Johannes Nepomuk

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St. Nepomuk, statue from the 18th century. He is represented as the only saint besides Mary with a star wreath.

Johannes (von) Nepomuk or Johannes von Pomuk ( Latin : Joannes de Pomuk , Czech : Jan Nepomucký or Jan z Pomuku , * around 1350 in Pomuk near Pilsen ; † March 20, 1393 in Prague ) was a Bohemian priest and martyr . He was in 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII. canonized. The Jesuits made him their second patron of the order in 1732. Nepomuk is considered the bridge saint and patron of the confessional secret .


Nepomuk as a student of the Cistercians (fresco from the 18th century in Rein Abbey , Styria)
Monument to the drowning of John Nepomuk on Charles Bridge

Johannes Nepomuk was born as Johannes Welflin or Wolfflin in Pomuk in West Bohemia (today Nepomuk ) and probably came from a German-Bohemian family. Pomuk belonged to the manor of the monastery of the same name of the Cistercians . His father Welflin is possibly identical to the local judge who worked in Pomuk from 1355 to 1367. Johannes belonged as a familiare (domesticus commensalis) to the retinue of the Archbishop of Prague and has been a notary, protonotary and secretary (notarius, prothonotarius cancellarie) in the archbishopric's office since 1369 . In 1370 he was first mentioned as a cleric. With his ordination in 1380 he took over the title of altar priest to Saints Erhard and Ottilie in the St. Vitus Church and received the well-endowed pastor's position at the St. Gallus Church. He first studied at the University of Law in Prague , where, according to a fellow student, he was equally popular with Germans and Czechs, and continued his studies at the University of Padua , where he was rector in 1386 after passing the legal exam (1381 Bacc.iur.) of the transmontane student body and in 1387 obtained the doctorate of canon law (Dr. iur. can.). After returning from Padua, he exchanged a canonical at the Agidius Church in Prague for a place in the renowned Vyšehrad collegiate chapter, whose lawyer he became in 1389. In September of the same year, the Prague Archbishop Johann von Jenstein (Jenštejn) or Jenzenstein (a. 1378-1396) appointed him one of his two vicars general next to Nikolaus Puchník von Černice . In 1390 John exchanged his parish pledge with the title of Archdeacon of Saaz .

During the time of the Great Western Schism there were power-political conflicts between King Wenceslaus IV and his former Chancellor, Archbishop Johannes Jenstein of Prague. It was about the delimitation of secular and ecclesiastical areas of power in the former mission area of ​​Bohemia, especially the transfer of high ecclesiastical offices and privileges and the appointment of bishops. In the year-long dispute, a favorite of King Wenceslas was excommunicated in 1392 in a process presided over by John of Nepomuk as the archbishop's representative. In the same year the archbishop handed over a letter of complaint to King Wenceslaus, with which he wanted to clarify the canonical situation and turned against the suppression of the church and the clergy. The king refused to answer and intended to reduce the ecclesiastical and economic influence of the archbishop. To this end, he planned to reduce the area of ​​the Archdiocese of Prague by establishing a West Bohemian diocese of Kladrau . To endow this diocese he envisaged the rich Benedictine monastery Kladrau , to which 87 villages were subordinate. After the death of the Kladrau abbot Racek, the royal candidate Wenzel Gerard von Burenitz was supposed to be his successor and at the same time the first bishop of the new diocese of Kladrau to be appointed. But the monks elected their brother Olen (also called Odilo and Odelenes) as abbot on March 7, 1393. After submitting the election letter, the archbishop vicar general Johannes von Pomuk confirmed this election very quickly within three days on March 10, 1393 on the instructions of the archbishop . Due to his absence - he was at the Křivoklát Castle - the king could not keep the period of objection.

In the further course of the dispute Johannes von Pomuk was arrested and tortured together with other archbishop officials, while the archbishop himself managed to escape. As the highest-ranking, but in terms of origin the least significant bishop's representative, John of Nepomuk was finally thrown from Charles Bridge into the Vltava and drowned. In the Middle Ages, drowning was the usual death penalty for clergymen. According to legend, the corpse of the man drifting in the water was surrounded by five flames or “brightly shining miracle signs”, which is why Johannes Nepomuk is often depicted with five stars around his head. According to another legend, the Vltava dried up and the body of the dead could be found in this way. In fact, the body washed up on the bank was first buried in the Holy Cross Church. In 1396 the successor of the archbishop, his nephew Olbram von Škvorec , had him transferred to the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague .

Immediately after the act, Johann von Jenstein, who did not return to his archbishopric until his death, named the murdered vicar general in a letter of complaint to Pope Boniface IX (discovered in Prague in 1752) . a martyr. Even in the biography of the archbishop, written a few years later by a cleric close to him, Jan Nepomuk is referred to as the “glorious martyr of Christ who causes many miracles” (gloriosum Christi martyrem miraculisque coruscum) . The memory of the killed priest was cherished in Prague, and legends and miraculous accounts emerged a short time later. A number of hagiographies from the 15th century in particular decorated the life story with unhistorical motifs.

Legend and veneration

Oldest known representation (1602) shows John Nepomuk confessor with halo as the young Queen the confession decreases

According to the legend that later led to the canonization of John Nepomuk, his quarrel with the king did not arise from the ecclesiastical conflict, but from his refusal to break the secret of confession . Accordingly, the priest did not want to reveal to the king what his wife, suspected of being unfaithful by Wenzel, had entrusted to him. That's why Wenceslaus tortured him and then let him fall from Charles Bridge in Prague into the water. This version of the story of martyrdom is documented for the first time in the Liber Augustalis ("Imperial Chronicle") written around 1450 by the Viennese chronicler Thomas Ebendorfer , who attests to its distribution in 1433.

At times, a distinction was made between two people of the same name and the legend of the Queen's steadfast confessor was attributed to a different Jan Nepomuk than the historical vicar general Johannes von Pomuk. This distinction, first made by the Bohemian chronicler Václav Hájek z Libočan († 1553), still played a role in the process of beatification and canonization by the church in the 18th century, and canonization was restricted to the form associated with keeping the confessional secret .

High grave in St. Vitus Cathedral
Special postage stamp for the 600th anniversary of death

The veneration of Jan Nepomuk in Bohemia increased in the 16th century, but only reached its heyday with the recatholization efforts of the 17th century. It was also staged as a countercult in order to suppress the veneration of the Czech reformer Jan Hus , who had also worked as a priest and theologian in Prague and almost at the same time as Nepomuk and had actually been the confessor of Queen Sophie of Bohemia , the second wife of King Wenceslaus IV. In the course of the Counter Reformation after the Battle of the White Mountain , the Jesuits and the Bohemian nobility in particular took on the cult. During the Thirty Years' War Count Jaroslav Bořita von Martinitz had a chapel built in his Prague palace , which was dedicated to Nepomuk. The Prague Archbishop Matthäus Ferdinand Sobek von Bilenberg was the first to seek canonization and was supported by Emperor Leopold I in this since the 1670s . The Bohemian Jesuit Bohuslav Balbín wrote the first popular biography of the martyr in 1670, which largely follows Hájek and in which there is no mention of political power struggles. It was included in the compilation of the Bollandists , which made the legend well known. Bohemian and Moravian missionaries of the Jesuits and Franciscans also brought devotion to their missions overseas.

As part of the canonization process, the grave in St. Vitus Cathedral was examined on April 15, 1719, and a skeleton with an undamaged, allegedly “red” tongue, marked by external injuries, is said to have been found. After the grave was reopened in 1972, the "intact tongue" is interpreted as a mummified remnant of brain matter. As a postulator fidei , the procedure was promoted by Prospero Lambertini, later Pope Benedict XIV . Finally, Johannes Nepomuk was mainly due to Balbín's report in 1721 by Pope Innocent XIII. first beatified and on March 19, 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII. canonized. In some baroque representations from the years in between, only the attribute beatus (blessed) instead of sanctus (holy) is found.

Even before Nepomuk was officially canonized, the architecturally original Johannes Nepomuk pilgrimage church of the Baroque master builder Johann Blasius Santini-Aichl was built in 1722 in the Moravian Saar on behalf of the local Cistercians . In 1732 the Jesuits officially elected Jan Nepomuk as their second patron of the order. Johannes Nepomuk's burial place in St. Vitus Cathedral was redesigned in 1736 by the Viennese silver master Johann Joseph Wirth based on a model net by Antonio Corradini and a drawing by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach in the high baroque style and supplemented in 1748 with statues of the four cardinal virtues . The art-historically remarkable high tomb of the saint consists of 1.68 tons of silver.

As a result, St. Nepomuk gained great popularity among all social classes and in the 18th century pushed the Bohemian national saint Wenceslaus into the background. In the other countries of the Habsburg Monarchy , too , a lively cult of Nepomuk arose, which in addition to the Austrian countries extended to Pavia , the Banat and Austrian Wallachia . As an emergency aid, especially against water and travel hazards, he often replaced the previously popular Saint Nicholas , Christophorus or Zenon of Verona in these areas . Although not officially installed as such, Nepomuk can be considered the “state saint” of the entire Habsburg Empire during the Baroque period .


Statue of Nepomuk on Charles Bridge in Prague by Johann Brokoff, 1683

Feast day of St. Johannes Nepomuk is May 16 .


Nepomuk statue on the banks of the Rhine in Beuel
Nepomuk statue in Simonskall
Nepomuk statue on Kahlenberg in Vienna

Johannes Nepomuk is considered the patron saint

He is also the patron saint of numerous churches (see: Johannes Nepomuk Church ).

His help is requested in the event of water and travel hazards, tongue problems and against defamation and threats to honor and discretion and as a helper for secrecy .

Bridge saint

In addition to crosses and depictions of the Virgin Mary, sculptures of St. Nepomuk in Catholic areas of southern Germany, Bohemia, Moravia and Austria are the most common Christian stone figures found outside of church buildings in the open countryside. Very often there are statues of the saint on or next to bridges. The most famous of them, created by Johann Brokoff in 1683 , has been on Charles Bridge in Prague since 1693, on the spot where the saint was thrown into the Vltava 300 years earlier. The portrait was created after a small plaster model made by Mathias Rauchmiller in 1681, initially as a wooden model, which was set up on the rock in the Prague church of St. John of Nepomuk in 1888 . The bronze was cast between 1683 and 1693 in Nuremberg by Wolf Hieronymus Herold . Bronze reliefs to the left and right of the base of the statue show the murder of Johann Nepomuk and the legendary confession of the queen.


Pictorial representations show St. Nepomuk mostly as a short-bearded cleric with a cross in one hand and sometimes - as a sign of secrecy - with one hand or the index finger in front of his mouth. Occasionally, a putto with a gesture of silence is added to it instead . Its halo shows five stars, which are interpreted as the five letters of the Latin word tacui ("I have been silent"). As a sign of his ecclesiastical rank, he usually wears a half-length cape, the mozetta , usually made of fur (usually Feh or ermine ) or of fabric. Other clerical iconographic attributes are the biretta and the choir shirt ; in addition, he is more often represented with a book (as a scholar attribute) or a palm branch (as a martyr attribute).

In group representations he can be seen above all with other holy priests, especially often with the holy Jesuit Franz-Xaver , but also with Karl Borromeo or Antonius of Padua . In addition, he is represented in groups with other Bohemian patrons such as Saint Iwan and Saint Norbert von Xanten . In addition, representations are common that show him accompanied by personified virtues .

In the folk art of Bohemia, southern Germany and Austria, the representation of the Nepomuk tongue was widespread, which is considered a symbol of the secrecy of the martyr. It was also made in monastery work in the form of a red half-oval made of wax with various decorations. A curious depiction from Gersthofen near Augsburg from 1754 shows Nepomuk appearing together with St. Antonius and both holding their tongues in their hands. With Antonius, however, it is not a sign of secrecy, but symbolizes his talent for preaching.

Visual arts


The red tongue in the stylized halo with 5 stars is a symbolic form of representation as an attribute of the saint in heraldry .


See also


  • Adalbert Stifter Association (Ed.): Johann von Nepomuk. Variations on a theme. Exhibition catalog. Texts by Karl B. Heppe, Johanna von Herzogenberg, Franz Matsche, Ferdinand Seibt and others, Munich 1973.
  • Christof DahmJohannes von Nepomuk. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 3, Bautz, Herzberg 1992, ISBN 3-88309-035-2 , Sp. 498-501.
  • Winfried Eberhard: Johannes v. Nepomuk . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 5 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1996, Sp. 939 f .
  • Johanna von Herzogenberg : Johannes von Nepomuk. In: Lexicon of Christian Iconography . Volume 7, Freiburg im Breisgau 1968, Sp. 153-157.
  • Johanna von Herzogenberg, Jan Royt (Ed.): St. Johann von Nepomuk (1393-1993). Exhibition catalog, Munich / Prague 1993.
  • Willibald Katzinger : Nepomukiade or the wandering saints of Linz. In: Upper Austrian homeland sheets . Linz 2012, pp. 121–162, PDF on
  • Walpurga Oppeker: A Johannes Nepomuk brotherhood and their altar in the parish church of St. Stephan in Tulln. In: Hippolytus. New episode 32, St. Pölten 2011, pp. 169–177.
  • Walpurga Oppeker: To the veneration of St. John of Nepomuk. In: Thomas Aigner (Ed.): Aspects of Religiosity in the Early Modern Age, Contributions to the Church History of Lower Austria 10. St. Pölten 2003, pp. 170–214.
  • Walpurga Oppeker: Johannes von Nepomuk - brotherhoods in Austria under the Enns in the area of ​​the dioceses of Passau and Vienna. In: Our home. 3–4, St. Pölten 2012.
  • Jaroslav V. Polc: In: Bibliotheca sanctorum. 12 volumes and index tape. Rome 1961-1970, Volume 6, 1965, Col. 847-855.
  • Miloslav Polívka: Johannes v. Pomuk. In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages . Volume 5, Munich 1991, Sp. 595f.
  • Josef Johannes Schmid : "Out of special devotion that bears the saint" - the veneration of St. Johannes Nepomuk in the Palatinate-Neuburg family in the context of the (cultural) history of southern Germany in the 18th century. In: Memory and Look. Festschrift for Hans Ramisch on the occasion of his 60th birthday (= yearbook of the Association for Christian Art in Munich . Special volume 1996). Kunstverlag Fink, Lindenberg 1996, ISBN 3-931820-15-7 , pp. 51-61.
  • Ferdinand SeibtJohannes von Nepomuk. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 10, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1974, ISBN 3-428-00191-5 , p. 562 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Siegfried Seifert , Zdeňka Hledíková : Johann von Jenstein (1347 / 50-1400). In: Erwin Gatz (ed.), Clemens Brodkorb (collaborator): The bishops of the Holy Roman Empire 1198 to 1448. A biographical lexicon. Volume I, Berlin 2001, pp. 590-592.
  • Ivan Slavík: Čtení o sv. Janu Nepomuckém ("Tales of St. Jan Nepomuk"). Strakonice 1993.
  • Vít Vlnas: Jan Nepomucký, česká legenda ("Jan Nepomuk, a Bohemian legend"). 2nd edition (first edition 1993), Prague 2013.

