Czechs celebrate patron saint John of Nepomuk

Statue of John of Nepomuk

On Thursday, May 16, Czech Catholics celebrate a holiday devoted to the patron saint of Bohemia, John of Nepomuk. The myths about the 14th-century martyr say that this priest of Czech king Wenceslas IV refused to divulge a secret told to him by the king's wife, and was thrown off Charles bridge to his death as punishment. However, it seems that legend is one thing and history quite another. More from Vladimir Tax.

One of the statues on Prague's world-famous Charles Bridge depicts the death of St. John of Nepomuk, who was thrown off the bridge into the river Vltava by King Wenceslas IV and drowned.

Historians say it is necessary to distinguish between legend and fact - the main question is whether there was only one John of Nepomuk, who is also known as Johanek of Pomuk. Some believe that there may have been two people of that name who lived in Prague in the second half of the fourteenth century and met with precisely the same fate.

Various historic documents from the second half of the fourteenth century clearly show that in 1393 a certain John of Nepomuk was Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Prague, and that on March 20th of the same year he was thrown into the river and drowned on the orders of King Wenceslas IV of Bohemia. The reason - disputes between the king and top clergymen about assigning posts in the hierarchy. Four rebel church officials were tortured and they gave in to the king's demands. However, John of Nepomuk resisted to the last. He was tortured in many cruel ways, including the burning of his sides with torches - carried out by the king himself - but he still held out. Finally, the king ordered him to be put in chains, to be led through the city with a block of wood in his mouth, and to be thrown from the Charles Bridge into the river.

But this is where it gets a bit complicated. A priest named John of Nepomuk who reportedly died on May 16, 1393, was canonized by the church of Rome centuries later in 1729 for his martyr's death. This John of Nepomuk is believed to be the confessor of the queen who refused to reveal her secrets to the king and was thrown in the Vltava river to drown.

Current research suggests that the person canonized in 1729 was not the historical John of Pomuk or Nepomuk. Nevertheless, if you walk across the Charles Bridge, don't forget to stop by the statue of John of Nepomuk. It is believed that if you put your hand on the scene of John being thrown off, you will someday return to Prague.