John of Nepomuk

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John of Nepomuk
Johannes von Nepomuk Hinterglasbild.jpg
Priest and Martyr
Died(1393-03-20)March 20, 1393
Beatified May 31, 1721
Canonized March 19, 1729 by Benedict XIII
Feast May 16
Attributes halo of five stars, palm, priestly dress, cross, bridge, angel indicating silence by a finger over the lips, Biretta
Patronage Bohemia, San Juan, Batangas, Malibay, Pasay City, Alfonso, Cavite, Moalboal, Cebu, Cabiao, Spanish Navy Marines

Saint John of Nepomuk (or John Nepomucene) (Czech : Jan Nepomucký; German : Johannes Nepomuk; Latin : Ioannes Nepomucenus [1] ) (c. 1345 – March 20, 1393) [2] is the saint of Bohemia (Czech Republic) who was drowned in the Vltava river at the behest of Wenceslaus, King of the Romans and King of Bohemia. Later accounts state that he was the confessor of the queen of Bohemia and refused to divulge the secrets of the confessional. On the basis of this account, John of Nepomuk is considered the first martyr of the Seal of the Confessional, a patron against calumnies and, because of the manner of his death, a protector from floods and drowning. [2]

Canonization act by which Churches declare that a person who has died was a saint

Canonization is the act by which a Christian church declares that a person who has died was a saint, upon which declaration the person is included in the "canon", or list, of recognized saints. Originally, a person was recognized as a saint without any formal process. Later, different processes were developed, such as those used today in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion.

Czech language West Slavic language spoken in the Czech Republic

Czech, historically also Bohemian, is a West Slavic language of the Czech–Slovak group. Spoken by over 10 million people, it serves as the official language of the Czech Republic. Czech is closely related to Slovak, to the point of mutual intelligibility to a very high degree. Like other Slavic languages, Czech is a fusional language with a rich system of morphology and relatively flexible word order. Its vocabulary has been extensively influenced by Latin and German.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.


Basic biographical information

Jan z Pomuku came from the small market town of Pomuk (later renamed Nepomuk) in Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic, which belonged to the nearby Cistercian abbey.

Nepomuk Town in Plzeň, Czech Republic

Nepomuk is a town in the Plzeň Region of the Czech Republic. It is known as the birthplace of Saint John of Nepomuk who was born here in around 1340 and whose statue can be seen on the town square.

Czech Republic Republic in Central Europe

The Czech Republic, also known by its short-form name, Czechia, is a landlocked country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west, Austria to the south, Slovakia to the east and Poland to the northeast. The Czech Republic covers an area of 78,866 square kilometres (30,450 sq mi) with a mostly temperate continental climate and oceanic climate. It is a unitary parliamentary republic, with 10.6 million inhabitants; its capital and largest city is Prague, with 1.3 million residents. Other major cities are Brno, Ostrava, Olomouc and Pilsen. The Czech Republic is a member of the European Union (EU), NATO, the OECD, the United Nations, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe.

Born in the 1340s, his father was a certain Velflín (Welflin, Wölflin) and his mother is unknown. His father's name is probably diminutive of the German name Wolfgang. [3]

Jan first studied at the University of Prague, then furthered his studies in canon law at the University of Padua from 1383 to 1387. In 1393 he was made the vicar-general of Saint Giles Cathedral by Jan of Jenštejn (1348–1400), who was the Archbishop of Prague from 1378 to 1396. In the same year, on March 20, he was tortured and thrown into the river Vltava from Charles Bridge in Prague by order of King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia.

University of Padua university in Italy

The University of Padua is a premier Italian university located in the city of Padua, Italy. The University of Padua was founded in 1222 as a school of law and was one of the most prominent universities in early modern Europe. Padua is the second-oldest university in Italy and the world's fifth-oldest surviving university. In 2010 the university had approximately 65,000 students, in 2016 was ranked "best university" among Italian institutions of higher education with more than 40,000 students, and in 2018 best Italian university according to ARWU ranking.

