Saint of the Day – 17 March – Saint Jan Sarkander (1576-1620) Priest and Martyr of the seal of confession, Confessor – born on 20 December 1576 at Skotschau (Skoczow), Austrian Silesia (in modern Poland) and died by being covered in flammable material and set on fire on 17 March 1620 at Olomouc, Moravia (in the modern Czech Republic). Patronages – the Seal of Confession, Confessors, Moravia, Persecuted Christians. St Jan Sarkander was married for a short period of time before he became widowed and pursued a path to the Priesthood where he became active in the defense of the faith during a period of anti-Catholic sentiment and conflict. He himself was arrested on false accusations as a means of silencing him and he refused to give in to his tormentors who tortured him for around a month before he died. His body is incorrupt.
Jan Sarkander was born on 20 December 1576 in Poland into a Silesian household as the son of Georg Mathias Sarkander and Helene Górecka. He had one sister and three other brothers – Nicholas (a priest himself), Paul and Wenceslas. His father died in 1589 and so he moved alongside his mother and siblings to Příbor. His mother remarried and he ended up having a half-brother Matthew as a result. Sarkander believed he was going to become a Priest but dropped the idea and instead married and settled in Brno. The marriage was short lived for his wife died not too long after (in 1607) the couple married, they were childless. He then decided to resume his studies for the Priesthood.
He studied at the Olomouc college from 1597 until 1600, when due to the plague, he was forced to transfer to the Charles University in Prague where he graduated with a master’s in philosophical studies. He obtained further education from the Jesuits in Prague and received his doctorate in philosophical studies in 1603. He continued theological studies in Austria from 1604. He later underwent theological studies at the Graz University and passed his examinations on 21 December 1607. He was made a sub-deacon on 20 December 1608 and elevated into the diaconate on 16 March 1609.
On 22 December 1607 he received the minor orders from Cardinal Franz von Dietrichstein. The Bishop of Olomouc, Jan Křtitel Civalli ordained him to the Priesthood on 22 March 1609 in Grozin and he was assigned to work as a parish priest in Olmütz (Olomouc) and later he was sent to Holešov. Baron von Lobkowitz from Moravia supported Sarkander’s efforts to re-Christianise the region but the rich anti-Catholic landowner, Bitowsky von Bistritz opposed him to the extent, where he wanted Sarkander killed.
The Thirty Years War began in 1618 and it saw a bitter conflict between the Protestants and Christians and this forced him to flee to Poland on 17 May 1619 for a brief period of time when the Protestants occupied Hollenschau. He returned that November. Polish forces moved into the area in 1620 and battle seemed imminent. He visited the field commander with the Eucharist in a monstrance as a shield – the forces saw him come and this prevented battle from taking place. The Jesuits also helped him to reconcile 200 non-Christians to the faith but the non-Christians were severely angered by this.
In 1620 – during the ongoing Bohemian Revolt – Protestant Moravian Estates (under von Bistritz) accused Sarkander of being a traitor and instigator and so he was tortured in the Olomouc prison. He was taken to Olmütz where he was tortured for a confession (as well as for revenge) and to also provide them with information on Sarkander’s friend Lobkowitz. One reason for him being tortured was due to his refusal to divulge what was said under the seal of confession.
Sarkander was covered in flammable material and was set on fire. He did not die outright but it took a month until he died of the injuries he sustained. Lighted candles as well as feathers soaked in oil and sulfur placed on him and ignited. The rack was used on him on 13 February and again on the 17 and 18th; it would last two to three hours. In 1720 his remains were exhumed and were deemed to be incorrupt.
The “Saint Jan Sarkander chapel” stands on the place of his torture at the top of Michael’s Hill. The original torturing rack and Sarkander’s gravestone are preserved here as well.
St Jan’s remains reside at the Cathedral of Jan Sarkander at Olomouc (in modern Czech Republic). The people immediately began to venerate John Sarkander and to ask for his Beatification. He was Beatified on 6 May 1860, at Saint Peter’s Basilica by Pope Pius IX and Canonised on 21 May 1995 at Olomouc, Czech Republic by St Pope John Paul II.