John of Nepomuk, from Prague to Arad

John Nepomuk (Jan Nepomucky) is a saint of the Catholic Church born in 1345 in a small city from Bohemia whose name it bears.  He attends the Caroline University in Prague and he is ordained as a priest at the city cathedral. The bad luck of Joan Nepomuk, or the good luck, because otherwise he wouldn’t have become famous, was that he was contemporary with Wenceslas the IV of Bohemia who, as every self-respecting king, led a disordered lifestyle, full of excess, terrorizing his wife by making her life miserable.For the silence of her soul, she confessed to John, the priest who guided her and helped her find balance.

All was well until Wenceslas started addressing his wife’s confessor and demanded him, through enticements and flattery, to reveal his wife’s confessions. The priest, maintaining his state of calm and dignity, answered: Non licet – It is not permitted. The king appealed to threats, but each time received the same answer: Non licet. Then, he demanded John to be thrown into the prison and tortured. On the torture chair, a couple of his ribs had been broken, his hands and legs are burned with lit torches; at all of this, John only replies: Jesus, Mary. Because the king didn’t manage to obtain a declaration, he was set free with the demand of thinking about this some more. In the eve of Lord’s Ascension’s celebration, in May 1393, the priest was passing in front of the palace. Wenceslas saw him and asked that he be brought to him: You either talk, or you will die right in this very night, Wenceslas told him, at the peak of his anger John kept silence and looked at him compassionately. Take him out of my sight and throw him into the river. The executioners, already prepared, grabbed him and, from the bridge linking Small Prague and Big Prague, threw him in the waters of the Vltava River. During the night, an unusual light shaped as 5 stars was seen floating slowly above the water. The queen, from her apartment saw the unusual phenomenon and ran to the king to ask him: What can that light on the water be?; Engulfed by resentment and panic, Wenceslas ran from room to room, not finding his peace. The martyr’s body has been subsequently recovered and buried. (The roman-catholic Archdiocese).

The grave of John Nepomuk is a baroque tomb plated with silver and golden silver, was designed by Fischer von Erlach and is located inside the Saint Vitus Cathedral, a part of the Citadel Complex of Prague.

John Nepomuk was transformed by the Catholic Church into a genuine propaganda tool and his legend was exceedingly overvalued. The Church needed a martyr and found him in the person of poor John. In 1721, he was canonized, being declared a saint by the Pope Benedict XIII. He is the national saint the Czech Republic, Lord Protector of Bohemia, of the priests, sailors, log drivers, millers, bridges and of the ones keeping a secret.

According to protestant sources, the figure of the Saint John Nepomuk became an object of legends due to the Jesuits, but the protagonist of the story would have been in fact Jan Hus ( a philosopher and Czech reformer, burned on the stake for his anti-papacy ideas and having lived between 1369 and 1415) who was metamorphosed from a Bohemian reformer into Roman Catholic Saint.

The legend of Nepomuk based on the writing of the chronicler Wenceslaus Hajekeste is a mixture of Jan’s (Nepomucky) story who was drowned in 1393 and Jan (Hus) who was burned on the stake in 1415. The resemblances are striking both in continuous similarity and the manner of commemoration for both of them. When the Jesuits came to Prague, the worshiping of Nepomuk was already well spread and the idea of canonizing didn’t came in conflict with Huseits (supporters of Jan Hus) but with the Protestantism as a weapon of the Counter reform. In the image of Nepomuk who gradually appeared we find the reflection of Bohemia’s religious history itself.

An incidental drought a year later after John’s death fueled the legend even further. The Church persuaded peasants in thinking that this was God’s punishment for the killing of Nepomuk. The belief in Ioan’s supernatural powers culminated with the discovery of the alleged tongue of the saint when three centuries later, his tomb was opened and a piece of reddened tissue fell from the skull. This is currently being kept in a reliquary adorned with 1200 diamonds, the tongue who knew to be silent even in the face of death.

Representations of the saint are often being located on bridges in various countries. Such an example would be Milvio Ponte from Rome. There is also a plaque on a bridge from Obergurgl, Austria portraying Nepomuk holding his finger on the lips as if he would keep a secret.

The figure of the saint is often encountered in Central Europe starting of course with the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Austria, Italia, Lithuania etc. He is usually portrayed with a 5 stared halo representing the stars floating above the Vltava River on the night of his murder. Other characteristic encountered in his representations are: the priest clothes , the palm branch, the cross, an angel indicating silence by keeping a finger on his lips.

We find statues of Ioan Nepomuk also in Romania in Arad, Oradea, Suceava, Timișoara, Sibiu, Reșita, Hunedoara and probably in less known places.

Saint John of Nepomuk is the patron saint of Arad and the whole Banat region.

Saint John de Nepomuk is represented also in Arad. The saint’s statues are located on the Episcopiei Street at the corner with Desseanu Street. It is the oldest monument of the city and currently the original statue is located inside the Roman-Catholic Church of Saint Anton of Padua. The original statue was made in 1729, the year of his canonizing by Pope Benedict the XIII. With the saint being considered the protector of waters and bridges, his statue was initially posted on the Mures’ river bank near the customs building for the salt trade, being moved to its current location in 1880 after the town hall’s construction and the embankment of the Mures River. He was adopted as protector during a great flood of the Mures River. The statue had been brought from Wien where the baroque sculptor Matthias Rauchmiller accomplished in the second half of the XVII century the prototype of the statues portraying the saint. A similar monument, made after that prototype was put established in 1692 on the Charles Bridge in Prague, being the most famed statue of the martyr priest. A copy of that statue was realized in 2002 by the sculptor Mihai Takacs from Arad. At that time, the original statues was moved inside the Roman-Catholic Church of Saint Anton of Padua and in its current location, the copy was posted.


Author: Mario Csipai

Translated from Romanian by: Albert Reich


Mario Csipai

About Mario Csipai

Born and raised in Arad, holds a bachelor’s degree in tourism, two master’s degrees – one in finance and one in modern languages. He worked in Romania and abroad as a manager for an international restaurant chain. Right now, he works in the hotel industry.

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