Jan of Jenštejn Archbishop of Prague

Jan z Jenštejna, German: Johann II. von Jenstein, Johannes VI. von Jenstein. Johann von Jenzenstein, Johann von Genzenstein was the Archbishop of Prague from 1379 to 1396. He studied in Bologna, Padova, Montpellier and Paris. He was also a poet, writer and composer.

Vltava river in the Czech Republic

The Vltava is the longest river within the Czech Republic, running southeast along the Bohemian Forest and then north across Bohemia, through Český Krumlov, České Budějovice and Prague, and finally merging with the Elbe at Mělník. It is commonly referred to as the "Bohemian sea" and the "Czech national river".

Martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk by Szymon Czechowicz, National Museum in Warsaw. Czechowicz St. John Nepomuk.jpg
Martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk by Szymon Czechowicz, National Museum in Warsaw.

At issue was the appointment of a new abbot for the rich and powerful Benedictine Abbey of Kladruby; its abbot was a territorial magnate whose resources would be crucial to Wenceslaus in his struggles with nobles. Wenceslaus at the same time was backing the Avignon papacy, whereas the Archbishop of Prague followed its rival, the pope at Rome. Contrary to the wishes of Wenceslaus, John confirmed the archbishop's candidate for Abbot of Kladruby, and was drowned on the emperor's orders on March 20, 1393.

Abbot Religious title

Abbot, meaning father, is an ecclesiastical title given to the male head of a monastery in various traditions, including Christianity. The office may also be given as an honorary title to a clergyman who is not the head of a monastery. The female equivalent is abbess.

Kladruby (Tachov District) Town in Czech Republic

Kladruby is a town in the Czech Republic, in the region of Plzeň, near the town Stříbro.

This account is based on four contemporary documents. The first is the accusation of the king, presented to Pope Boniface IX on April 23, 1393, by Archbishop John of Jenštejn, who immediately went to Rome together with the new abbot of Kladruby. [4]

Pope Boniface IX pope

Pope Boniface IX was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 2 November 1389 to his death in 1404. He was the second Pope of the Western Schism. During this time the papal claiments of the Avignon Obedience, antipope Clement VII and Benedict XIII, maintained the Roman Curia in Avignon, under the protection of the French monarchy.

A few years later Abbott Ladolf of Sagan listed John of Nepomuk in the catalog of Sagan abbots, completed in 1398, [5] as well as in the treatise "De longævo schismate", lib. VII, c. xix. [6]

A further document is the "Chronik des Deutschordens"/Chronik des Landes Preussen, a chronicle of the Teutonic Order compiled by John of Posilge, who died in 1405. [7]

In the above accusation, John of Jenštejn already calls John of Nepomuk a "saint martyr". The biography of the bishop (written by his chaplain) describes John of Nepomuk as "gloriosum Christi martyrem miraculisque coruscum" (in English: "a glorious martyr of Christ and sparkling with miracles").

Thus, the vicar put to death for defending the laws and the autonomy of the Catholic Church became revered as a saint directly after his death.

Later accounts

The prototypical statue of John of Nepomuk at Charles Bridge in Prague, at the site where the saint was thrown into Vltava. Made by Jan Brokoff upon a model by Matthias Rauchmiller in 1683, on the supposed 300th anniversary of the saint's death, which was until the mid-18th century presumed to had happened in 1383. It was the basis for a number of statues of the saint all across the Europe. Jan Nepomucky na Karlove moste detail.jpg
The prototypical statue of John of Nepomuk at Charles Bridge in Prague, at the site where the saint was thrown into Vltava. Made by Jan Brokoff upon a model by Matthias Rauchmiller in 1683, on the supposed 300th anniversary of the saint's death, which was until the mid-18th century presumed to had happened in 1383. It was the basis for a number of statues of the saint all across the Europe.
Cross on the bridge of St. John of Nepomuk 3 of 10 - Charles Bridge, PRAGUE.jpg
Cross on the bridge of St. John of Nepomuk
St. John of Nepomuk in Buchach, Ukraine. Made by Johann Georg Pinsel, 1750 (copy) St. Ian Nepomuk. Buchach 3.jpg
St. John of Nepomuk in Buchach, Ukraine. Made by Johann Georg Pinsel, 1750 (copy)

Much additional biographical information comes from Bohemian annalists who wrote 60 or more years after the events they recount. Although they may have taken advantage of sources not available today, their contribution is considered legendary by many historians, particularly by the Protestant ones.

