Ludmilla of Bohemia

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Saint Ludmilla of Bohemia (also Lidmilla , Czech Svatá Ludmila , rarely Lidmila , * between 855 and 860 probably in Mělník ; † September 15, 921 in Tetín ) was a Bohemian princess . She was the first Christian ruler and is the country's first saint . During her lifetime the foundation stone for Christianization was laid and the power base of the Přemyslid dynasty was created. The life of the grandmother and educator of St. Wenceslashas been described in many legends that are basic sources on the history of Bohemia in the 9th and 10th centuries.


The legend of Christian in the Draschitz manuscript G5, the oldest complete text version, was created around 1340

The main source of the life of St. Ludmilla is the so-called Christian legend , which was created between 992 and 994, possibly in the Břevnov monastery . The legend is given a high level of credibility. Its author is probably identical with the Prague Benedictine monk Strachkvas , a member of the ruling Přemyslids, who as such was familiar with the family history. In addition, it obviously does not want to be a saint's life in the true sense of the word, but rather is designed as a kind of chronicle . It is the first to record the story of Přemysl and Libuše , the founding saga of the ruling house, and tells the history of the country from its mythical beginnings to the 10th century. In addition to Christian's work, there are a number of other Wenceslas and Ludmilla legends , some of which are older and have served Christian as a basis, while others are based on him and other lost written traditions. In addition to Latin legends , Old Church Slavonic legends from Kievan Rus and Bohemia have been preserved. The evaluation of legends for historical contexts is difficult; however, other contemporary sources are not available. In sources such as the Annales Fuldenses , the situation in Bohemia is described, but the person of Ludmilla is not mentioned.



Ludmilla was born between 855 and 860 as the daughter of the Slavic prince Slavibor . It is a matter of dispute where it was ruled. Two possibilities are being considered: on the one hand the area of ​​today's Czech town Mělník and on the other hand the area of ​​the Sorbian tribe of the Milzener in Upper Lusatia . Christian's statement that Ludmilla comes from speaks for Mělník:

"Ex provincia Sclavorum, que Psou antiquitus nuncupabatur, nunc a modernis ex civitate noviter constructa Mielnik vocitatur."

"From a Slavic province, which used to be called Pšov, but is now called Mělník after the newly built castle."

- Christian legend

In the area, Hradsko bei Mšeno is known to be a large fortified complex, which was probably built in the second half of the 8th century. However, there is no proof of Ludmilla's origins here. There are also strong indications for the origin from the area of ​​the Sorbs, which is handed down in the so-called prologue legend . Intensive contacts existed between Bohemia and the Sorbian tribes in the 9th and 10th centuries. The Franconian Empire, and in particular the eastern duchies , posed a serious threat to both areas, and there was joint military activity. A marriage to reinforce an anti-Frankish alliance is at least possible. Ludmilla's daughter-in-law Drahomíra also came to Bohemia a little later from the West Slavic Heveller tribe as a princely bride.


Probably in 874, Ludmilla married the Bohemian prince Bořivoj at the age of about 14 . It is not known whether she was his only wife. Both were not yet Christianized at the time of their marriage, and the Church in Bohemia fought relatively unsuccessfully against polygamy in the upper classes as late as the 10th century . The first son Spytihněv was born around 875 and Vratislav around 888 . In between, the couple had another son and three daughters, whose names have not been passed down.

Bořivoj's position at that time cannot be precisely determined. On the one hand, he is referred to as the sovereign ( dux, princeps ), but in the 9th century the appearance of several Bohemian dukes is documented several times. It remains unclear whether this title was given to rulers of independent tribes or whether it was a tribe that was spread over several settlement chambers. The only thing that seems certain is that at the end of the 9th century Bohemia did not have an autocratic ruler, but that the dukes appeared as representatives of a country and tolerated one or more main representatives. The claim to sole representation of the Přemyslid dynasty was only enforced at the beginning of the 10th century by Bořivoj, Ludmilla and their direct descendants.


