John of Nepomuk
16 May 1293
Vicar + Martyr
From St. John of Nepomuk Catholic Church and School
The feast day of St. John of Nepomuk is celebrated on May 16th.
Jan Velflín (John / Welflin, Wölflin) came from the small market town of Pomuk (later renamed Nepomuk) in Bohemia, which belonged to the nearby Cistercian abbey. John was born on March 20, 1350, and later in life he studied at the University of Prague, then furthered his studies in canon law at the University of Padua from 1383 to 1387. In 1389 he received the parish of St. Gallus in Prague, and, continuing meanwhile his studies of jurisprudence at the university, was promoted in 1387 to the doctorate of canon law. He was also a canon in the church of St. Ægidius in Prague, and became in 1389 canon of the cathedral in Wyschehrad. In 1390 he gave up the parish of St. Gallus to become Archdeacon of Sasz, and at the same time canon of the Cathedral of St. Vitus, without receiving however any cathedral benefice. Shortly afterwards the archbishop named him president of the ecclesiastical court, and in 1393 his archdiocesan vicar-general.
King Wenceslaus IV, King of the Romans and King of Bohemia, wishing to found a new bishopric for one of his favorites, ordered that at the death of Abbot Rarek of Kladrau no new abbot should be elected, and that the abbey church should be turned into a cathedral. The archbishop’s vicar-general, John, interposed energetically on this occasion in defense of canon law. When Abbot Rarek died in 1393, the monks of Kladrau immediately held a new election, the choice falling on the monk Odelenus, and John, as vicar-general, promptly confirmed this election without referring to the wishes of the king. Upon hearing this Wenceslaus fell into a violent rage, and had the vicar-general, the cathedral official, Provost Wenceslaus of Meissen, the archbishop’s steward, and later the dean of the cathedral thrown into prison. The first four were tortured on 4 March, but, although the others were thus brought to acquiesce in the wishes of the king and the official even proposed everlasting secrecy concerning all that had occurred, John of Nepomuk resisted to the last. He was made to undergo all manner of torture, including the burning of his sides with torches, but even this could not move him. (Exactly what information he wanted is unknown, but chroniclers in the latter half of the fifteenth century regularly assigned the reason for his torture and death to his refusal to reveal the queen’s confession. Supposedly, as the spiritual director of Queen Sophie, he refused to reveal anything when the King Wenceslaus IV demanded his confirmation of Sophie’s suspected adultery.) 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 thrown into the river Vltava (Czech pronunciation) from the Charles Bridge in Prague. This cruel order was executed on 20 March, 1393. Nepomuk has traditionally been considered “the patron of the seal of confession.”
Five stars hovered in the sky over the place where he was drowned, giving the water a strange, shining appearance. It is said that this helped the people find his body. It was taken from the river Vltava and interred in the cathedral in Prague. When his grave was opened in 1719, his tongue was found to be uncorrupted, though shriveled.
Despite more than three centuries of controversy, evidence was gathered in the years 1715-1720 and the cause for canonization examined. He was beatified in 1721 and canonized in 1729. John Nepomuk is the patron saint of Bohemia (Czechs), and is the patron of confessors and bridges. He is venerated in Austria and Spain.
John of Nepomuk is portrayed in art as an Augustinian canon with a fur almuce (cape), usually with a bridge nearby. He may hold his finger to his lips or he may wear a padlock on his lips (in Austria or Bohemia) and he usually has five stars around his head.
A Life in Stained Glass – The Story of St. John Nepomuk
Our stained glass window in the gathering area of the church has long been admired for its beauty, but underneath the beauty is the story of St. John Nepomuk, our patron saint.
- Beginning at the base of the window, St. John is being ordained a priest.
- The second picture depicts him listening to the Queen’s confession.
- Next, St. John is shown being martyred by a jealous King Wenceslaus for not revealing the Queen’s confession.
- At the very top of the window, our patron is shown being escorted into Heaven by angels.
Ed Summers donated the window in memory of his mother.