Navalis to be held in Prague on May 15

The annual celebration of St Jan Nepomuk occurs at Charles Bridge

One of the first things most people do when they arrive in Prague is touch the bottom plaques of the statue of St Jan Nepomuk on Charles Bridge to wish for good luck or a safe return.

The same saint, known in Czech as svatý Jan Nepomucký, is the focus of the Navalis celebration at Charles Bridge on May 15, the eve of the saint's feast day in the religious calendar. The main program takes place starting at 8:30 pm, with a boat regatta, five parachutists who land in the water and a concert on a barge.

The evening ends at 10 pm with a large fireworks display launched from a barge on the Vltava. It is one of a few days when fireworks is legally allowed downtown.

Before that, a mass is held at 6 pm at St Vitus' Cathedral and a procession at 7:15 pm goes from the cathedral down along the Royal Route and across Charles Bridge, with uniformed participants, banners, statues and relics. The parade stops on the bridge for some ceremonial events.

Vendors are required to remove their stands from Charles Bridge before the procession arrives so that there is enough room for both the parade and spectators.

This year two large historic and richly decorated gondolas from Venice (see below, Foto: David Černý MilujuPrahu.cz) will also ride along with the other boats.

While Charles Bridge quickly gets filed up, there is also good viewing along Alšovo nábřeží toward Mánesův most.

The Svatojánské slavnosti Navalis was renewed in 2009 after a long gap but has its roots in a Baroque-era celebration. Jan Nepomuk was canonized, or formally declared a saint, in 1729.

In the Baroque era, this celebration was one of the biggest and most spectacular ones held in Bohemia. Pilgrims from across Europe would come her to honor svatý Jan Nepomucký by listening to the music from the Vltava river and watching the fire show.

To Roman Catholics in Bohemia, svatý Jan Nepomucký is an important historical figure who was martyred in 1393 during a struggle over the concept of separation of church and state. He is also the patron of Czech waterways, bridges, communication, good reputation and people of the water.

While there are some disputes about the full authenticity of his story, the most widely circulate version is that he was drowned in the Vltava river on orders from King Wenceslas IV. He was a priest who refused to divulge the secrets of the queen's confession. Church law about the seal of confession took precedence over secular law such as a king's orders, he maintained. The king thought he was the higher authority.

Five stars are supposed to have appeared over the Vltava on the night he was killed. Statues of the saint usually include a halo with five stars.

Some scholars say that two people with similar names have had their stories combined over the years, and that the dispute between the priest and the king concerned other issues.

His elaborate tomb in St Vitus' Cathedral is a Baroque monument cast in silver and silver-gilt designed by Fischer von Erlach.

The statue of svatý Jan Nepomucký was put on Charles Bridge in 1683, even before he became an official saint. It is the only metal statue on the bridge. The statue has three rectangular panels on its base. One depicts the confession and another shows him falling into the river. The third has text.

There is also a metal cross in red stone on the railing of the bridge to mark the spot where he was thrown into the water. The cross has five stars. A small railing depicts the saint in a reclining position.

Copies of the statue of svatý Jan Nepomucký, in stone or even wood, appear at many bridges across the Czech Republic as well as in neighboring countries.

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