1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nepomuk, John of
|←Nepi||1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 19
Nepomuk, John of
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NEPOMUK (or Pomuk), JOHN OF, the national saint of Bohemia. It is necessary to distinguish between the John of Nepomuk of history and the legendary one. In 1393 a dispute arose between King Wenceslaus IV. of Bohemia and the archbishop of Prague, John of Jenzenstein. Wenceslaus, wishing to found a new bishopric in south-western Bohemia, determined to seize the revenues of the abbey of Kladrub as soon as the aged abbot Racek should die. The archbishop opposed this plan, and by his orders his vicar-general, John of Pomuk — son of a German named Wölfel, a citizen of Pomuk — advised the monks to elect a new abbot immediately after Racek's death. This greatly incensed the king, who summoned the archbishop and some of his clergy — among whom was Pomuk — to appear before him. He ordered them to be immediately arrested, and though the archbishop escaped his four companions — among them Pomuk — were seized and subjected to cruel torture. They were ordered to abandon the archbishop. Three of them consented, but Pomuk, who refused to submit and was already on the point of death, was carried to the bridge of Prague and thrown into the Vltava. It is difficult to connect this historical event with the legend of St John of Nepomuk, who was canonized by the church of Rome in 1729, mainly by the influence of the Jesuits, who hoped that this new cult would obliterate the memory of Hus. The Austrian chronicler Thomas Ebendorffer of Haselbach, who lived two generations later, first states that it was reported that King Wenceslaus had ordered that the confessor of his queen — an office that John of Pomuk never held — should be thrown into the Vltava because he would not reveal the secret of confession. The story is afterwards told in greater detail by the untrustworthy Bohemian historian Wenceslaus Hajek. It appears certain that the person canonized in 1729 was not the historical John of Pomuk or Nepomuk.
See A. H. Wratislaw, Life, Legend and Canonization of St John Nepomuk (1873), a valuable work founded on the best Bohemian authorities; also A. Frind, Der geschichtliche Heilige Johann von Nepomuk (1861); O. Abel, Die Legende vom heiligen Johann von Nepomuk (1855); and particularly vol. iii. of W. W. Tomek's History of the Town of Prague (Czech) (12 vols., Prague, 1855-1901).