The statue of St. John of Nepomuk is the oldest statue of the Charles Bridge and the only bronze statue there. It was made by Jan Brokof and installed on the bridge in 1683, 290 years after Nepomuk's death, and 46 years before his veneration. What was the story of this priest and why thousands of people come to his statue on the Prague bridge?
St. John of Nepomuk was a priest who was even entrusted with hearing queen Sophie's confessions. One time the queen shared a big secret with John and he, as always, never revealed it to anyone. Even the king, Wenceslas IV, himself! The king was already suspecting that Sophie is hiding something from him (a lover? a conspiracy?) and demanded John reveal his wife's confession to him. John remained silent and even tortures did not make him speak.
Finally, the king decided to drown the disobedient priest in the river. Under the darkness of night, the king's soldiers threw John of Nepomuk into the river Vltava from Charles Bridge and he drowned. Soldiers had killed all witnesses, and it looked like the king had managed to get away with the murder...until fishermen that were wrapping their nets upstream caught the body of John and tried to pull it to the bank. While doing that, they saw the drowned man's face in water with a halo of 5 stars and recognized him immediately! The king's crime was uncovered and St. John of Nepomuk became a martyr.
At the end of his life, John of Nepomuk was occupying a high position in the church hierarchy: he was a general vicar, one of the closest people to the archbishop, Jan Oèko z Vlašimi.
At the end of the 14th century, the relationship between the church and the state was very strained due to the prolonged Great Schism - a conflict that complicated European politics in the middle ages. Bohemian king Wenceslas IV and the archbishop of Prague were fighting for power and influence, with John Nepomuk supporting the latter. When the abbot of the powerful Kladruby monastery passed away, the king planned to appoint one of his supporters and secure the monastery as his alliance. However, while the king was away in his distant Krivoklat castle, the archbishop and John sabotaged his plan by selecting a new abbot first. The king tried to overrule his decision, but it was too late. Perhaps, that was a determining factor in the king's decision to attack the archbishop and his people.
On March 20th, 1393, John of Nepomuk and three of his people were captured by the king and taken to the house of Old Town's sheriff (nowadays office of the Prague City Tourism Agency on Na Mustku st). All of them were tortured, but John was the only one who did not survive. His body was disposed into the Vltava river and later discovered by the monks who lived upstream where nowadays the Law Faculty of Charles University is located.
St. John of Nepomuk is buried inside of 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.
Where do I even start😀?
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 was. 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.
Well, whoever started this, they made our tour guide job difficult. Imagine being a tour guide and explaining to the Prague visitors, that what the crowd of people is doing in the middle of Charles Bridge has no historical background...to put it lightly.
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Author: Valeriia Zahradnikova and Vaclav Zahradnik, Prague guides certified by Prague City Tourism agency. Valeriia and Vaclav have worked in tourism for over 6 years and have guided thousands of Prague visitors.