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Celebrating Navalis

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It is believed that if you place your hand on the cross of St John Nepomuk’s statue on the Charles Bridge with every finger touching one star, your wish will be fulfilled. I don’t know if it’s true but every time I walk by, somebody is there checking if it works. There are more legends surrounding the Czech patron Jan Nepomucký, St John of Nepomuk. If you want to know more, come to Friday’s Svatojánské Navalis, commemorating the life and canonisation of Jan Nepomucký. The celebrations, which are mainly to take place in the vicinity of the Charles Bridge, for the most part on the river, will not be limited only to church ceremonies. They will take you to the Baroque era of the 18th century Prague.

In 1393, the body of the vicar Jan Nepomuk was thrown over the bridge into the Vltava river. Historians still debate about the reason behind his martyr death. One prevails though. John was tortured on the demand of Bohemian king Wenceslas IV. because he refused to betray the queen who had confessed to him. When almost 350 years later John’s body was exhumed and his tongue (the proof of his loyalty, which in fact was the remnant of his brain) was discovered “still growing”, he was made a saint. The canonization is also seen as part of the Catholic reformist movement.

Since John’s canonization 280 years ago, countless statues of Saint John of Nepomuk, the protector of bridges and sailors, have been erected on bridges all over Europe. The one on Charles Bridge was made by Jan Brokoff in 1683. It is the oldest one on the bridge. On Saturday, it will be the centrepoint of Musica Navalis.

Following a mass at St Vitus Cathedral at 6pm, a procession will walk to the statue of the Czech saint for festivities re-introducing what was a specific feature of Prague’s musical life in the 18th century on the eve of St John’s day. There will be instrumental ensembles on the river playing baroque music, a theatre show presenting the legend of Jan Nepomuk, a water fountain and dozens of small boats decorated with lights. Imagine all that with the silhouette of the Prague Castle and fireworks above on the sky. And yet the best is to come. Venetian gondolas. There will be several of them, one a large 25-m vessel with 14 gondoliers, coming from Venice, the city in Italy which also celebrates Nepomuk as patron.

The Museum of Charles Bridge will offer an exhibition dedicated to the life and legend of Jan Nepomucký. Maybe that’s where you can find out if stroking the statue of the saint could bring you any luck.

Click here for more information about the event.

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