Mar 20, 2024

On this Day, in 1393: John of Nepomuk was Thrown Off Charles Bridge to his Death

On March 20, 1393, considered the first martyr of the Seal of the Confessional, St. John of Nepomuk was tortured and thrown into the river Vltava from Charles Bridge, by order of King Wenceslaus IV.

The travesty unfolded during the reign of King Wenceslas IV and the Great Schism of 1378 – a split within the Catholic Church which saw two rival Popes, one in Rome and the other in Avignon, France. Wenceslas backed the Avignon-based Pontiff and John remained loyal to Rome.

There was simmering tension and the two men clashed when it was time to appoint a new abbot to the abbey of Kladruby, in 1393. The king demanded that the appointment not go ahead and the abbey be transformed into a cathedral. But John had already confirmed the appointment.

A brass cross, worn smooth and shiny by the innumerable hands of wish-makers, is positioned around the middle of Charles Bridge.

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.

He was canonized in 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII and Czech Catholics now celebrate his feast day every year on May 16.

Where is St. John of Nepomuk buried?

St. John of Nepomuk is buried inside the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle. His tomb is the heaviest silver sarcophagus in the Czech Republic – 1600 kilograms of pure silver!

To visit St. John of Nepomucene’s tomb, you have to get a ticket to the Prague castle, which will allow you to enter the cathedral interiors.

Why do people touch the St. John of Nepomuk’s statue on Charles Bridge?

The general belief is that if you touch the statue and make a wish, your wish will come true within one year and one day, as long as you keep it a secret and never tell anyone what your wish is. But…

Not many tour guides will be brave enough to tell you, that this tradition was invented quite recently! When and who exactly did that is unclear. According to some sources, it was a certain tour guide in 1991, who started to encourage his tourists to touch the statue. According to other sources, it was a group of students, who polished the bronze plaques purposefully to mess with people.

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