- This brief biography is yet another extract from a text that will appear in
the forthcoming Mannheim catalogue. (Remember - You Heard It Here First!) In
this case the author is Czech historian & archaeologist Petr Charvat, and it
comes from an article entitled "Embassies, pilgrimages and travellers'
The text has been very slightly edited, and I've added some footnotes, for
Vojte'ch or Adalbert, son of Slavník (956?-997)
Vojte'ch was born into one of the foremost families in the Czech Lands, to a
father named Slavnik and a mother called Str'ezislava or Adilpurc, most
probably at Libice in the Central Bohemian Labe (Elbe) plains. He was
Confirmed in the Catholic faith in 961 or 962 by the missionary bishop
Adalbert, who passed through Libice on his way to bring Christianity to the
Rus. [*note 1]
Vojte'ch's early education took place at the family seat, on the initiative
of his parents. In 972 he was sent to Magdeburg in Saxony, where until 981
he studied the seven liberal arts under direction of the scholar Ohtrich.
[*note 2]. After Ohtrich's departure to the Imperial court Vojtěch, now
known by his Confirmation name of Adalbert, returned to his homeland and
became a member of the clergy at St. Vitus' Cathedral in Prague.
On February 15th 982 Adalbert was elected the successor of Thietmar, the
first Bishop of Prague, after the latter's death, by leading Czechs meeting
in an assembly at Levy Hradec. [*note 3]. The position of the bishop at the
Prague court, however, worsened to the extent that in the autumn of 988 or
spring of 989 Adalbert deemed it expedient to withdraw to Rome.
The considerable sum of money entrusted to him at their meeting by the
Empress Regent Theophano for a journey to the Holy Land had vanished by the
time Adalbert reached the port of Naples. After short stays in Monte Cassino
and Grottaferrata, the seat of St Nilus the Younger of Rossano, he finally
made his way to the monastery of SS Boniface and Alexis on the Aventine in
Rome, where in 990 he took monastic orders.
In 992, at the request of the Czech embassy to Rome, and having been freed
by his metropolitan, the Archbishop Willigis of Mainz, he returned to
Bohemia, evidently bringing with him holy relics, liturgical books and also
monks for the monastery which he planned to found there. [*note 4] He left
his homeland for the second time, definitively, after witnessing a brutal
contravention of the Church laws of asylum, taking refuge in his monastery
in Rome. [*note 5]
In 996 he submitted to Willigis' exhortations to return to Bohemia, but
requested papal permission to depart on a mission in the case that the
Czechs would not wish to receive him. The summer and autumn of the same year
he made a pilgrimage, visiting not only the grave of St. Denis/Dionysus (the
Pseudo-Areopagite) in Paris, but also the last resting places of St Martin,
the founder of western monasticism, in Tours, of St Benedict in
Fleury/St-Benoit-sur-Loire, and of St Maurus, one of the first pupils and
followers of St Benedict, at St-Maur-des-Fossés/Glanfeuil.
Christmas 996 was spent in Mainz, in debate with Otto III, who held Adalbert
in great esteem. In the spring of 997 he set out across Poland to bring the
Gospel to the Prussians, at whose hands he met a martyr's death on April
23rd, 997. [*note 6]
(1) Libice stood on the main trade route from Prague to the East, so Bishop
Adalbert's stopover with the local gentry is understandable.
(2) The fact that Vojte'ch was sent to Saxony and not Bavaria to be educated
is the root of the theory that the Slavniks were related to Saxon rulers -
or in extreme cases that they were Saxons themselves. *No* other evidence
for this exists however. Attempts have been made more recently (on equally
thin evidence) to show that the Slavniks were a collateral line of the
Pr'emyslid dynasty. Given the geographic location of their domains, some
claim that the Slavniks were the last descendants of Croat chieftains -
again, no evidence.
(3) Levy Hradec is a hillfort just north of Prague, and was probably the
original seat of the Pr'emyslids.
(4) Br'evnov monastery, now in western Prague.
(5) And in 995 most of his family was slaughtered by the Pr'emyslids and
Vrs'ovs, as Steve has already noted. Most of the Vrs'ovs met a similar fate
not long afterwards.
(6) Some obvious inconsistencies between this Czech account and Steve's
Polish one. Logically, the Polish sources ought to be better informed...
I think Steve is right about the "fait accompli" aspect of the translation
of Adalbert's remains. While their loss was certainly a blow to the Gniezno
metropolitan, it bolstered Pr'emyslid attempts at getting their own
archbishopric - important, as it would end ecclesiastical subordination (bad
pun!) to the Empire. Didn't work, though, and the Czechs had to wait until
the reign of Charles IV for an Archbishop of their own.
A far-away country of which we know little:
"Bohemia: a desert country near the sea"
[Shakespeare: Winter's Tale, III.iii, stage direction]