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St. John of Nepomuk

John of Pomuk was born to the family of a reeve in Pomuk by Zelená Hora. He received his bachelor degree in law at the University of Prague and his doctorate at the University of Padua. After his return to Prague in 1389, John of Pomuk was appointed the vicar-general and found himself in the middle of the power struggle between the Church and the king; in one of many feuds between Wenceslas IV and Archbishop Jan of Jenštejn, John of Pomuk and three others of Jenštejn’s officials ended up in a torture chamber. John did not survive the torture and his dead body was thrown off Charles Bridge into the Vltava River on 20 March 1393 after 9:00 o’clock in the evening. His body, washed up on the riverbank, became the subject of veneration and the archbishop proclaimed John of Pomuk a martyr. Before the year of 1416, John’s body was buried in the Cathedral of St. Vitus. In the 16th century, Václav Hájek of Libočany used the story of John of Pomuk to create John of Nepomuk, tortured because he refused to divulge the secrets of the confessional of Queen Sophia. In reality, the ambitious John probably got mixed up in a complicated political game – many historians think that the immediate reason for the king’s rage was the fact that John confirmed the appointment of a new abbot of the abbey in Kladruby so quickly that the king, who had been waiting for the prior abbot to die, had no time to raise formal objections and to appoint the person he wanted. The veneration of John of Nepomuk spread quickly. The first attempts to canonize the martyr started in the second half of the 17th century. To show people’s veneration and respect for John of Nepomuk, there are hundreds of statues of John of Nepomuk placed by bridges in the Czech Republic as well as in foreign countries where the story of John of Nepomuk was promoted mainly by the Jesuits. When John of Nepomuk’s remains were exhumed in 1719, a piece of organic tissue was discovered in his skull. It was believed to be his tongue that miraculously remained preserved. John of Nepomuk was beatified in 1724 and canonized in 1729; during the preparations for canonization, the gallery of Baroque statues on Charles Bridge was put up. The analysis conducted in the 20th century showed that the organic tissue in the saint’s skull was some brain tissue and not a tongue. St. John of Nepomuk is a patron of Bohemia and Bavaria, priests, confessors, millers, rafters, icemakers and pilgrims and a protector against flood and slander. His attributes are a canon vestment, five stars around the head, crucifix in the right hand, palm tree, book and finger across the mouth.

 

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