The mistake of John of Krumlov crept into the Annales Bohemorum [11] of Wenceslaus Hajek of Liboczan (Václav Hájek z Libočan), the "Bohemian Livy". He suggested that two Jan di Nepomuks may have existed and have both been killed by King Wenceslaus. The first one is the queen's confessor, who died in 1383; the other the vicar of the archbishop, who disagreed with the king on the election of the abbot of Kladruby and was drowned in 1393. As Hajek's annals enjoyed a wide success, they influenced all subsequent historians for two centuries, up to the Latin edition, critically annotated by the translator, which considerably reduced Hajek's credit as a reliable historian.

Further and less reliable details about John of Nepomuk come from the annalists of the 17th and 18th centuries. Boleslaus Balbinus, S.J., in his Vita b. Joannis Nepomuceni martyris [12] gives the most rich account.

Although the theory of Hajek of Liboczan has no credit today, some historians believe the vicar's refusal to betray the seal of the confessional might have been the secret reason why Wenceslaus took vengeance on John of Nepomuk as soon as a credible excuse provided the opportunity.

A controversial figure

1732 monument on Cathedral Island in Wroclaw, by Jan Jiri Urbansky Wroclaw Nepomucen 1.jpg
1732 monument on Cathedral Island in Wrocław, by Jan Jiři Urbansky

Catholics see John of Nepomuk as a martyr to the cause of defending the Seal of the Confessional. Romantic nationalists regard him as a Czech martyr to imperial interference. Most historians present him as a victim of a late version of the inveterate investiture controversy between secular rulers and the Catholic hierarchy.

The connection of John of Nepomuk with the inviolability of the confessional is part of the transformation of an historical figure into a legend, which can be traced through successive stages. The archbishop, who hastened to Rome soon after the crime, in his charge against Wenceslaus, called the victim a martyr; in the vita written a few years later miracles are already recorded, by which the drowned man was discovered. About the middle of the 15th century the statement appears for the first time that the refusal to violate the seal of confession was the cause of John's death. Two decades later (1471), the dean of Prague, Paul Zidek, makes John the queen's confessor. The chronicler Wenceslaus Hajek speaks in 1541 (perhaps due to an incorrect reading of his sources) of two Johns of Nepomuk being drowned; the first as confessor, the second for his confirmation of the abbot.

The place on the bridge parapet where John of Nepomuk was thrown into the Vltava. John of Nepomuk2.jpg
The place on the bridge parapet where John of Nepomuk was thrown into the Vltava.

The legend is especially indebted for its growth to the Jesuit historiographer Boleslaus Balbinus the "Bohemian Pliny", whose Vita beati Joannis Nepomuceni martyris was published in Prague, 1670. Although the Prague metropolitan chapter did not accept the biography dedicated to it, "as being frequently destitute of historical foundation and erroneous, a bungling work of mythological rhetoric", Balbinus stuck to it. In 1683 the Charles Bridge was adorned with a statue of the saint, which has had numerous successors; in 1708 the first church was dedicated to him at Hradec Králové; a more famous Pilgrimage Church of Saint John of Nepomuk was founded in 1719.

Meanwhile, in spite of the objection of the Jesuits, the process was inaugurated which ended with his canonization. On May 31, 1721, he was beatified, and on March 19, 1729, he was canonized under Pope Benedict XIII. The acts of the process, comprising 500 pages, distinguish two Johns of Nepomuk and sanction the cult of the one who was drowned in 1383 as a martyr of the sacrament of penance.

