In mid-May, church and secular institutions in the Czech Republic celebrated the 300th anniversary of the beatification of the most famous Czech saint, St. John of Nepomuk, priest and martyr whose statues adorn hundreds of bridges in Europe and the Americas.
John of Nepomuk was born in Pomuk (Nepomuk) in southwestern Bohemia around 1345. He studied theology at Charles University in Prague and canon law at the University of Padua, where he became rector of Transalpine students and in 1387 obtained a doctorate in law. Upon his return, he became canon of the chapter in Prague at Vyšehrad and in 1389 Vicar General of the Prague Archbishop Jan of Jenštejn.
At that time, King Wenceslas IV, the son of the Roman emperor and King of Bohemia Charles IV, ruled in the Czech lands. Unlike his father, Wenceslas IV did not have diplomatic wisdom, he lived a personally unruly life and got into conflicts with the higher nobility and the Church.
In 1393, the King tried to interfere with the Church’s powers by an attempt to create a new diocese on the property of the Benedictine monastery in Kladruby near Stříbro (western Bohemia) after the death of the abbot in order to weaken the Prague archbishopric. He intended to appoint one of his favourites to head the diocese. The rapid counteraction of Archbishop Jan of Jenštejn and his Vicar General John of Nepomuk, i.e., the canonical confirmation of the newly elected abbot, made it impossible though. The King’s fierce reaction followed: the expulsion of the Archbishop, spiritually oriented man with a good reputation, from the country and the torture of his Vicar General, a great lawyer and a conscientious public official. The Vicar General died as a result of torture and beatings, and then his body was thrown into the Vltava River. It was found by fishermen less than a month later. Five star-like lights shone around John’s head. Hence his stars among the attributes of this saint.
John of Nepomuk was beatified in 1721 and declared saint in 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII. Cult of St. John of Nepomuk gradually spread throughout the world, to which mainly the Dominican, Jesuit and Carmelite missions contributed. He is the patron saint of lawyers, sailors, raftsmen, millers, confessors and bridges, and for Catholics a symbol of secrecy, courage and reliability.
On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the beatification of St. John of Nepomuk, on 16 May 2021, a solemn pilgrimage Mass was held in Nepomuk. Bohemian and Moravian bishops, Mons. Charles Daniel Balvo, Apostolic Nuncio in the Czech Republic, as well as members of the Institute of St. John of Nepomuk, representatives of Nepomuk athletes and other organizations and associations from Nepomuk. The Holy Mass was celebrated by Dominik Cardinal Duka, Archbishop of Prague and Primate of Bohemia.
We also commemorated the anniversary of the beatification in Prague, where Navalis, an old Baroque festival to St. John of Nepomuk, which is always celebrated on 15th May, on the eve of the feast, was restored in 2009. They are visited by a large number of people not only from the Czech Republic, but from all over the world. This year’s celebration began at 5.30 pm by the Mass in the Cathedral of St. Vitus, Wenceslas and Adalbert at Prague Castle, which was presided by Archbishop Dominik Cardinal Duka of Prague. In his sermon, he emphasized the bravery of John of Nepomuk and reminded that this quality is also needed on the way out of the current coronavirus crisis.
This was followed by a procession on Charles Bridge on the Vltava River (pupils of the Elementary Art School in Veselí nad Moravou are pictured on the previous page) and ringing of church bells of all churches dedicated to St. John of Nepomuk. At exactly 7.30 pm, 300 bells rang all over the world symbolically. It rang in Poland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Croatia, India, Australia, the USA, Brazil, and Cuba. The event ended with an evening concert on the surface of the Vltava.
On Tuesday, 18th May, the Prayer for the Homeland took place in Nepomuk. The Mass was held in the church of St. John of Nepomuk by the Bishop of České Budějovice Vlastimil Kročil, with the participation of the Apostolic Nuncio, Bohemian and Moravian bishops, mayors of surrounding towns and villages and other guests.
The celebrations ended with the World Pilgrimage to John of Nepomuk held on 30th May in Nepomuk, with the participation of Bohemian, Moravian and foreign priests from the areas of the cult of John of Nepomuk.
Published: Church Reporter No. 6/2021, Newsletter for the English speaking members and friends of the Church Law Society