|This saint was
vicar general to the archbishop of Prague. He was tortured,
killed, and tossed into the river Moldau in 1393 on orders
of King Wenceslas IV of Bohemia. He had thwarted the king's
plan to seize the property of a monastery in Kladrau, and
historians agree that this offense was most likely the
reason for his murder (Butler
II, 332-33). However, Balbín's influential Vita of
1670 repeated a legend that John was killed because he had
refused to reveal matters entrusted to him by the queen in
the sacrament of confession (Acta Sanctorum,
May vol. 3, 671-72).
In the Balbín account Wenceslas had the dead saint thrown into the river in order to cover up the murder, but flaming lights miraculously illuminated the body in the water (ibid.). For this reason John's primary attribute is a halo of stars, usually five in number though Butler says seven (ibid.). Other attributes are a biretta, which he wears in almost all images, a crucifix or hand cross, and (less often) a martyr's palm branch.
Today St. John Nepomuk is one of the patron saints of the Czech Republic and his statue stands on the very bridge from which the king's men tossed him into the Moldau.
Prepared in 2014 at Georgia Regents University by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English