1100 years since the death of St. Ludmila

1100 years since the death of St. Ludmila

Princess, mother, grandmother, and saint

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In 2021, we commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the murder of St. Ludmila, the first Czech and Slavic saint and the first historically documented woman of the ruling Přemyslid dynasty. During her life, Bohemia slowly became a Christian state and abandoned Slavic paganism, the first stone churches were built, and legends were created. Although her life is largely shrouded in mystery due to passing of time, a closer examination reveals a remarkable story of a strong woman of the early Middle Ages.

A woman emerging from under the veil of past

Ludmila was born around the year 860. Where? There is speculation about this, but it is probable that it was in Central Bohemia, in today's Mělník, as the daughter of the local prince. She was raised as a pagan who offered sacrifices to the Slavic gods. At about the age of 15, she married Bořivoj, the first historically documented Přemyslid prince and ruler of today's Central and Southern Bohemia. She was married for about 14 years and during that time, became the mother of 3 sons and 3 daughters. Together with her husband, in 882 she accepted Christianity from the Moravian Archbishop, Methodius. When she was about 30 years old, she was widowed. But she did not withdraw herself, as was customary. She took a very active part in politics. Many people did not like this and tried to deprive the widowed princess of power and influence over the ruling princely family. Eventually, Ludmila took refuge in her fortified settlement of Tetín in Central Bohemia, where she was murdered on 15 September 921, strangled by her own scarf, according to legend. Her death was apparently ordered by her own daughter-in-law, Princess Drahomíra, to consolidate her power. Ludmila has been considered a saint by the people since 925, but her official canonisation from the pope was not declared until 1143.

Where to meet with St. Ludmila today

Since many years have passed since St. Ludmila’s death, it is not easy to find traces of her. However, a few traces do remain. Even today, you can still go to the promontory above the river Berounka to Tetín in Central Bohemia and see the remains of the local fort. In the village Tetín, there is a church dedicated to St. Ludmila. It hadn’t stood there during her own lifetime; however, it was built at a later time. Prince Wenceslas, grandson of St. Ludmila, had her remains transported to Prague and buried in the Basilica of St. George within the grounds of the Prague Castle. She is buried there to this day. Her tomb can be found in the chapel of St. Ludmila in the southern nave of the basilica. However, her skull is kept separately as a rare relic in the treasury of the Cathedral of St. Vitus and is presented to the public only once a year, on 16 September on her feast day. There is one more trace of the princely couple Bořivoj I. and St. Ludmila within the grounds of the Prague Castle. When you walk through the II. and IV. Castle courtyard, see the remains of the Church of the Virgin Mary. This church was built by the couple after returning from Moravia, after being baptised as Christians. It is the oldest Christian church in Prague.

The cult of St. Ludmila

The cult of St. Ludmila gradually spread from Prague to the whole of Europe and, thanks to Czech compatriots, further into the world. Among the dozens of churches and chapels dedicated to St. Ludmila, you will find both older churches, such as the neo-Gothic church on Prague's Náměstí Míru Square in the Vinohrady district, and new buildings. Several monasteries, wells and springs are also dedicated to St. Ludmila. The most famous statue of St. Ludmila is the one standing in Prague on Charles Bridge; it was most likely created in the workshop of Matyáš Bernard Braun and shows how Ludmila teaching her grandson Wenceslas how to read from a book. St. Ludmila is also part of the equestrian monument of St. Wenceslas in Prague's Wenceslas Square; the grandmother "supervises" her grandson on his right, sided by Saints Vojtěch, Prokop and Agnes of Bohemia.

Remembrances of 1100 years since her death

This year in September, there are many events in honour of St. Ludmila. They start in August and some continue through September and October. Exhibitions, concerts, church masses, pilgrimages. All this is ready for the 15 –17 September, when the festivities commence in Prague at Prague Castle and Tetín. If your trip to the Czech Republic takes place at a later date, visit the Czech Museum of Music in Malá Strana in Prague. The National Museum has prepared a small exhibition called St. Ludmila in Music. You can see it until 4 October 2021. The exhibition recalls the millennial presence of the cult of St. Ludmila in the music culture of the Czech lands. The National Library is again preparing an exhibition called St. Ludmila and Written Sources, where St. Ludmila will be presented in many different kinds of written sources. Unique exhibits will be showcased, from 14 December 2021 to 30 January 2022. And what about the above-mentioned pilgrimages? There is one that truly stands out. It is the pilgrimage from Mělník to Tetín, following in her footsteps from her birth to her death, or from cradle to grave so to speak. The route leads through a field paths through the  Central Bohemian Region and measures 126 km, during which you can sink deep into your own thoughts and meditate on your life in peace and solitude. And then, perhaps, find new wisdom and gain new insights for person transformation.