630 years since martyrdom of John of Nepomuk

Břevnov Monastery

John of Nepomuk, one of the patron saints of the Czech lands, was brutally martyred on March 20, 1393, on the orders of King Wenceslas IV. He was beatified in 1721 and declared a saint eight years later.

It is said that the vicar-general to the Archbishop of Prague was tortured to death because he did not want to reveal the confessional secrets of Queen Sophie.

Martyrdom of St. John of Nepomuk | Photo: Jerzy Strzelecki,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

In reality, historical evidence points to King Wenceslas IV having had the court priest killed for siding with Rome in a political dispute over who would become the next abbot of Kladruby.

Whether the reasons for the martyrdom were power struggles or accusations of revealing confessional secrets, John of Nepomuk is regarded as a symbol of honesty, reliability and integrity. He is the patron saint of confessors, pilgrims, happy returns and boatmen and protector against floods.

Today, hundreds of churches and chapels are dedicated to him and thousands of his statues can be found not only in Central Europe, but also in Italy, Spain and overseas – in South America, Africa and Asia.

There are over 30,000 depictions of him in Europe, and about 66,000 in the world. He is typically shown in canonical vestments and with five stars around his head, a crucifix in his right hand, a palm, a book and a finger on his mouth, symbolising holding one’s tongue.