Friday, December 14, 2007

stephen and wenceslas

saint stephen. my namesake saint stephen was known by his greek name in the time he lived - his name properly being stephanos. stephanos means laurel wreath or crown in greek. stephen was one of seven men whose work in the early days of the christian church was to attend to the distribution of aid to widows within the community. stephen was tried for blasphemy against moses and god and was eventually stoned to death for expressing his ideas which were based on the ideas of jesus.

stephen’s saint day is on december 26th, the feast of stephen mentioned in the christmas song “good king wenceslas”. i always loved that song for its many iconic christmas images. for reasons i'll explain in another entry, it is always associated with my last christmas in england, part of which i spent with my family at saltburn-by-the-sea.

“Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight gath'ring winter fuel.
"Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain."
"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.
"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page. Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."
In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

the tune for this song was written in the thirteenth century and was entitled “tempus adest floridum” which translates as “it is time for flowering”, a spring carol. the words to “good king wenceslas” were written in the mid eighteen hundreds.

wenceslas, the king immortalized in this story was a real man named wenceslaus the first, duke of bohemia where he lived from 907 a.d until his death on september 28, 935. he lived 28 years. he was fourteen when he was made duke, a position he kept until his death. i am unable to find any connection between the events described in the song and those in wenceslaus’ life.

here’s a lovely version of the carol:

No comments: