Pillar of the Northern Nemanjić Lineage
Her father Slavibor was duke of Milceni, a large Polabian tribe in White Serbia. She became wife of Duke Bořivoj. The two of them were the first in Bohemia to be baptized, by the hand of St. Methodius personally. After her husband’s death, she preserved the lives of her sons and thereby founded the famous Přemyslid dynasty, which ruled for about four centuries. She brought up her grandson Wenceslaus, future king, in Christian and old Slavic spirit, enabling him to successfully oppose Germanization. Her distant descendant is Sigmund of Luxembourg, the one who gave Stefan the management of Belgrade. She died a martyr death and rests in the Church of St. George in Hradčany (Prague Castle). Miracles have been happening on her tomb for centuries

By: Tatjana Marković

According to the oldest Bohemian Chronicle, it was a time when that Slavic country was entirely covered with endless forests full of clear springs, meadows full of herds of wild horses, and the air filled with buzzing of bees and singing of birds. At that time, ”Serbian princess Ludmila” became wife of Duke Bořivoj and, together with her husband, the first in Bohemia to be baptized. She gave birth to two dukes. After her husband’s death, she preserved the lives of her sons and thereby founded the famous Přemyslid lineage.
The main historical source speaking about the life of this Serbian woman is a chronicle written between 992 and 994, probably in Brevnov Monastery. The author of the chronicle is Kristian Strachkvas, Episcope of Prague and member of the Přemyslid dynasty, who was certainly familiar with family affairs.
Ludmila was born around the years 855–860, in the Psov fortress. Her father, Duke Slavibor, was head of the Serbian Milceni tribe, which covered the area of Upper Lusatia, White Serbia in the IX and X centuries. At the time, Serbian tribes made a large part of the Polabian Slavs population. The large Serbian group included smaller tribes, which called themselves Milceni, Glomoceni, Studorans, Nishans, Prekopyens, Dolencheni, Rani, Drevani, Glinians, Lusatians, Obodrites, Severians, Braničevci, Timočani, Rashanians, Ratarians... From the II to the XIV century, part of this population continuously moved or returned to the south, to the Balkan Peninsula. They all made an independent political and military whole, and their rulers were princes, zupans and dukes. At times of great dangers and wars, they united for a short period of time and then again separated until the Germanic conquests.
From the early IX and during the X century, due to the penetration of the Frankish Empire to the east, Bohemia and White Serbia were close and had joint military activities for defending their territories. Strengthening the union with the marriage between Ludmila, daughter of a Serbian duke, and Bohemian Duke Bořivoj is therefore no wonder. The marriage was concluded around 874, when Ludmila was about fourteen. Their first son Spytihněv was born in 875 and Vratislaus in 888. Between the two of them, another son and three daughters were born, but their names were not documented.
The royal couple was baptized probably in 883, at the time Bohemia fell under dominion of the Great Moravian Empire and its King Svatopluk. (In the IX century, the Great Moravian Empire covered the territories of present Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and southern Poland.) Previously, in 863, upon the request of Duke Rastislav, Byzantine Emperor Michael III and Patriarch of Constantinople Photios I sent Cyril and Methodius, two brothers from Thessaloniki, to Moravia. The brothers founded a monastery not far from Velegrad, capital of Moravia, and became the first preachers among Western Slavs. (...)


Methodius baptized Ludmila and Bořivoj in Moravia. The baptizing recognized Bořivoj as equal in the Great Moravia council. He then returned to Bohemia with his wife and raised a new fortified city, Levý Hradec, which became the state center. He also erected a church dedicated to St. Clement, in which mass baptizings of people took place. A literacy school was founded at the church, with Cyril and Ludmila as its first teachers, later saints. Since that time, the Slavic church was present in Bohemia.
Religious reforms were not easily accepted by pagan Bohemians, so an uprising broke out soon, and Ludmila and Bořivoj had to flee to Moravia. The new ruler was Duke Strojmir. Bořivoj, however, managed to return to power with the help of the Moravian Christian Duke Svatopluk I and his big army. After returning to Bohemia, he moved his political center to Prague and, to honor the great victory, erected a Church of Virgin Mary in the place of the national council meetings in the capital of Bohemia.
After Bořivoj’s death, in 889 or 890, his oldest son Spytihněv succeeded him on the throne, at the age of only fourteen. It was only formally, since the real power in Bohemia was in the hands of Svatopluk of Moravia and king of East Franks Arnulf of Carinthia. Only thanks to her great diplomatic talent, Ludmila managed to preserve power over Bohemia for her juvenile sons. The Moravian duke, known for his bad temper, could easily get rid of the Přemyslids. Aware of the situation, Ludmila made an effort to prevent any political incidents in the country, so as not to cause any military interference from the outside.
At the beginning of 915, Duke Spytihněv suddenly passed away, and Duke Vratislaus I in February 921. After those tragedies with an unclear background, Wenceslaus, son of Vratislaus and his wife Drahomíra, stepped on the Bohemian throne. Since the heir to the throne was still just a boy, the real power belonged to Wenceslaus’ grandmother Ludmila and his mother Drahomíra. The bigotry between the two women led to a strict division of duties. Ludmila brought up heirs to the throne, first of all Duke Wenceslaus, while Drahomíra ran the state.
Drahomíra was sister of Duke Tugomir from the Havelli tribe, whose main fortification was Brennabor (present Brandenburg). After accepting Christianity, Tugomir gave dominion of his tribe to Germans around 940, who founded their bishopric in Brandenburg. All this ended with Tugomir’s assassination, which didn’t prevent his sister to lead a pro-German politics in Bohemia.