According to some Protestant sources, the figure of St. John Nepomuk is a legend due to Jesuits and that its historical kernel is really Jan Hus, who was metamorphosed from a Bohemian Reformer into a Roman Catholic saint: the Nepomuk story would be based on Wenceslaus Hajek's blending of the Jan who was drowned in 1393 and the Jan who was burned in 1415. The resemblances are certainly striking, extending to the manner of celebrating their commemorations. But when the Jesuits came to Prague, the Nepomuk veneration had long been widespread; and the idea of canonization originated in opposition not to the Hussites, but to Protestantism, as a weapon of the Counter-Reformation. In the image of the saint which gradually arose is reflected the religious history of Bohemia.

A coincidental drought in the region a year later helped the legend along; the church convinced the peasants that the drought represented God's punishment for the killing of Jan Nepomucký. Building on that success, they attempted to paint the king as even blacker, with certain clerical circles spreading reports of John's courage, saying that as confessor to the Queen he had refused to reveal her secrets, and that was why he had been murdered. Belief in John's supernatural powers culminated with the discovery of the saint's supposed tongue when three centuries later his tomb was opened and a piece of reddened tissue fell out of his skull.

Regional Significance

The figure of Saint John of Nepomuk is often encountered in Central Europe, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Poland, Lithuania, and, although rarely, Ukraine. He is usually portrayed with a halo of five stars, commemorating the stars that hovered over the Vltava River on the night of his murder. Other attributes useful to identify his pictures are: a priestly dress, the palm of martyrs, carrying a cross, an angel indicating silence by a finger over the lips. His tomb, a Baroque monument cast in silver and silver-gilt that was designed by Fischer von Erlach, stands in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague.

St. John of Nepomuk's Tomb in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague Tomb of John of Nepomuk, Prague.JPG
St. John of Nepomuk's Tomb in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague

Statue usage

A statue of Saint John of Nepomuk has often been erected on bridges in many countries, such as on the Ponte Milvio in Rome. The one in Prague was extremely popular as late as the 19th Century, when people people traveled from Tyrol, Hungary, and particularly Bohemia to Prague to celebrate his feast day, May 16. [14] There is a white statue of St. John of Nepomuk in the small village of Divina, in Slovakia. [15] There is also a commemorative plaque on a bridge leading out of Obergurgl, Austria depicting Nepomuk holding a finger to his lips, as if protecting a secret.


See also


  1. Sanctus Johannes Nepomucenus Christi Heiliger Blut-Zeug. 1723.
  2. 1 2 Krčmář, Mgr. Luděk. "Saint John of Nepomuk". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. If in 1369 John of Pomuk was a notary public, he must have been more than twenty years old. Thus he was probably born sometimes between 1340 and 1350 [1349].
  3. Bernard L. Fontana, A Gift of Angels: The Art of Mission San Xavier Del Bac (Tucson 2010), p.298.
  4. Pubitschka, Gesch., IV, app.; Pelzel ed., "Geschichte König Wenzels", I: "Urkundenbuch", 143-63
  5. l'ed. Stenzel in "Scrittura. il rerum Silesiacarum", I, 1835, pp. 213 sqq.
  6. Archiv für österreichische Geschichte, LX, 1880, pp. 418 sq.
  7. "Scriptores rerum Prussicarum", III, Leipzig 1860 -, 87
  8. cf. Schmude in "Zeitschrift für kathol. Theologie", 1883, 90 sqq.
  9. St. John of Nepomuk official website,
  10. The first queen was Johanna of Bavaria; the second one was her cousin Sofia of Bavaria.
  11. Kronika česká, first printed in Bohemian, Prague 1541; then translated in German and after two centuries also in Latin by Gelasius Dobner (6 volumes., Prague, 1761–83).
  12. Bohuslav Balbinus. Vita beati Joannis Nepomuceni martyris, Praga, 1670; It was reprinted in the Bollandists' Acta sanctorum III, May, pp 668–80.
  13. Adam Więcek (1964). Jan Jiří Urbanský český sochař ve Slezsku (in Czech).
  14. Chamber's Book of Days, 1871, p. 640.
  15. "Biskup Galis požehnal obnovenú sochu sv. Jána Nepomuckého v Divine" . Retrieved 2017-07-01.

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