Saint of the Day – 16 May – St John Nepomucene (c 1345–1393) Priest, Martyr, Confessor and almoner.to the Queen of Bohemia – “The First Martyr of the Seal of Confession.” Born in c1345 in Nepomuk, Bohemia and died on 20 March 1393 (aged 47–48) at Prague . St John’s tongue is incorrupt and is kept in the Cathedral of St Vitus in Prague, Czech Republic. Patronages – Bohemia. – which includes the greater Czechoslovakia, Moravia and parts of Austria before various divisions; protection against slander, restoration of the good name of those slandered, help in confessing sins, for the protection of Priests and the Seal of Confession, San Juan, Batangas, Malibay, Pasay; Alfonso, Cavite; Moalboal, Cebu; San Remigio, Cebu; Cabiao; Spanish Navy. Also known as – John of Nepomuk, Nepomuc, Ioannes Nepomucenus, Johannes Nepomuk.
The Roman Martyrology states of him today: “At Prague in Bohemia, St John Nepomucene, a Canon of the Metropolitan Church, who, being tempted in vain to betray the secret of Confession, was cast into the river Moldaw and thus won the Palm of Martyrdom.”
Saint John Nepomucene, Priest and Martyr
By Fr Francis Xavier Weninger SJ (1805-1888) (Excerpt)
John, whom, in our time, God has honoured with many miracles, received his surname from Nepomuc, a small town two miles from Prague, where he was born. His parents were plain people and had lived many years without issue. After having made a vow, however, in honour of the Blessed Virgin, whose miraculous picture is kept in a Cistercian Convent not far from Nepomuc, John was born to them. At the time of his birth, several stars were seen which floated down from heaven and rested upon the house of his parents. This event was interpreted and admired, as a prophecy of his future holiness. In his infancy, he fell dangerously ill but recovered after his parents had consecrated him to God, in the above-named place of pilgrimage.
As he grew, his greatest delight was to assist the Priests at Mass and he passed the whole forenoon in that sacred occupation, in the Cistercian Church. In his studies he made such rapid progress that he became Doctor of Divinity and Canon Law. After being Ordained Priest, he retired, for one month from all intercourse with men and prepared himself, by prayers, penances and purifying his soul, for his first Holy Mass. Soon after, he was commissioned to preach at Prague in the Church of our Lady, in the suburb and he did this with such eminent success, that the Archbishop raised him to the dignity of Canon and Preacher of the Cathedral, which functions he discharged until his death.
Wencelaus, at that period King of Bohemia, attended his sermons frequently, with his whole Court and esteemed the Saint highly. He offered him the See of Leimeritz and afterwards, the rich provostship of Wissherad but John refused both, hoping to do more good by preaching. Queen Jane, the wife of Wencelaus chose him for her Confessor and Almoner. The king, neglecting the affairs of the land, became, meanwhile, more and more, a slave to debauchery and drunkenness and added to the scandal which this gave to his people, by acts of the most unheard of cruelty. Not able to alter his conduct, either by exhortations or entreaties, the pious Queen, at last became silent, and endeavoured by prayer and other virtuous exercises, to inspire her husband with better thoughts and the fear of God. She frequently received the Holy Sacraments in order to give more power to her prayers and to be strengthened in patience. The wicked King regarded her frequent Confessions with mistrusting eyes, even suspecting that the Queen might have been as faithless to him, as he had been to her.
Hence, the desire to know what the Queen confessed was awakened in him and calling John into his presence, he, after long circumlocution and giving some feigned reasons, informed him of his wish, promising him all possible favours and honours. The Saint was at first stunned at so sacrilegious a demand and then explained to the King, the greatness of the crime, which a Priest would commit, if he revealed the least thing which had been told him, under the Seal of Confession, adding, that he would much rather die than become guilty of so terrible a crime.