The baptism of Bořivoj in Moravia. Velislaus Bible , 1st half of the 14th century

The royal couple was baptized between 882 and 885, the most likely date seems to be 883. Christian describes Bořivoj's conversion to the Christian faith as follows: The prince “in any matter that concerned him and his people” had made a case to the Great Moravian prince Svatopluk . There he was not allowed to sit at the table, but had to sit on the floor according to pagan custom. The Moravian Bishop Methodius was able to convince him of the advantages of baptism:

"You will become the lord of your masters and all your enemies will be subjected to your power and your descendants will grow daily like a great river with many streams flowing into it."

- Christian legend

Even if the legend cannot be believed literally with certainty, it contains clues for the possible motivation of the Bohemian prince to convert. Bohemia came under the domination of the Great Moravian Empire, probably around 883. The baptism could therefore have been forced, in any case Bořivoj had to be a Christian in order to be recognized as an equal interlocutor at the Moravian court. Strangely enough, Christian remains silent about Ludmilla's baptism. According to the legends Diffundente Sole and Tempore Michaelis Imperatoris , it first took place in Bohemia. After his return, Bořivoj built a church in his place of residence, Levý Hradec Castle , consecrated it to St. Kliment and installed a priest named Kaich , whom Svatopluk had given him. A short time later Methodius paid him a visit there and took the opportunity to baptize Ludmilla along with many others.

What is certain is that baptism established a connection between the emerging Bohemian Christianity and the Eastern Slavic Church . Methodius and his brother Kyrill had proselytized in Moravia from 863 and reformed the existing church organization that was oriented towards Regensburg . Cyril translated the Gospel and developed the Old Church Slavonic written language, Methodius became bishop in Moravia from around 869 . The liturgy could not last after his death in 885, the Slavic priests were expelled from Moravia. In Bohemia, on the other hand, monks were still producing Slavic scripts in the 10th century, and Ludmilla's grandson Václav was taught from both Slavic and Latin books.

In Bohemia itself, the change of faith initially had negative consequences. There was a nationwide uprising, Bořivoj and Ludmilla were expelled and had to flee to Moravia. The people chose a new ruler named Strojmír. The outrage was probably not due to the baptism alone, because 14 Bohemian dukes had already been baptized in Regensburg in 845, albeit without lasting success. More important could have been Bořivoj's “going it alone” and the associated strengthening of his position of power. Strojmír was unable to stay in power for long, however, as he did not speak the local language, and the royal couple returned from exile. After his return, Bořivoj built a second church dedicated to St. Mary in Prague Castle . Presumably there was also a change of residence and with it the relocation of the political center of the country from Levý Hradec to Prague .


Head reliquary of Ludmilla of Bohemia from the 14th century, Prague Cathedral Treasure

Bořivoj died around 889/890 and Ludmilla was widowed at around 28 years of age. The primogeniture , i.e. the claim of the eldest son Spytihněv to the succession, cannot be accepted with certainty for this time. Rather, according to the older tradition, rule could probably be transferred to the oldest member of the family or, by choice, to any other adult family member. How the succession was regulated within the country is unknown. In any case, in March 890, at a meeting of the East Franconian king Arnulf and Svatopluks , Bohemia was handed over to the Moravian king for direct rule. Ludmilla could most likely continue to dispose of the entourage and the princely property, and the division of the country into several areas continued: When, after Svatopluk's death, the Bohemian dukes came to Regensburg in 895 to submit to Arnulf of Carinthia, their leaders were not further known Witizla and Spytihněv, Ludmilla's son, called.

In the period that followed, the Přemyslid rulers finally prevailed. Spytihněv's rule lasted about 20 years, after which his brother Vratislav ruled for another five to six years . Formally, the country still belonged to the sphere of influence of Eastern Franconia, which was, however, weakened by the Hungarian invasions . Bohemia was apparently less affected by the attacks than its neighbors, and the brothers used the time to build up a closed rulership, the so-called Přemyslid domain. The main towns of Prague , Levý Hradec and Budeč were surrounded by a circle of further fortifications: The castles in Tetín , Libušín , Mělník , Stará Boleslav and Lštění are all about 30 kilometers as the crow flies from Prague and are on important traffic routes. They were with a church and a palace equipped and well often served as a residence not ruling family members.

