her sainthood.
On earth, the blessed Lumila is called the first mother of the faithful,
And likewise in heaven she is their patroness, and therefore her deserts merit
The honour and veneration of the faithful appropriate to her.”

(Discourse in honour of Ludmila, the patron saint of Czechia,
An 11th-century Czech manuscript.

In Russia, Princess Olga Equal to the Apostles brought the light Orthodoxy to Russia, praying ceaselessly for her people: “Gods will be done; Lord be merciful to my kin and the Russian land by turning the people’s hearts towards you, like You did mine.” She also taught her son: “My son, I have known God and have rejoiced; When you know God, you will rejoice also.” The great princess’ prayers were heard. Her grandson, Prince Vladimir equal to the apostles, baptised Rus. Ludmila illumined the people of Czechia with the light of God’s truth, and she was to her land what Saint Olga was to Rus. Her grandson Vyacheslav brought his people to Christ, but as a descendant of the Serbian princess, she lived a more dramatic life.

orthodox music

At age 14, Ludmila was married off to Boriviy, prince of Czechia. She had received a good education: she was fluent in Greek and Latin, and versatile in Slavonic. After her wedding, Ludmila settled in Visegrad, Prague, the capital of the Czech princedom on the banks of the River Vltava. Prince Borivoy’s domain was a part of the Union State of Great Moravia, and he himself was a vassal to Svyatopolk, the Christian ruler of Great Moravia. Borivoy and Ludmila had two sons, Spitignev and Bratislav, and four daughters (or one daughter, according to some accounts).

A view of the Visegrad Castle from the River Vltava

A view of the Visegrad Castle from the River Vltava

One day, the Prince of Great Moravia requested Borivoy to his residence, but he did not let him sit next to him, explaining that Pagans should be separate from Christians. Young Borivoy remembered the humiliation of having to sit among the Prince’s servants. Soon, he returned to Velegrad and accepted the Holy Baptism along with the other members of his family.

According to the tenth-century Czech classic “Legend of Christinian”, the Czech prince Borivoy and Princess Ludmila were baptised at the court of Prince Svyatopolk circa 874 by Archbishop Methodius, an enlightener of the Slavs. After baptism, one of Methodius' most beloved disciples Gorazd arrived in Visegrad and later succeeded him as bishop of the Moravian Diocese. The first Orthodox Church, of Saint Clement, the Roman Pope, was built in Vysegrad.

Borevoy died prematurely in 894 from the wounds he received in battles. After his repose, 29-year-old Ludmila ascended to the throne until her older son reached adulthood. Princess Ludmila of Czechia was the first woman mentioned in the Czech chronicles, Which described her reign as rational and wise. Widowed in her young years, Ludmila helped the old, orphans and widows, and paid ransom to free the prisoners of war from her country.

“Seeing the people of the Czech lands linger in the darkness of Paganism, you, O Holy Blessed Princess Ludmila, diligently strove to illumine them with the light of the Christian faith, by building the temples of God and affirming the Orthodox faith in the land of Czechia.”

(Akathist to the Holy Martyr Ludmila, Ikos 5).

Despite strong pressure from Rome after Bishop Methodius’ death and the exile of his disciples from Moravia, worship in Church Slavonic was preserved through her good works. By her efforts, and those of her grandson Vyacheslav, a religious balance was preserved, and Abbess Mlada succeeded in securing the autonomy of the Prague Episcopate from the Diocese of Regensburg until the 10th century. The use of Slavonic in church worship continued in Czechia until the early 12th century, while the Emauss Monastery, which continued to worship in Slavonic, preserved a leading role in Chechia’s spiritual life up until the 14th and 15th centuries.

The older son of the princely family Spitignev was a brave warrior and a successful ruler. However, his reign was short-lived: he perished in 915 in a battle with the Hungarians. Prince Bratislav succeeded him on the throne and ruled until 921. He married Dragomira, daughter of the Prince of Branibor from the Pagan Slavic tribe of the Lutiches, who inhabited the banks of the River Gavola. According to the Chronicles, she turned out to be a malevolent, proud and evil-hearted woman.

She was jealous of Princess Ludmila and envied the love and respect she had among the Czechs. The two sons of Bratislav and Dragomera, Vyacheslav and Boleslav, had very different personalities. Vyacheslav had inherited the traits of his righteous father, who protected the Christian faith, while Boleslav was more like his Pagan mother. The upbringing of Vyacheslav, the lawful first heir of the throne, was entrusted by Prince Bratislav to his mother, Saint Ludmila, which provoked the ire of Dragomira, who took on the upbringing of the younger son.

