Saturday, 6 May 2017

Prague Moments #7 - Navalis (May 15th)

On May 15th the people of Prague celebrate Navalis, in honour of Saint John of Nepomuk (1345-1393). This is a tradition that dates back some 300 years to the his beatification in 1715. 

St John on the Charles Bridge
St John of Nepomuk is the patron saint of bridges, communication, good reputation and of all people of the water. I've mentioned him previously and you cannot walk far in Prague without seeing a statue, engraving or some other representation of him. He is instantly recognisable by his five star halo, which represent the stars that hovered over the river Vltava in which he was drowned on the orders of King Wenceslas IV. The legend has it that the king was convinced that his queen had taken a lover and demanded that St John, as the queen's confessor, reveal her secrets. When he refused to break the seal of confession, the king ordered him to be thrown into the Vltava from the Charles Bridge, hence gaining his martyrdom. 

The first account of this was some sixty years after his death and further chronicles go on to embellish the legend. The more likely historical truth is that St John refused to confirm the king's choice of a new abbott as part of a papal power struggle between the pope in Rome and a rival Avignon papacy supported by the Wenceslas, who was himself embattled with his own nobles.  But why let history get in the way of a good yarn? The first story is much more romantic!

The Navalis celebrations are heavy duty even by Prague standards. There's a procession, a holy mass at St Vitus Cathedral, another religious service St Francis of Assisi by the Charles Bridge, a regatta, skydiving and a riverside concert, rounded off by Baroque fireworks on the Vltava. All in the space of about five hours!

Last year, the procession from the castle to the statue of St John on the Charles Bridge was the real highlight of the evening for me. It was an incredibly moving and spiritual experience. Prague dignitaries, churchmen, children,  representatives of numerous local groups, and other pilgrims, along with horses and riders, follow a statue of the saint and hold a brief service on the bridge. 

Make way for the Hat
As the sun set, the sky turned an amazing yellowy-brown and I felt goosebumps on the back of my neck. The only disappointing aspect of the experience was the attitude of some of the tourists on the bridge, who seemed extremely put out that they were being impeded by the procession.

Incredible skies after the procession
We listened to some of the concert which was performed from a floating stage by the riverbank with lots of people watching from little boats on the river. The Charles Bridge also was illuminated with little white stars representing the stars on the saint's halo.

Concert on the Vltava and the stars illuminating the bridge
Unfortunately the place we'd chosen to watch the fireworks failed to take into account that Baroque fireworks don't go very high into the sky (at least not that night) and we didn't see a thing, but by that time it was getting pretty chilly.

If you're in Prague on the 15th May this year, I highly recommend you get along to at least some of the events in the programme. It all kicks off at 16:00 (local time) in Hradčany Square but you can find the detailed information on the official website here. And if last year is anything to go by, wrap up well!

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