Relics of Bohemia’s Patron Saint Adalbert find new resting place

Photo: CTK

The holy relics of Saint Adalbert of Prague, or Vojtěch as he is known in his native country, have received a new shrine at their final resting place at Prague Castle. Besides the Czech Republic, the legacy of 10th-century Catholic cleric and martyr is honoured also in Poland, Hungary and Germany.

Dominik Duka,  Miloslav Vlk,  photo: CTK
A special holy mass on Saint Adalbert’s feast day was served by Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka on Wednesday evening in St. Vitus Cathedral – whose full name is actually St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert Cathedral. During the service, a newly made shrine to contain the saint’s relics was blessed and the remains then found their final resting place within the church.

“It resembles old Romanesque and Gothic reliquaries in which saints, and above all martyrs, used to be laid to rest, ” says Archbishop Dominik Duka who himself placed the relics in a metal casket now located inside the new shrine. The ornamental house-shaped reliquary with a pitched roof is made of four types of wood and weighs 70 kilograms.

Saint Adalbert, born Vojtěch, to the noble family of the Slavníks around the year 956, was the second bishop of Prague and also founded the country’s first monastery. He studied in Magdeburg and took the name Adalbert after his teacher. He left his native Bohemia amid disputes between his family and the other ruling noble dynasty, the Přemyslids – a move which most probably saved his life as the Slavníks were massacred in 995 at their stronghold of Libice in East Bohemia. But he, too, eventually succumbed to a violent death on 23rd of April 997 at the hands of pagans on one of his baptizing missions to Prussia, now north-east Poland. Legend has it that the locals tied him up, stabbed him with seven spears, cut his head off and put it up on a spike.

Photo: CTK
Just two years after his death Adalbert was canonized by the pope and his remains travelled across Europe. Most of the relics returned to Bohemia in 1039, as historian Marie Bláhová from Charles University in Prague explains.

“Prince Břetislav I. organized an expedition to Poland. In the archbishop’s church in Gniezno he ceremonially exhumed the holy relics of Saint Adalbert, Saint Gaudentius and those of another five saints buried in another church and brought them all back to Prague. Adalbert’s relics were buried at Prague Castle. Later, on the site of the former rotunda of Saint Wenceslas, Prince Spytihněv I. founded a new basilica and consecrated it to St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and also to St. Adalbert, the three patrons of the church.”

In the 1970s the relics were examined by anthropologists and confirmed as belonging to St. Adalbert.

A well-educated man who spoke several languages, St. Adalbert brought Christianity to Hungary, Poland and Prussia, and is viewed as one of the pioneers of European unification. Ladislav Jouza from the Kolín Regional Museum:

“The significance of Vojtěch is in that he transcended the boundaries of the Přemyslid principality because he became a truly European personality. He had access to the imperial court and kept in touch with the learned men of the age.”

St. Adalbert's skull,  photo: Pelz,  CC BY-SA 3.0
The relics of St. Adalbert are now kept in three different places inside St. Vitus cathedral: the martyr’s skull in the Hilbert Treasury, the new reliquary in the Old Archbishop’s Chapel and the remaining relics are placed inside the main altarpiece. Except for the skull which is occasionally exhibited during church holidays the relics will not be displayed for public viewing.