The King dissimulated his anger at this reply, resolving to wait for another opportunity. He had not to wait long, for when, with unprecedented cruelty he had commanded that a cook, who had sent to the Royal table, a capon badly roasted, should be himself roasted alive on a spit and no-one dared to disobey the tyrant. Sohn, however, went to him and endeavoured to dissuade him from such barbarity. But instead of listening to the Saint, he gave orders to cast him into a dark, horrible dungeon and left him there a day without any food. After this, he sent the jailer to him with a message that he could save his life only by fulfilling the king’s desire. The Saint well understood the message and replied that he remained firm in what he had already said to the King. Wencelaus then determined to have recourse to kindness. He had the Saint liberated and informed, that he repented of his harshness and begged his pardon, at the same time requesting him to appear the following day at the Royal table, as a token of complete reconciliation. The Saint complied with the behest and appeared but no sooner had the King arisen from the table, than he repeated his godless desire, pressing the holy man, at first with great promises and then with cruel menaces. Seeing that neither the one nor the other were respected by John, he commanded that he should be again dragged to the dungeon and stretched upon the rack. To add to his suffering, he was, at the same time, burned with torches. The brave Martyr raised his eyes to Heaven and only repeated frequently the sacred names of Jesus and Mary. When he had been long tortured, the King, who was present, left and John was once more set at liberty.
He informed nobody of what had happened to him but as soon as his wounds were healed, he discharged his functions as he had hitherto done. As it was, however, revealed to him in a vision, that his silence would cost him his life, he bade farewell to his hearers on the Sunday before Ascension. His text was, “A little while and you shall not see me.” In this sermon he predicted the evils which would soon fall upon Bohemia, in consequence of new heresies and exhorted all to repentance and to constancy in the Catholic faith.
On the day before the festival of the Ascension, he made a pilgrimage to Bunzel where the miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin was honoured. Arriving there, he fervently recommended his approaching death-agony to the divine Mother. At evening, he returned to Prague. The King, leaning out of the window of his palace, saw him. Having given orders to bring the Saint before him, he addressed him with these shameless words: “Listen, parson! Thou wilt have to die, if thou dost not immediately tell me what the Queen confessed to thee. I vow to God, that thou shalt drink water!” The Saint repeated fearlessly his former words: “I will rather die a thousand times.” Hardly had this passed his lips, when the King commanded the holy man to be dragged into the adjoining apartment and kept there. As soon as night had come, he was led to the bridge that unites the old and new portions of Prague, and from thence cast into the Moldaw, in the year 1383.
Heaven did not allow this crime to be concealed for one single hour. An uncommonly bright light in the form of many stars was seen, which seemed to float upon the water and accompanying the holy body, remaining with it. All the people came running towards the river but could not explain the prodigy. The King himself was called by the Queen to witness the scene and looked at it in fear and trembling. When the next day dawned, the waters of the river were divided into two parts and in the midst was seen, lying on the sand, with a sweet smile upon his face, the body of the Saint. The Canons brought it, at first into the nearest Church but soon after, transferred it with imposing solemnities to the Cathedral.
From that day, date the honours which were paid to the Saint and which God approved by numberless miracles which were wrought at his tomb.
After the expiration of more than 300 years, the holy body was exhumed and the tongue of the Saint was found fresh without a sign of corruption. When, six years later, this tongue was shown to a deputation, sent by the Pope to verify the report, it suddenly swelled up before the eyes of all present and changed from dark red to purple, as though it were still, imbued with life.
Remarkable is the fact, that everyone who approached the tomb of the Saint, irreverently was sure to be punished with some public derision. Many examples of recent date have verified this.
In conclusion, it is to be remarked, that the intercession of Saint John Nepomuceno, may be requested with great benefit by those whose good name has been tarnished, or who are in danger of a public disgrace, as also by those who feel difficulties in confessing their sins. In our times this glorious Saint has become particularly renowned, not only on account of the incorruption of his tongue and the many miracles which have taken place at his shrine but also, on account of the many graces and benefits which the Almighty has bestowed upon those, throughout the whole Christian world, who with confidence ask his intercession. Many books are filled with the relation of these facts.