John of Nepomuk

Written by Matej Bohm

Category: Notables

John of NepomukJohn of Nepomuk

John of Nepomuk, a representative of the Czech baroque era, was a priest, vicar-general and a martyr of the Czech people. He was born around the year 1345 in a small village called Pomuk, later known as Nepomuk, below Green Hill located in the Pilsen region. John received his Bachelor of Law degree at the University of Prague, then furthered his education at the University of Padua. After returning to Czechia in 1389, John found himself in a conflict for power between the church and the king; one of many conflicts between the Archbishop of Prague and King Wenceslaus IV.

On March 20, 1393, John of Nepomuk was tortured on the emperor’s orders for naming and appointing a new abbot for the Benedictine Abbey of Kladruby, which was crucial and important for King Wenceslaus IV. Unfortunately, John did not survive the suffering and was thrown into the river Vltava from Charles Bridge in Prague. His body washed ashore and became a symbol of veneration for defending the Catholic Church.

John’s death and worship spread rapidly across the continent. The Archbishop John of Jenstejn called John a martyr. During the 16th and 17th centuries many historical buildings like churches, cathedrals or statues were dedicated to him. On May 17, 1721, John of Nepomuk was beatified, and on March 19, 1729, he was canonized under Pope Benedict XIII.

Today we can see hundreds of churches and chapels which are dedicated to the figure of John of Nepomuk. Not only in central Europe but also across Italy, Spain and in some Overseas continents like Asia, South America or Africa. According to legends John of Nepomuk is the patron of bridges and water, the protector against floods and gossip and an indelible part of Czech land. The characteristic features of identification are five stars around his head, crucifix in his right hand, a priestly robe, book and a finger over his lips indicating silence and protecting a secret. In total there are over thirty thousand representations of him and about sixty-six thousand in the whole world. According to a legend, a statue of John, placed on the Charles Bridge, makes your wishes come true if you hold his well-polished hands.