From this time it is known of Ludmilla that she took over the upbringing of her grandchildren Václav and Boleslav during the lifetime of her son Vratislav and that she guided them according to Christian principles. She lived in her own house in Prague Castle and had her own suite. The children's mother, Vratislav's wife Drahomíra , may not have been baptized.


Saint Ludmilla fled to Tetín. Velislaus Bible, 1st half of the 14th century
The death of St. Ludmilla in Tetín in an illustration of the Latin translation of the Dalimil Chronicle from the beginning of the 14th century

Vratislav died in 921, perhaps on February 13th. His son Václav was around 13 years old at the time, and Boleslav around 7 to 8 years old. The great people of the country appointed Václav as his father's successor despite his minority, but entrusted Ludmilla with the upbringing of the children. Drahomíra must have feared a decisive weakening of her position of power as the de facto regent in this step. In the summer of 921 at the latest, there was an open conflict between the two women, in which Ludmilla was defeated. She let her daughter-in-law tell:

“I don't want to rule over you. Take your sons as you please, rule with them, but grant me the freedom to serve Almighty Christ in a place convenient for you. "

- Christian legend

Ludmilla passed the grandchildren to their mother and went with her entourage to Tetín, one of the Přemyslid castles that was on the way to Regensburg. So she did not leave the domain and thus apparently continued to pose a threat to Drahomíra. In any case, in September the regent decided to have her mother-in-law killed and sent part of her retinue under the orders of two men named Tunna and Gommon with a clear mission .

On September 15th the warriors arrived in Tetín. According to Christian's words, Ludmilla knew what was going to happen, had her priest Pavel read mass and made confession . After dark, on September 16, according to the era of the time, the intruders broke open the gate and some, including Tunna and Gommon, broke into the house. There was no armed resistance, only the princess tried to talk to her murderers. In vain: the men tore her out of bed, let her say one last prayer and strangled her with a rope, according to another reading with a veil . Ludmilla's request to be beheaded with the sword was refused. The hagiographers considered this type of death to be particularly cruel, as it took place without bloodshed. For a martyr , however, this was one of the prerequisites for canonization . At the same time, the origin of Tunna and Gommons is deduced from this. The strangulation and subsequent cremation of widows in the Kievan Rus was described by Ahmad Ibn Fadlān for the period mentioned , and so it is assumed that the two men were Varangians in the Bohemian service. There is a serious counter-argument against this thesis: In order to carry out such an act of sacrifice , Ludmilla would have had to consent to her death, which she clearly had not done. It is therefore also possible that Drahomira ordered the strangulation to prevent a martyr cult around her mother-in-law.

The act hadn't paid off for Tunna and Gommon. Although they were richly rewarded and subsequently rose to a position similar to a prince, Drahomíra soon had the perpetrators “punished”: Tunna was able to flee, but Gommon and all relatives of both warriors were killed at the princess's behest.


The four patrons of Bohemia in a copy of the work De civitate dei of St. Augustine. Prague capitular manuscript, 1197–1214

After her death, Ludmilla received a quick burial on the wall of her house in Tetín. In the years 921 to 924 Drahomíra had a church built over the grave and consecrated to the Archangel Michael . The legendists did not believe that the pagan princess ordered a sacred building. According to Christian, this should stop and divert the already looming veneration. Cult structures above the graves of the deceased are not, however, a Christian invention: Other early Western and Central European memorial churches also have connections to the pre-Christian cult of the dead . The accounts can thus point to an ancient custom that was still alive and accepted in Drahomíra's time.

In any case, Ludmilla's death was not to be forgotten: one of the first independent official acts of her grandson Václav after taking office was in 925 the transfer of his grandmother's bones to Prague and their reburial in the Basilica of St. George . Ludmilla's status as a saint was established with the solemn translation ; an official canonization was not yet common or necessary in the 10th century. The ecclesiastical confirmation was not given until 1143–1144 by the papal legate Guido di Castello during a visit to Prague.

