Stephen vs. Wenceslaus

Welcome to the opening matchup of Lent Madness 2022! If you’re joining us for the first time, we’re delighted you’re along for this wild, saintly ride. If you’re curious about what this all entails, check out the About Lent Madness tab on the website.

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But mostly, we encourage you to read about the 32 saints participating in this year’s edition of Lent Madness, faithfully cast your (single!) vote on the weekdays of Lent, and add your comments to the great cloud of participating witnesses that gathers as the online Lent Madness community each year. It's true that this is the only place on the internet where reading the comments is actually edifying.

If you’re wondering when your favorite saint will be competing – in order to rally your friends and neighbors (creative campaigning is encouraged, voter fraud is not) – you can check out the 2022 Matchup Calendar. And if you'd like to see all 32 saints (plus Tim and Scott) represented in peg doll form, check out this AMAZING video from our friends at St. James Cathedral in South Bend, Indiana.

Things kick off with a matchup that may just leave you humming a certain Christmas carol, as Stephen faces off against Wenceslaus. Friends, it's time to cast your very first vote of Lent Madness 2022! We’re glad you’re all here. Now get to it!


Along with six other Greek-speaking believers, Stephen was selected to be a deacon in the Greek-speaking Christian community in Jerusalem, tasked with serving and providing for those in need. In some traditions, Stephen is identified as the eldest of these first deacons and given the title of archdeacon.

Set to the task of providing for the poor, Deacon Stephen also kept busy performing “wonders and signs” among the people. As is often the case, compassion was met with anger—as was his teaching and preaching—and Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin as a criminal.

Arguing for his life, Stephen could have chosen the easy path. Instead, he spoke truth to those who held power. He preached a sermon that accused his listeners of murdering the prophets who foretold the coming of Jesus. This went over like a lead balloon.

The authorities immediately took Stephen out and stoned him. Stephen became the protomartyr; the first follower of Jesus to give up their life for the sake of the gospel. And in his death, there resounded echoes of the death of Jesus as Stephen used his last breath to pray for the forgiveness of his killers. 

In life, Stephen’s story is tied to Jerusalem, but in death, Stephen has been a world traveler. At various points in time, Stephen’s remains have rested in both Jerusalem and Rome. In Jerusalem, one of the major gates to the city still bears his name. In Rome, it is said that the remains of another deacon, Lawrence, miraculously moved to make room for the first archdeacon of the church.

Stephen’s feast day is December 26, the first commemoration to follow the day of the Nativity of our Lord, just as his death was the first to follow the crucifixion of our Lord.

Collect for Stephen
We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen

-- David Hansen


Most of us are familiar with Good King Wenceslaus who goes out on the snowy evening of December 26. But Saint Wenceslaus was not a king, nor did he likely venture out on the feast of Stephen in deep snow. He was, however, a deeply faithful Christian whose life set the standard for a godly ruler for centuries to come.

Wenceslaus was born in Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic) in the early 900s. His grandparents and his father, the Duke of Bohemia, were faithful Christians, but his mother, Dragomir, remained a staunch devotee of pagan faith. When Wenceslaus was 13, his father died. His Christian grandmother Ludmilla became regent and guardian of Wenceslas, but Wenceslaus’s mother murdered Ludmilla and took control of the government. She instituted harsh penalties against Christians in Bohemia and tried desperately to convert her son to the pagan ways. When Wenceslaus came of age, he banished his mother and took control of the government himself.

Wenceslaus took a vow of chastity and worked tirelessly to share the Christian faith with his subjects. As a leader, he preferred diplomacy to war. One legend holds that as his army faced a challenger, Wenceslaus sent an offer of peace. His opponent viewed the peace offering as a sign of weakness and prepared to attack. Wenceslaus offered to fight his opponent one-on-one to avoid massive casualties. As the two men walked toward each other, his opponent saw two angels guarding Wenceslaus. His opponent wisely chose Wenceslaus’s offer of peace.

Wenceslaus’s brother Boleslav was threatened by this modernization and Christianization of Bohemia. On September 28, 935, as Wenceslaus entered a church to attend mass, Boleslav murdered Wenceslaus by running him through with a lance. Almost immediately, Wenceslaus was venerated as a martyr. Reports of miracles occurring at his tomb led Boleslav to relocate the bones to St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. Wenceslaus was promoted to kingship posthumously by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. The Crown of Wenceslaus became the symbol for Czech independence. Within decades of his death, hagiographies, or biographies of saints, of Wenceslaus were popular and established the model for the righteous king, whose power is rooted in piety.

Collect for Wenceslaus
Almighty God, you gave to your servant Wenceslaus special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Laurie Brock

UPDATE: At about 10:30 EST, we removed just over 600 votes from Wenceslaus due to some cheating. Remember that we encourage you to vote once and once only. Voting too many times gets you banned from the Saintly Smackown.

Stephen vs. Wenceslaus

  • Stephen (54%, 4,679 Votes)
  • Wenceslaus (46%, 3,916 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,595

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Stephen: Carlo Crivelli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Wenceslaus: Peter Parler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons



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277 comments on “Stephen vs. Wenceslaus”

  1. Not a limerick, but I couldn’t resist:

    “Good King Wenceslaus” is sung
    On the feast of Stephen.
    For these two contenders I
    Say the odds are even.

