Saint John Nepomucene
Priest and Martyr
Saint John Nepomucene was born in 1330, in answer to the prayer of his parents, who were poor folk of Nepomuc in Bohemia. In gratitude they consecrated him to God. His holy life as a priest led to his appointment as chaplain to the court of the Emperor Wenceslaus, where he converted many by his preaching and example.
Among those who sought his advice was the virtuous empress, who suffered much from her husband’s unfounded jealousy. Saint John taught her to bear her cross with joy; but her piety only incensed the emperor, and he tried to extort an account of her confessions from the Saint. He threw Saint John into a dungeon but gained nothing; then, inviting him to his palace, he promised him riches if he would yield, and threatened death if he refused. The Saint was silent. He was racked and burnt with torches; but no words except the holy names of Jesus and Mary fell from his lips. At last set free, he spent time in preaching and preparing for the death he knew to be near.
On Ascension Eve, May 16th, Wenceslaus, after a final and fruitless attempt to alter the constancy of the faithful priest, ordered him to be cast into the river. That night the martyr’s hands and feet were bound, and he was thrown from the bridge of Prague into the Moldau River. Heavenly lights shining on the water and from under it, revealed the whereabouts of the body, which was soon buried with the honors due to a Saint.
A few years later, Wenceslaus was deposed by his own subjects, and died an impenitent and miserable death. In 1618 the Calvinist and Hussite soldiers of the Elector Frederick tried repeatedly to demolish the shrine of Saint John in Prague. Each attempt was miraculously frustrated, and once the persons engaged in the sacrilege died suddenly on the spot. During a battle in 1620 the imperial troops recovered the city by a victory which was ascribed to the Saint’s intercession, since he was seen on the eve of the conflict, radiant with glory, guarding the cathedral. When his shrine was opened three hundred and thirty years after his decease, the flesh had disappeared, and one member alone remained incorrupt, the tongue, which thus, still in silence, gave glory to God.
Reflection. Saint John Nepomucene, who by his invincible sacramental silence won his crown, teaches us to prefer torture and death to offending the Creator with our tongue. How many times each day do we forfeit grace and strength by sins of speech!
Sources: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 5; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).