This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

May 16 -- Feast of Saint John Nepomuck

Bohemian is a word that can trigger too many associations to have any real meaning anymore.  Nineteenth century artists might have been bohemian, but twenty-first century hipsters are too.  I suppose you could find common traits in the two groups, but I suspect that the divergences are larger than the overlap.  Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and the American elite's Bohemian Grove have little to do with either, but then again, Ben & Jerry's ice cream has even less to do with bohemian, except that Claude Monet used to serve banana ice cream at the end of every Christmas dinner. 

John at the BoGro in California
Saint John Nepomuk was Bohemian.  Not in the sense that he was a carefree vagabond and artist, nor in the sense that he pretended to worship a concrete owl that sounds like Walter Cronkite... oh, scratch that.  Well, sort of.  The Bohemian Grove is a summer camp for the rich and powerful, where titans of commerce and government engage in pagan rituals for the fun of it -- or even because they sold their souls to the Devil.  As it turns out, members consider St. John Nepomuk to be their patron saint.  There's even a statue of him in the Grove, down by the lake. But I don't think John would have cremated a human-shaped effigy of Care at the feet of a forty-foot idol.

John was Bohemian in the sense that he lived and died in the western part of what's presently the Czech Republic, a kingdom called Bohemia.  His story is split into two parts -- the stuff that can be best attested by the documentary evidence from his own time and the stuff that has been written some time after his death.  I don't automatically dismiss the latter, however, as the politics of the day might have discouraged anyone from telling the whole truth about recent martyrs.

It is clear that John (Jan Velflin z Pomuku) was a well-educated fourteenth century priest rising through through the ecclesiastical ranks.  In 1393, he was appointed Vicar-General for the Archbishop of Prague, but this placed him in direct conflict with King Wenceslas IV (aka Bad King Wenceslas).   The Crown and the Mitre had been arguing about the appointment of a Benedictine abbot, whose rich lands would be a valuable asset in any future power struggles.  John confirmed the abbot who had been elected by the monks, in spite of his unacceptability to the King.

Later versions also say that John was the Confessor of Queen Sophia.  Wenceslas, fearing that his wife was conspiring against him, demanded to know her confession.  John refused to divulge anything, which was the immediate cause of his brutal murder.  If true, he was the first martyr of the Seal of the Confessional.

The tomb that holds the tongue that John once held. 
It is pretty well attested that he was racked and burned before they dumped him in the Vltava River, where he drowned.  I'm not sure I believe that Wenceslas himself held the torch that burned John's sides, as at least one version of the story claims.   The body was fished out of the river; his sainthood was locally recognized upon martyrdom.  Today, the relics are in the tomb pictured here, located in the St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague.  I guess his tongue, having been held through the torture, was an especially blessed relic -- it seems to have been preserved in his skull while all the other flesh fell to dust.

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