At the time of his father’s death, young Duke Wenceslaus was around thirteen and his brother Boleslaus around seven years old. Grandmother Ludmila took good care about their Christian and Slavic bringing up and education. Their first books were Slavonic, written in Glagolitic alphabet, and only later they learned Latin letters. The entire process of such education was well thought through, as well as complex and dangerous. Ludmila’s main idea was that Bohemia should have an educated ruler, who will appreciate traditional Slavic values and thus prevent the growingly aggressive Germanization. Furthermore, the political situation was unstable. Militant Germans constantly attempted to conquer Slavic territories, to assimilate or exterminate the local population. The Latin clergy prohibited the use of Slavic language in church services. The remaining pagan tribes were generally unsatisfied and threatened with rebellions. (...) Everyone had find their reasons for overthrowing or destroying a duke from the Přemyslids dynasty, who merged the spirit of eastern Christianity and old Slavic values.
However, it turned out that Ludmila planted a seed which gave good fruit.
Bohemia managed to survive German conquests. The Přemyslids dynasty ruled more than four centuries and gave important European rulers, including a few who were canonized. One of the first European universities, Charles University, was founded in Prague.
White Serbia wasn’t that lucky. It melted in time and its population moved to the Balkans, to White and Kiev Russia, or was Germanized.
After an open conflict with her daughter-in-law about the future political direction of Bohemia, Ludmila retreated to the Techin castle in 921. Soon afterwards, on September 16, Drahomíra sent two pagan Varyags named Tuna and Gomon to the castle. They used tricks to reach Ludmila’s chambers. According to her biography, they found Ludmila in prayer. She was aware of what was coming. They killed her ritually, by strangling her with a scarf, without spilling a drop of blood. It was an additional premeditation of the one who ordered the assassination: to disable proclaiming Ludmila a Christian martyr, since it required literally spilt innocent blood.
After reaching legal age, Wenceslaus gained right to the throne and independent decision-making, which ended Drahomíra’s regency and political influence. Her son first exiled her from the country, but soon brought her back with honors. Drahomíra lived in Prague until Wenceslaus’ death (in 929 or, according to some sources, 935), and later fled under protection of White Croatians.
After her death, Ludmila was buried next to the Techin castle walls in a rush. In 923-924, the Chapel of Holy Archangel Michael was erected above her grave. One of the first orders of young King Wenceslaus was to transfer Ludmila’s remains to Prague and bury them in the crypt of the Basilica of St. George in Hradčany (Prague Castle), where they still are today. At the time, Ludmila was already considered a saint among people and miracles happened on her tomb. A confirmation from the church arrived much later, only in 1143. It was brought to Prague by papal legate Guido di Castello.
Especially important for the creation of St. Ludmila’s cult in Bohemia is Kunigunda, daughter of King Ottokar I Přemyslid, whom Dante described in his Divine Comedy as one of the greatest people of his time. Kunigunda was prior of the Monastery of St. George from 1302 to 1321.


Ludmila’s holiness was proven in the attempt of priests to burn her relics. If they had burned, Ludmila would have been proclaimed a pagan, but her relics remained untouched by fire. According to chronicle writer Cosmas of Prague, already in 1100, prior of the Monastery of St. George wanted to take out from the tomb a part of the veil St. Ludmila was strangled with, exhibit it and respect it as a relic, but he wasn’t allowed to do so. Archeologists opened the tomb of St. Ludmila in 1981. The report states the existence of a white fabric in the form of a veil, partially burned, with geometric weaving. That cloth had certainly been there from the very beginning.


Ludmila became guardian of mothers, grandmothers and Christian teachers. Icon and fresco painters present her as a tall figure in a dress with a veil, scarf or rope in her hand. Her hagiography states: ”God celebrated the place of her burial with many miracles. The place was not in a church, but under city walls, where lit candles appeared every night. Eyesight returned to a blind man when he touched the soil on St. Ludmila’s tomb. And many more miracles happened since that time...”


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