The cult was that of a dynastic saint from the beginning and was intended to underline the power of the Premyslid house. In contrast to the cult of her grandson, it was only hesitant to gain acceptance. The veneration was initially limited to the Benedictine monastery, to which the Church of St. George fell around 970, and at the beginning of the 12th century the Prague bishops refused to recognize it. According to Cosmas of Prague, the abbess of St. George wanted to use a piece of Ludmilla's veil as a relic at a church consecration in 1100, but Bishop Herman was against it. The fabric was then subjected to a fire test and passed, which proved its holiness beyond any doubt. The chronicle's report is supported by an archaeological find: When Ludmilla's grave was opened in 1981, a white textile with a woven geometric pattern was found that had apparently been there from the beginning.

It was not until the end of the 12th century that Ludmilla rose to become the patron saint of Bohemia. In the Prague capitular manuscript of the Augustine work De civitate dei , which was created between 1197 and 1214, it stands in a row next to Václav , Vojtěch and Prokop and is thus one of the four main patrons of the country.

The veneration of Ludmilla took a special boom when Kunigunde, a daughter of King Ottokar II. Přemysl, became abbess of the George monastery (1302–1321). The most valuable representations of the saints were made in the course of the 14th century. Theodoric of Prague , court painter to Emperor Charles IV , depicted them in some of his frescoes in the chapel of Karlštejn Castle . The cycle of pictures on the Wenceslas and Ludmilla legends in two magnificent illustrated manuscripts, the Velislaus Bible from around 1350 and the Latin translation of the Dalimil chronicle from the beginning of the 14th century are well known.

In addition to her role as the patron saint of the country and the Přemyslids, Ludmilla served as the patroness of winemakers, grandmothers, mothers and Christian educators. The pictorial representations show her in a long dress with a veil or a princely headgear, her attribute is usually a scarf or a rope. She is often depicted with St. Wenceslaus as his teacher. The anniversary of the death on September 16 and the transmission on November 10 are celebrated as memorial days.

Antonín Dvořák created the oratorio Saint Ludmilla in 1886 . The Ludmilla Church in Prague was completed in 1892.

Choice of legends

In the early and high medieval legends about her grandson Wenceslaus , Ludmilla is usually only mentioned in passing. The most important hagiographic testimonies dedicated to her are:

  • Fuit in provincia Boemorum - the oldest surviving Ludmilla legend, originated in Prague shortly after 975. Edited by Václav Chaloupecký : Prameny 10. století Legendy Kristiánovy o sv. Václavu a sv. Ludmile . Prague 1939.Edited by Oswald Holder-Egger under the title Passio S. Ludmillae in MGH SS 15.1, Hannover 1887, pp. 572–574 ( digitized version)
  • Legenda Christiani . Vita et passio sancti Wenceslai et sancte Ludmile ave eius. - Christian legend, written around 992–994. Edited by Jaroslav Ludvíkovský, Prague 1978. E-Text ( Memento from September 27, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  • Prologue - legend - a short Old Church Slavonic text, written in Russia, probably at the end of the 11th to the beginning of the 13th century. Published by Josef Vajs in: Sborník staroslovanských literárních památek o Sv. Václavu a Sv. Lidmile, Prague 1929. ( Latin translation of the 19th century by A. Brückner )
  • Diffused brines - probably arose in the 13th century at the earliest. Published by Jaroslav Ludvíkovský in Magnae Moraviae Fontes Historici II, Prague 1967, pp. 276–283.


Web links

Commons : Ludmilla of Böhmen  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The earliest fragments of Christian's legend date from the 12th century. The oldest version of the complete text is contained in the so-called Draschitz manuscript G5, which was created around 1340 and is now kept in Prague.
  2. Legend of Christians, Cap. 3, p. 24.
  3. For example in the Fuldaer Annalen to 872.
  4. Legend of Christians, Cap. 2, p. 18.
  5. Fulda Annals for the year 845.
  6. For example, mentioned in the Fulda annals for the year 895 and in the chronicle of Regino von Prüm .
  7. Fulda Annals for the year 895.
  8. Legend of Christians, Cap. 3, p. 30.
  9. ^ Dušan Třeštík : Počátky Přemyslovců . Nakladatelství lidové noviny, 1998, ISBN 80-7106-138-7 , p. 373
  10. Petr Sommer: Smrt kněžny Ludmily a začátky české sakrální architektury . Český Časopis Historický 2/2000, pp. 229–260
  11. ^ Dušan Třeštík: Počátky Přemyslovců , p. 370.