Saint John of Nepomuk

1340 - 1393

Feastday: May 16

Also known as: John Nepomucene; John Wolflin, Woelflein or Welflin; Martyr of the Confessional

Saint John of Nepomuk was born as John Wolflin, at Pomuk or Nepomuk, a small town in the district of Pilsen, Bohemia, about 1340. In his early childhood, John Nepomucene was cured of a disease through the constant prayers of his good parents. In thanksgiving for God's healing grace, they dedicated John to the service of God. John's family was wealthy enough to allow John to receive both secular and religious education.

As a young man, John began studies for the priesthood. He was educated at the Universities of Prague and Padua. After he was ordained, he was sent to a parish in the city of Prague. He became a great preacher, and thousands of those who listened to him changed their way of life. Around the year 1379 Wenceslaus IV became emperor and invited John to join the court as confessor on account of his great reputation. John accepted the position and became the confessor for the royal family and many members of the court. In addition to these sacramental duties, John was influential in solving many public disputes and was well known for his generosity with the poor.

One day, about 1393, the king asked him to tell what his beautiful queen Sophie had said in confession. When Father John refused, he was thrown into prison. A second time, he was asked to reveal the queen's confession. "If you do not tell me," said the king, "you shall die. But if you obey my commands, riches and honor will be yours." Again Father John refused. He was tortured. The king ordered John's death. He was burned, tied to a wheel and plunged into the River Moldau in Prague on 20 March 1393. As legend has it, the night of John's murder, seven stars were seen over the very spot where he was drowned. Wenceslaus' attempt to cover up his crime failed. John's body washed ashore the next day. The people immediately recognized the corpse. They buried John in the Cathedral of St. Vitus. The Bohemians considered him both martyr and saint, and revered his relics, honoring him much as Ireland honors Patrick. To the bridge from which he was thrown a metal plaque was affixed. In 1729, Pope Benedict XIII agreed with the Bohemians and canonized St. John of Nepomuk. This day, May 16th became his feast day. 

John of Nepomuk was beatified 31 May 1721 by Pope Innocent XIII and canonized 19 March 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII. Saint John is portrayed in art as an Augustinian canon with a fur almuce and a bridge near him. He may hold his finger to his lips and have seven stars around his head, or wear a padlock on his lips (in Austria and Bohemia). John, patron of confessors and bridges, is venerated in Austria and Spain (Roeder).

Patron of Confessors and Bridges. 


God, we praise You for the grace You granted to Saint Jophn of Nepomuk to offer his life in defense of the seal of confession. Grant that, through his prayers, we may use the Sacrament Penance often and with great profit. Amen.