Posts Tagged ‘Wenceslas’

Christmas Medley

Posted in General, On This Day on December 25th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

Good Duke Wenceslas–if you want a historically accurate Christmas carol

Wenceslas is the slightly Latinized name of Vaclav, a Bohemian duke who earned a sainthood for his Christian sanctity and an assassination for his Germanophile sycophancy.

In the early 10th century, Bohemia was in play by the missionaries. The Byzantines had first introduced Christianity to the area, offering a theological alternative to such Slavic divinities as Perun the Thunderer.  The Roman Catholics missionaries came with the added incentive of German armies. Wenceslaus (907-935) found that very persuasive. Of course, when he insisted on wearing lederhosen and yodeling, that was a little much for the nobles and his ambitious younger brother.

Nonetheless, Bohemia was stuck being a German satellite. The realm became a monarchy in the late 12th century, but even that was a reward conferred by the Holy Roman (alias German)Emperor to his faithful Czech duke.

The Nativity

Now showing at Mangers anywhere.  Check your local listings.

Here’s what the critics have to say.

“A Pre-Proustian Bildungsroman”:  The New York Times

“Obama’s socialized medicine wouldn’t permit Virgin Birth”:  The Wall Street Journal

“Esther Williams is great”:  Larry King

The Perfect Christmas Gift

December 25, 800:  Felonious Christmas!

What Christmas gift can you give the man who has everything–or at least control of France, Germany and Italy? That was the challenge confronting Pope Leo III. You just couldn’t give Charlemagne a Christmas card. It would only remind the Warlord that he was illiterate. Charlemagne was a widower, so there was no point in offering him a gift card for an annulment. Then Leo thought of the perfect gift for his Frankish friend. True, Leo had to steal it; but a Pope can always absolve himself.

So, on Christmas Day in 800, the Pope proclaimed Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor. Unfortunately, Charlemagne was not pleased with his fancy new title. Western Europe’s King was not ostentatious, and he certainly was uncomfortable with a “hot” crown. The real owner–in Constantinople–would certainly object.

The Pope–looking perfectly innocent, which should be a prerequisite for the job— had a perfect rationale for his crowning presumption. He had only made Charlemagne an Emperor; the reigning sovereign in Constantinople was named Irene. The Empress Irene was a widow, which she probably arranged; so there was no Byzantine male to contest the role of Emperor. (Irene had a son, but she had him ousted, blinded and killed; to her credit, she never harmed her grandchildren–who happened to be girls–and one would become Empress.)

In proclaiming Charlemagne to be Emperor, the Pope was not criticizing Irene. On the contrary, the Church liked her. When Irene overthrew her son and seized the throne, Pope Leo had congratulated her. That unfortunate young Emperor, like his conveniently dead father, had been proponents of Iconoclasm, a dogma condemned by the Roman branch of Christendom. Irene, however, agreed with the Roman reverence for art; she certainly preferred icons to her family.

Of course, with her aesthetic refinement, Irene would not have appreciated sharing the most prestigious title in Christendom with an illiterate warlord. The Byzantines refused to recognize Charlemagne’s title. Frankly (sorry about that), neither did Charlemagne. To legitimize his Imperial rank–and make an honest man of himself, Charlemagne offered to marry Irene.
The Empress was not flattered or tempted: she declined the proposal.

Given Irene’s family history, Charlemagne probably was lucky. At least, he lived another 14 years. His Empire did not last much longer than he did: squabbling grandsons whose ambitions surpassed their competence shredded it into warring states. For another three centuries however, Byzantium would remain the greatest power (and only civilized one) in Christendom.

Its only rival was, ironically, the Roman Church. When Pope Leo III assumed the right to appoint and crown an Emperor, he had also given the Church the perfect Christmas gift: authority over the temporal world.

None of your gifts will be that good, but try to enjoy the holidays anyway.