St. John Nepomucene (Martyr)

Born John Wölflein or Welflin, in Nepomuk, Bohemia, in 1340, Saint John used the name of his native town for his surname instead of his family name. He studied theology and law at the University of Prague and was eventually ordained a priest. In time, he became vicar general of Archbishop John of Genzenstein at Prague.

In 1393, King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia, wishing to found a new bishopric for one of his favorites, ordered that at the death of the present abbot of Kladrau Abbey, no new abbot should be elected and that the abbey church should be turned into a cathedral. The archbishop and John thwarted the king’s plan by approving the election of a new abbot immediately on the death of the old one. Upon hearing this, Wenceslaus fell into a violent rage and had the vicar-general and several cathedral officials thrown into prison. John was tortured by having his sides burnt with torches, but even this could not move him. Finally, on March 20, 1393, the king ordered him to be put in chains and led through the city with a block of wood in his mouth. His martyrdom was complete when he was then thrown from a bridge into the Moldau River at Prague. A strange brightness is said to have appeared above the spot where he drowned; because of this John of Nepomucene is often portrayed in art with seven stars above his head.

An additional reason for John’s violent death may be because of the tale that is traditionally told about him: as the queen’s confessor, John was once ordered by King Wenceslaus to tell him what the queen had said in confession, but John vehemently refused to break the seal of the confessional. For this reason, St. John is also called the “Martyr of the Confessional” and is sometimes pictured with his finger to his lips.


1. St. John’s refusal to reveal what the queen told him in confession is a lesson for our times when the seal of confession is under siege. Let us pray for our priests today that they, like St. John, may be firm in withstanding the pressure of the courts and the media to reveal what they have heard in the confessional.

2. Standing up for what is right may not result in a painful martyrdom like St. John’s. Nonetheless, it can prove to be painful in other ways: we may lose friends, the support of our family, we may even lose our jobs or be thrown into jail. But we should take courage by Jesus’ reminder: “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but not the soul…. If anyone declares himself for Me in the presence of men, I will declare Myself for him in the presence of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:28,32).

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Ubaldus (1160), Bishop

St. Brendan the Navigator (578), Abbot, Patron of sailors

St. Simon of Stock (1265), Religious, received the brown scapular