The conversion of Bohemia

Simultaneously with the rapid progress of conversion among the Scandinavians some of the largest groups of Slavs were being incorporated into Christendom. We have noted the labours of Constantine and Methodius in the second half of the ninth century, the winning of Bulgaria with its predominantly Slavic population, also in that fifty years, and have hinted at the activities of German missionaries among the Slavs of Central Europe. By the year 900 Christianity was strong in Moravia. The hundred years between 950 and 1050 witnessed the adherence to the faith of the two largest Slavic states in Central Europe, Bohemia and Poland.

The conversion of Bohemia was in part through the impulses which stemmed from Constantine and Methodius, but was chiefly from Germany. Famous near the beginnings of the Church in Bohemia was Vaclav, better known to most of us as Wenceslas, who came to the throne about 923-924 at the age of eighteen. A Christian, profoundly religious, he is said to have been a builder of churches, generous to the poor, ardent in his personal religious devotions, to have worn a rough shirt under his royal robes, and to have remained a virgin. He was a tributary of the German King and under him German missionaries entered. In 929 while on his way to mass he was murdered by his brother, Bole-slav I, and an anti-German, anti-Christian reaction ensued. The combination of his piety and his tragic end made of Vaclav the national saint.

In the latter part of the century the climate again changed in favour of Christianity. Boleslav II, the son of the murderer of Vaclav, reigned from 967 to 999. In contrast with his father, he actively encouraged the spread of the faith. It was under him that the nominal conversion of Bohemia was substantially completed. He founded monasteries and built churches. Otto I was a power with whom to reckon and it seems to have been at his instance that the initial bishopric in Bohemia, that of Prague, was created. The first bishop was a Saxon and the second, Adalbert, although of Czech blood, was related to the family of Otto I, had been educated at Magdeburg, the seat of the bishopric which that German ruler had created as a centre for missions among the Slavs, and was strongly committed to the Cluny movement, with its strict standards of Christian living. He made himself unpopular by attempting to raise the semi-pagan life of his flock to the level advocated by the Cluny reformers, and was martyred (997) as a missionary to the pagan Prussians south of the Baltic. By that time Bohemia was regarded as a Christian kingdom.

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