Famous Saints Connected with Prague

King Wenceslas – Patron Saint of Bohemia

King Wenceslas went down in history as one of the most famous Přemyslids. He lived from 907 to 935. After losing a war to the Saxon King Henry I, he undertook to pay tribute to the victor. He also requested the shoulder of St. Vitus from him (which was initially deposited at Saint Dennis) so that he could construct a Church of St. Vitus over his relics at Prague Castle. His younger brother Boleslav, who was dissatisfied with Wenceslas’ policies and coveted princely power himself, had Wenceslas murdered on September 28, 935, at his settlement in Stará Boleslav. Shortly after his death, several miracles appeared, and king Wenceslaus became the saint patron of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Other kings that were to come were reigning only on behalf of Saint Wenceslaus.

Saint Wenceslaus - patron of Bohemia

“Good King Wenceslaus” is a popular Christmas carol about a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (the second day of Christmas, December 26). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather but is enabled to continue by the heat miraculously emanating from the King’s footprints in the snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (907-935), known in the Czech language as Svatý Václav. The legend is an old one, but its power is such that it has persisted for more than a millennium. Considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death, a cult of Václav grew up in Bohemia and also in England. Several centuries later, the legend was claimed as fact by Pope Pius II, who himself also walked ten miles barefoot in the ice and snow as an act of pious thanksgiving.

There are many legends about King Wenceslaus. An old legend says that a huge army of knights sleeps inside Blaník, a mountain in the Czech Republic. The knights will wake and, under the command of St. Wenceslaus, will help the Motherland when it is in ultimate danger.

There is a similar legend in Prague, which says that when the Motherland is in danger or in its darkest times and close to ruin, the equestrian statue of King Wenceslaus in Wenceslaus Square will come to life, raise the army sleeping in Blaník, and upon crossing the Charles Bridge his horse will stumble and trip over a stone that will reveal the legendary sword of Bruncvík. With this sword, King Wenceslaus will slay all the enemies of the Czechs, bringing peace and prosperity to the land.

Good King Wenceslas
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather. (or “…winter weather.”)

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the winds blow stronger; (or “…wind blows…”)
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.” (or “…can not go longer.”)
“Mark my footsteps, my good page. Treadst thou in them boldly: (or “Tread now…”)
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.” (or “Thou should find…”)

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

John of Nepomuk

Legend and truth
John of Nepomuk (in Czech Jan Nepomucky, originally Jan of Pomuk) lived in the reign of the King of Bohemia Wenceslas IV, son of Charles IV. Through education and industry, Jan worked his way up to become deputy to the Archbishop John of Jenstejn, but long-running disputes between the King and archbishop were to have a brutal impact on John’s destiny. When Jenstejn obstructed Wenceslas’s plans for the creation of a new bishopric in West Bohemia, the King decided the time had come for the cruel punishment of the offenders. Archbishop fled from the King’s wrath, but John of Pomuk and several others ended up on the rack. John did not survive the torture and was already dead when the executioner’s assistants threw his body into the Vltava River from Charles Bridge. What then is the origin of the legend of Jan, the martyr? A year after his death, there was a terrible drought, which people regarded as God’s punishment. What is more, in an attempt to paint the King even blacker certain clerical circles started to spread reports of John’s courage, saying that as confessor to the Queen, he had refused to reveal her secrets, and that was why he had been murdered. Belief in John’s supernatural powers culminated with the discovery of the saint’s supposed tongue when three centuries later, his tomb was opened, and a piece of reddened tissue fell out of his skull. The mystery was cleared up in 1973 when scientists showed that the reddish tissue was not a tongue but part of the brain with congealed blood.

Statue of John of Nepomuk on the Charles Bridge

Once on the Charles Bridge, touching the statue representing John of Nepomuk is a Prague ritual. It is supposed to bring good luck and to ensure that you return to Prague soon. Walk a few steps towards the Old Town from the statue, and you will come to a cross with five stars on the left parapet of the bridge. This is the exact point where the priest was thrown into the water in the year 1383. Legend has it that stars appeared when he touched the water. Here you are supposed to touch the cross and the stars with your left hand and make a wish. Whatever your wish, it will come true!

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