Martyr Ludmila and the Saint Right-Believing Prince Vyacheslav

Martyr Ludmila and the Saint Right-Believing Prince Vyacheslav. An icon from the Church of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker of Saint Elisabeth Convent

Prince Bratislav declared his elder Vyacheslav as heir to the throne in the presence of his courtiers. He called the princely courtiers, the bishop and the clergy to hear the announcement at the Church of the Most Pure Theotokos and brought the youth to the steps of the altar after the service. The bishop blessed Vyacheslav with these words: “Lord Jesus Christ, bless this youth like you blessed the righteous Abraham, Isaac and Hames and like You crowned the equal-to-the-apostles kings Constantin and Elena”.

orthodox music

In 921, Prince Bratislav perished in a battle with the Hungarians, When Vyacheslav was only thirteen years of age. By a resolution of the Seijm (or more likely the will of the German sovereign), power would be shared between the princely widows Ludmila and Dragomira. However, because of Dragomira’s opposition, Ludmila voluntarily abdicated from the throne and retired to Tetin Castle with her grandson Vyacheslav, where she raised him in the Orthodox faith. Dragomira remained the caretaker of the throne. After completing her pious labours and seeing Prince Vyacheslav ascend to the throne, she remained in Tetin, where she spent the rest of her life in prayer and almsgiving.

“Your assassins sacrificed you like a lamb, seeing your meekness and faith, so pray for us with the Most Pure Virgin Theotokos and all the saints, pleading: Lord, give us peace.”

(Troparion, Ode 5 of the Canon to the Martyr Ludmila)

A view of modern Prague, the city of Saint Ludmila of Czechia

A view of modern Prague, the city of Saint Ludmila of Czechia

Dragomira could not believe that the Christian princess Ludmila was not interested in power or wealth. She feared that the people might wish to return Ludmila to the throne. In the early hours of 29 September 921 (“at around the first hour in the morning, according to the Prologues) the assassins Tunna and Gommon, assisted by several servants, broke into Ludmila’s cell and strangled her. “Better pierce me with a sword, so I would spill my blood for Christ like the martyrs have,” asked the princess humbly. The assassins ignored her pleas. To humiliate the saint even more, they threw her body under Tetin’s city wall without a church burial. But the Lord glorified her resting place by allowing miracles to happen. Every night, candles lit up over the martyr’s grace, and a blind man recovered his vision after touching her grave.

Church of the Great Martyr George in Prague

Church of the Great Martyr George in Prague

When the news of these miracles reached Ludmila’s grandson, he transferred her relics to Prague and laid them in the Church of Saint George, where they have remained to this day and have continued to bring healings. Saint Ludmila was glorified in 1143 – 1144.

Later, particles of the saint’s relics were placed in the altars of several other churches across the land. From 1197 to 1214, Bishop Daniel II gave his blessing to the painting of the icons of Saint Ludmila among several other Czech saints. A tombstone was erected above the reliquary with her relics during the reign of Charles IV.

Martyr Ludmila’s grave in the Church of the Great Martyr George in Prague

Martyr Ludmila’s grave in the Church of the Great Martyr George in Prague

When the reliquary with the saint’s relics was opened in 1981, a white silk veil with a geometric pattern was discovered with her remains. Most likely, it was a veil with which noble women covered their heads. Later, her honourable head was severed from her body, which is now kept in a gold helmet together with the relics of other prominent Czech saints in Saint Vitus Cathedral in Gradchany, Czechia’s main church built by Ludmila’s grandson Vyacheslav.

Honourable head of the Holy Martyr Ludmila of Czechia

Honourable head of the Holy Martyr Ludmila of Czechia

She passed her knowledge and faith in God to her beloved grandson Vyacheslav of Czechia, who was his homeland's great ruler contributing to the enlightenment of his people in the Christian faith and glorified as a saint together with his grandmother.

“You illuminated the world with Christ’s teaching, brought your kin to believe in Christ and projected the Lord’s grace on the people. O Ludmila, Lamb of Christ, protect every one of us from the evil one.”

(Lord I call Sticheron, Chapter 6).

Compiled by the obitеl-minsk.ru team. Photos sourced from the Internet.

Bibliography:
1. Saint Ludmila of Chechia (pravenc.ru)
2. Life of the Holy Martyr Right-Believing Princess Ludmila of Czechia — Stavroprigial Convent of the Holy Conception (zachatevmon.ru)
3. Ludmila, beloved among the people… (eparhia-saratov.ru)

October 24, 2023
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