Web links

Commons : Johannes Nepomuk  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. "Joannes de Pomuk" is the name form documented on the oldest known grave inscription, which is handed down in the process files of the canonization procedure (Proc. II, Summ. N. 14, §§ 9. 10); see. Theodor Schmude: Art. Johannes von Nepomuk, St. , in: Wetzer and Welte's Kirchenlexikon or Encyclopedia of Catholic theology and its auxiliary sciences , Volume 6, 2nd edition, Freiburg / B. 1889, col. 1725-1742 (here: 1727).
  2. a b c d e f Helga Maria Wolf : The five-star saint - Johannes Nepomuk. In: Austria-Forum (first published in: Christoph Schönborn , Gerhard Gürtlich (Hrsg.): Eisenbahn und Kirche , Wien 2013), accessed in October 2018.
  3. This discovery gave rise to the modern controversy about the existence of a slain confessor of the queen, since the archbishop mentions nothing of it in his detailed account of the murder of Johannes von Pomuk (cf.Theodor Schmude: Art. Johannes von Nepomuk, der St. , in : Wetzer and Welte's church lexicon or encyclopedia of Catholic theology and its auxiliary sciences , Volume 6, 2nd edition, Freiburg / B. 1889, Sp. 1725–1742, here: 1732).
  4. ^ Johann Peter Kirsch : Art. St. John Nepomucene , in: Catholic Encyclopedia Volume 8. Robert Appleton Company, New York 1910, pp. 467-468 (English) (accessed May 22, 2015).
  5. In detail: Art. Johannes Nepomucenus, p. (61) (in: Complete Saints Lexicon , Volume 3, Augsburg 1869, pp. 234-238), who represents the mediating-apologetic position of Joseph Augustin Ginzel († 1876), according to which there was indeed only one John of Pomuk, who, however, in addition to his church offices (hypothetically) was also the confessor of the young Queen Sophie ; on the other hand the Jesuit Theodor Schmude in Art. Johannes von Nepomuk, St. (in: Wetzer and Welte's Kirchenlexikon or Encyclopedia of Catholic Theology and its Auxiliary Sciences , Volume 6, 2nd Edition, Freiburg / B. 1889, here: Sp. 1731–1740), who for apologetic reasons on the existence of two victims of the same name and holds fast to Hájek's assumption that the older (“real” saint) Nepomuk was the confessor of the Bohemian Queen Johanna of Bavaria (1362-1386) .
  6. Peter Knauer SJ : Not infallible doctrine of faith, but definitive church doctrine? In: ZKT 122 (2000), pp. 60–74, note 17 ( online version ).
  7. a b Alois Mayer: The bridge saint Nepomuk. In: - information about Blankenheim, accessed in October 2018.
  8. Saint John Nepomuk. Calendar of saints of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising , accessed in October 2018.
  9. Art. Johannes Nepomucenus, p. (61) , in: Complete Saints Lexicon , Volume 3, Augsburg 1869, p. 234.
  10. Jitka Mládková: German, Czech and Moravian missionaries together in South America. In: Radio Praha , August 7, 2010, accessed October 2018.
  11. a b Johannes (von) Nepomuk (May 16). Calendar of saints of the Diocese of Eichstätt , accessed in October 2018.
  12. a b Alexander Brüggemann: Curious monument: The Johannes Nepomuk Church in Zdar, Moravia. In: Domradio , March 20, 2018, accessed July 2019.
  13. ^ Giovanni Dellantonio: Con l'arte contro il pericolo delle acque: San Giovanni Nepomuceno in Trentino. In: Alessandro de Bertolini, Lorenzo Malpaga (ed.): November 1966. Storia della difesa del territorio in Trentino (exhibition catalog). Trient o. J. (2017), pp. 153–160 (example Trentino and South Tyrol , where protection against mudslides and floods was of great importance).
  14. Cf. Thomas Winkelbauer : Freedom of the Estates and Princely Power. Countries and subjects of the House of Habsburg in the denominational age. Part 2 (= Herwig Wolfram (Ed.): Austrian History , Volume 9), Vienna 2003, ISBN 3-8000-3987-7 , pp. 208ff.
  15. Isabel Heitjan: The "miracle" Johann von Nepomuk 1744 in Prague. In: Börsenblatt for the German book trade - Frankfurt edition. No. 89, November 5, 1968 (= Archive for the History of Books. Volume 62), pp. 2863–2868, here: pp. 2866 f.
  16. ^ Oswald A. Erich, Richard Beitl : Dictionary of German Folklore. 1936; 2nd edition, revised by Richard Beitl. Stuttgart 1955, p. 554.
  17. First performance of the Nepomuclear song by Winfried Pilz. German-speaking Catholic Parish Prague, May 17, 2011, accessed on July 27, 2019 .