Adalbert of Prague

(c. 956—997)

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bishop and missionary martyr. Born at Libice (Bohemia) of a princely family, he was educated by Adalbert of Magdeburg. On the latter's death he returned to Prague, the proud possessor of a collection of books. In 982, although less than thirty years old, he was chosen as its bishop. Austere, zealous, and energetic, he tried to spread Christianity in Hungary as well as in half-converted Bohemia. Although he had high moral as well as intellectual standards, visiting prisoners and the poor besides dividing the revenues according to Gregory's guidelines, he was exiled in 990 by nationalist opposition and went to Rome. There he became a monk, but was soon recalled to Bohemia by Duke Boleslas, who agreed to support him in the exercise of his authority. Adalbert soon founded the Benedictine abbey of Brevnov, helped by the influential Maieul of Cluny. Trouble soon returned however when a penitent adulterous noblewoman, given sanctuary in a nunnery by Adalbert, was dragged out and killed by her accusers. Excommunication and a violent reaction to this penalty obliged him to leave Prague for Rome once more in 995. This time some of Adalbert's relatives were massacred and the people of Prague refused to receive him back.

Adalbert had meanwhile become a close friend of Otto III, and his adviser on converting the Slavs. His last years were spent on a mission to convert the Prussians in Pomerania, following successful preaching in Danzig and elsewhere on the Baltic coast, made possible by his friendship with King Boleslas of Poland. Adalbert was martyred as a suspected Polish spy, traditionally near Konigsberg. He was buried at Gniezno, but in 1039 the relics were removed to Prague. Adalbert's widespread cult, in Bohemia, Hungary, Germany, Poland, and Kiev, reflects his importance in the conversion of eastern Europe. An 11th-century sculpture survives at Rome in the church of S. Bartholomeo all'isola Tiberina, while at Gniezno he is depicted on bronze doors (c.1175) receiving the pastoral staff from Otto III. Adalbert is also credited with the composition of vernacular Czech and Polish hymns. Feast: 23 April.

Early Lives by John Canaparius and Bruno of Querfurt in AA.SS. April. III (1866), 176–207;F. Dvornik, The Making of Central and Eastern Europe (1949), and The Slavs; their early History and Civilization (1956);B.L.S., iv. 166–8;Bibl. SS., i. 185–90.

Subjects: Religion — Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).

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