19 January 2013

A Danubian saint - St. John of Nepomuk

Earlier I haven't noticed these statues. I walked them by as anybody else these days. Moreover I did not even read the inscription below them, of if I did I forgot soon this complicated name. Later on, as I walked more and more on the banks of the Danube, at the back of my mind there was a déja vu - Wow, I might have seen this statue before. Since then, any place I have been wandering near the Danube, orhave I been crossing ot on a ferry, I greeted St. John of Nepomuk as an old friend of mine.

The statues of St. John is as integral part of the Danubian landscape as are the islands, the riverside inns (csárda) at ferry crossings, the riverine forests, the yellow iris or the ancient ruins of roman watchtowers. It is a common heritage and tradition of the Danubian nations. His memorial day is 16th May. This day in Hungary many celebrations are held, like the one at Vác, which lasts for three days, Mohács or Nagykörű on the Tisza river. In Baja it is a tradition that this day St. Johns statue is being put on the river in a boat.

"His legend tells us, that John Wolffin was born in the small village of Pomuk in southern Bohemia. Has he finished his studies in jury - despite he was from a poor family - he raised quickly in church hierarchy. As a renown churchman and an excellent orator he was beloved by all the people in Prague. IV. Wenceslaus (of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia) wife has chosen him as a royal confessor. IV. Wencelaus was a just ruler of good will, but soon after an unsuccessfull poisoning he became suspicious and agressive. He wanted to know what his wife had confessed to John of Nepomuk, but the bishop was unwilling to tell. So the king tortured him and thrown into the Vlatva river. A miraculous light phenomenon showed the queen to his body. According to a different story, the Vlatva has withdrawn, so they could find the body. 1383 was the year of his death, and he was buried in the St. Vitus cathedral in Prague"

St John is a martyr of confessional secret, patron saint of Bohemia. he is being venerated by "men of water", like fishermen, shipsmen, millers, miners, and those who are drowning. He is also the patron saint of the Banat region catholics (Romania and Serbia), mainly the german ethnic "Donauschwaben".

The statues of St. John of Nepomuk are mainly products of the baroque era, made of stone and marble. He is usually portrayed with a halo of five stars, commemorating the stars that hovered over the Vlatva River on the night of his murder. Other attributes useful to identify his pictures are: a priestly dress, the palm of martyrs, carrying a cross, an angel indicating silence by a finger over the lips. There is a great chance to meet these statues near water, ferry crossings, bridges and churchyards. It is often placed on civil houses.

Before his canonisation in 1729, St. John was already venerated in Bohemia. His cult has spread all across Central Europe in the middle of 18th century. But what is the reason, that so many statues were erected? In this century, after Hungary was retaken from the Ottoman Empire, these new lands had to be repopulated as well. Mainly from southern Germany, new settlers arrived, and taken the cult of St. John of Nepomuk with them. It is not really known, that the settlers, recruited by Hungarian landlords, have arrived on the Danube, by rafts and boats. Maybe many of the newcomers prayed to him in times of shallow water, floods, islands and when stucked on sand banks. Those who managed to survive did not forget about his help, and the first thing they did was to erect a statue of his. This may be only one reason why did the saint became so famous along the Danube and its catchment area. Maybe it is not an exaggeration that the spatial data of his statues draws a map of the catholic Central Europe from Prague to Temesvar (Timisoara), from Steiermark to Cracow. To the southeast, the last of St. John's statues are indicating an ancient border between the Danuvius and Istros, the roman and greek culture, later the catholic-orthodox religion.

So I decided that because St. John of Nepomuk's relation with the Danube River is considerably strong I dedicate a page for him on this blog. I'm curious, how many statues he has around the world, and how are these related to the Danube in space.

I could have "collected" these statues from the internet, but I rather would not. I am also concerned that there are vast numbers of them. With one hours work I found 164, only from Hungary. This means if I visit one in every week, it will take more than 3 years. Living in Alsógöd, I only have knowledge of the nearby statues, and I can only use books, rumours and the internet to get information.

So I ask every reader of the Donauinseln blog, if they have knowledge of any statues nearby their town, or have seen one while travelling, to send me any information, like pictures, coordinates, stories to this email address:


Or just leave a comment please!

This page will be updated with new entries, everytime I manage to visit a new St. John of Nepomuk statue, or I receive any informations from you.

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