JOHN OF NEPOMUK: The most popular national saint of Bohemia, considered the protomartyr of the seal of confession and a patron against calumnies and floods. The historical starting-point of the Nepomuk-legend is the person of John of Pomuk Or Nepomuk, a city of Bohemia (55 m.


s.w. of Prague). He was born probably about 1340 and studied at the new university in Prague. In 1393 he was made vicar-general of Archbishop John of Jenstein. In the same year, March 20, he became a martyr to the cause of clerical immunity, being thrown into the River Moldau at the behest of King Wenceslaus IV., who was at variance with the clergy, as a penalty for his confirmation, against the king's will, of a new abbot for the Benedictine monastery at Kladrau. Dr. Johanek, as he was called because of his small stature, enjoyed no special reputation; be was rich, possessed houses, and lent money to noblemen and priests. The development and transformation of the legend can be traced through successive stages. The archbishop, who hastened to Rome soon after the crime, in his charge against Wenceslaus, called the victim a martyr; in the biography written a few years later miracles are already recorded by which the drowned man was discovered. The uncritical Bohemian annalists from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century fostered the fable. About the middle of the fifteenth century the statement appears for the first time that the refusal to violate the seal of confession was the cause of John's death. Two decades later (1471), the dean of Prague, Paul Zidek, makes Johanek the queen's confessor. The unscrupulous chronicler Wenceslaus Hayek, the "Bohemian Livy," speaks in 1541 (probably owing to carelessness in the use of his sources) of two Johns of Nepomuk being drowned; the first as confessor, the second for his confirmation of the abbot. The legend is especially indebted for its growth to the Jesuit Balbinus, the "Bohemian Pliny," whose services to the history of his country were so conspicuous that he was persecuted by the government, which preferred oblivion and silence. He was, however, as credulous as he was patriotic, and even became a forger to honor his saint. Although the Prague metropolitan chapter did not accept the biography dedicated to it, "as being frequently destitute of historical foundation and erroneous, a bungling work of mythological rhetoric," Balbinus stuck to it. In 1683 the Prague bridge was adorned with a statue of the saint, which has had numerous successors; in. 1708 the first church was dedicated to him at Königgrätz. Meanwhile, in spite of the objection of the Jesuits, the process was inaugurated which ended with his canonization. On June 25, 1721, he was beatified, and on March 19, 1729, he was canonized under Benedict XIII. The acts of the process, comprising 500 pages, which coat more than 180,000 crowns, distinguish two Johns of Nepomuk and sanction the cultus of the one who was drowned in 1383 as a martyr of the sacrament of penance.

The ingenious suggestion has been made that the historical kernel of St. John Nepomuk is really Huss, who was metamorphosed from a Bohemian Reformer into a Roman-Catholic saint; and that the Nepomuk-legend is a Jesuit blending of the John who was drowned and the John who was burned. The resemblances are certainly striking, extending to the manner of celebrating their commemorations. But when the Jesuits came to Prague, the Nepomuk-worship had long been wide-spread; and the idea of canonization originated in opposition not to the Hussites, but to Protestantism, as a weapon of the Counter-Reformation--though his cultus was also intended to supplant Huss in the hearts of the Bohemian people. In the image of the saint which gradually arose the religious history of Bohemia is reflected. This much is historically certain, that the Vicar-general John of Pomuk was drowned in 1393 because of the choice of the abbot, and that Rome, making use of a forged biography, has canonized a man whose very existence can not be demonstrated.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Vita by Bohuslav Balbinus is in ASB, May, iii, 668-680. The Acta leading up to the canonization were published at Verona, 1725, and the Acta canonizationis at Rome, 1727. Naturally a large part of the literature on the subject is in Bohemian--for a list consult Potthast, Wegweiser, pp. 1400-1401. Consult O. Abel, Die Legende vom heiligen Johann von Nepomuk, Berlin, 1855; A. W ürfel, Legende des heiligen Johann von Nepomuk, Prague, 1862; A. Frind, Der geschichtliche . . . Johannes von Nepomuk, Prague, 1871; A. H, Wratislaw, Life, Legend and Canonization of St. John Nepomucen, London, 1873; Die Frage über . . . Johann von Nepomuk, in Der Katholik, i (1882), 273-300, 390-414; T. Schmude, in ZKT, vii (1883), 52-123; KL, vi. 1725-1742.


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