    One of them by brother slain
    The other by Sanhedrin
    Let us sing in glad refrain:
    Do not do a sa-aint in.

    1. Ahh — I’ve been looking forward to reading your verses since last Easter! This one was very definitely worth the wait.

    2. My first year. It sounds like I can look forward to many witty verses. A great way to start the day.

    3. I'm Steven the most powerful archdeacon and everything's so fine and dandy though in the hour had struck so was I with a handful of stones in a sling when my hour had come I prayed for those who would wrong to me

  2. I feel I have to vote for Wenceslas. I had a 100% Bohemian grandmother-Anna. All 4 of her grandparents immigrated to the US from Bohemia in the 1880’s. She had a quiet faith and spoke very little about it, though she prayed nightly. She was a very strong woman and loved by her 4 children, 12 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren (at the time of her death more since). We all thought she was fierce. She has been on my mind when I see these older and old women fighting for their country in Ukraine. Makes me think Eastern European grandmothers are just plain fierce. Pray for Ukraine, especially the grandmothers.

  3. I'm a deacon, so there's no contest - Stephen.

    Although in a different matchup, W might have won - Good King Wenceslas was the only Christmas carol my father felt comfortable singing (more or less near the tune) so I learned it early.

  4. As a faithful member of St Stephens Church, I want to shamelessly urge everyone to support the first martyr. As one of the first deacons, charged with caring for the least among us, his example of caring for others despite opposition serves as inspiration in a world often focused on self, and his faith to the last can inspire and provide solace for those in Ukraine fighting for what is right and just.

    Stephen for the halo folks! C'mon - vote with me!

  5. Wenceslaus has my vote. How I wish diplomacy could settle the Ukrainian conflict and that the loss of life could be eliminated!

    1. My thoughts exactly, Laura! I am voting for Wencelaus for his courage, determination and to honor the people of the Czech Republic, who have experienced way too much war and strife throughout their history. Stephen is of course, a worthy choice as well!

  6. I commend Wenceslas for the way he went into "battle" by challenging his opponent to a one-on-one showdown rather than inflicting casualties on whole armies and peoples. There is a similar recommendation of this in the anti-war novel, All Quiet on the Eastern Front where the main character proposes that as an alternative to all-out war. Agressors who want to provoke war have second thoughts when they themselves are directly at risk.

  7. Wow, tough choice right out of the gate! I memorized every verse of Good King Wenceslaus in the 4th grade and still known it by heart. But I voted for Stephen as the first martyr and as a member of St Stephen’s Episcopal.

  8. While I admire Sttephen for standing up to the Sanhedrin I had to vote for Wenceslas. It was his offer to fight one-on-one instead of engaging in war with massive casualties.

  9. Since I am in London I popped into to St. Stephen's Gloucester Road for the mid-day mass before voting for the promartyr.

  10. I came into this morning fully expecting to vote for St. Stephen. But I was astonished by the story of Wenceslaus. The guy put his life on the line to prevent a senseless war. What could be more timely?

  11. Ah, for that moment in Love, Actually when the prime minister’s body man takes up the tune AND THE LYRICS with gusto! Earworm permanence in my world. With good visuals, as well. Wenceslaus for the Saintly 16 at least!

  12. Loved the biographies, but alas, my husband Stephen has my heart as well as St. Stephen has this vote!

  13. Have to vote for Deacon Steve, as our Deacon in charge is Steve and he will be ordained to the priesthood next week!

  14. Wenceslas’ preference for diplomacy and peace would be helpful in our world today.

  15. I voted for Wenceslaus, too. What made the difference for me was that he wanted peace and to save lives when it seemed war was inevitable. Given the week the Ukrainians have had, recognizing a ruler who wanted and sought peace was important.

  16. It’s great to have a Deacon to vote for especially a well known one. Speaking as a Descon

  17. As a Deacon how could I not vote for Stephen. Although in today's world with the Ukraine being invaded Wenceslas offer of peace could go a long way.

  18. Like so many matchups, this will be a touch call for me. I wish we had a like button so i could like so many of your comments!

  19. This is a tough call for the first matchup of 2022! The diplomacy of Wenceslas could make him the saint for our time given the situation in Ukraine. In the end I voted for Stephen - He lived to his Calling, and confessed Jesus as Lord even to death.

  20. King Wencelaus may be known for a Christmas carol but St. Stephen has a song about him by the Grateful Dead! But agree it was a tough choice. Have to go with Stephen ,song aside. Isn't there a legend that the future St Paul held one of the men's coats while he was stoning Stephen?

  21. Charity comes easily to princes. They're being generous with other people's money.
    Wenceslaus' status as a martyr is sort of a consolation prize for finishing second in the Bohemian game of thrones rather than a reward for his faith.
    Besides, Wenceslaus only went fourth in his own carol. My vote would have to go to the three who finished before him.

  22. My fierce grandmother was Bohemian and so it was a very tough call. I had to vote for Stephen because of his works. We so need his example in the world.

  23. This was hard because I have positive feelings for both but it feels to me that Stephen made a choice to share the gospel and stood up for that choice and what we are called to right to the end

  24. My vote goes for Wenceslas because Good King Wenceslas was one of the first Christmas carols I learned.