John of Nepomuk- Patron Saint of…. Love Locks?

Jan_Nepomucky_na_Karlove_moste_detailUnless you’ve been to Prague, you’ve probably never heard of Saint John of Nepomuk (Jan Nepomucký in Czech), a Bohemian saint, who was drowned in the Vltava River in 1393 by order of the King of Bohemia. His offense you ask? According to legend, he defied the King on two occasions. Once by refusing to divulge the secret confessions of the Queen, (as a priest he was her confessor), and then again by refusing to make an ecclesiastical appointment favored by the King. Historians now believe that these were once two separate stories involving two different Johns, but once a story becomes legend, people aren’t too concerned about historical accuracy.

In any event, what remains well documented is that John of Nepomuk was tortured, bound in chains, and thrown over the famous Charles Bridge that crosses the Vltava River in the heart of  Old Town. If you have been to Prague, you will most certainly have walked this bridge and discovered a statue honoring St. John high above you. Erected in 1683, it is easy to spot his statue among the 29 others lining the bridge due to the throngs of tourists around it, and because of the trademark five star halo which he wears. It is said that five stars appeared and hovered over the water the night he was drowned.Czechowicz_St._John_Nepomuk

John of Nepomuk was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1729, and not surprisingly, he became the Patron Saint of confessors, bridges, and waterways. His feast day is May 16th, and during the Baroque era he was quite the celebrity. Pilgrims travelled to Prague from all across Europe for one of the biggest church celebrations of the year, honoring him with music and a fire show.

In subsequent years, his popularity waned, but it now enjoys a resurgence with a modern makeover. On May 15th, the eve of Saint John’s feast day, the city hosts a no holds barred extravaganza. A mass at St. Vitus’s Cathedral is followed by a procession down the Royal Route and then onto the Charles Bridge, stopping at his famous statue. The celebration continues out on the water with a boat regatta, parachutists, swimmers, and a concert performed on a barge. The final spectacle is of course, fireworks over the river illuminating the ancient city.IMG_0135

The event is now so popular with locals and tourists alike that their throngs make the bridge impassable. Perhaps you have experienced a similar phenomena somewhere in your own travels, or maybe even close to home? Destinations clogged with tourists, and public events that have grown in attendance to the point that they are no longer enjoyable. Like a beautiful river until it swells and floods its banks.IMG_0134

Certainly, the world’s population is growing, and the internet, along with modern conveniences, have made travel more accessible. But there also seem to be a lot of hungry people afoot in the world searching for experiences that “mean something.” Experiences that are rooted in history and are rich in tradition. 

Pondering all the hoopla surrounding this little known “martyr of the confessional” reminded me of another legend that has people flocking to bridges these days, eager to make a public confession of their own. In November of 2015, I was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City when I noticed an odd assortment of padlocks, in every color, size, and shape hanging from the bridge’s cabling. IMG_2412I learned that these were “love locks,” put there by paramours to symbolize their unbreakable love and as a kind of talisman against the dissolution of their relationships. I later learned that the Brooklyn Bridge locks were part of a love lock epidemic spread across the globe.

According to Wikipedia, the love lock tradition dates back about 100 years to a Serbian love story. A young woman named Nada falls in love with, and becomes engaged to a young man named Relja. But Relja proves unfaithful when he goes off to war, falling in love with another woman. Upon hearing the news, Nada dies of a broken heart. As a protection against a similar fate, young women of the town began writing down their names and those of their lovers’ on padlocks, and then attaching the locks to the bridge where Nada and Relja used to meet. 

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The Original Bridge of Love By AcaSrbin, Panoramio, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

As a final safe guard, they tossed the key into the river where it could not be retrieved.

What began as a quaint and romantic custom, has now become a public nuisance in many major European cities. Just like coping with hordes of tourists, the proliferation of these locks are creating headaches for city leaders. The local citizenry complain that the locks are eyesores that destroy the architectural heritage and beauty of bridges.

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Pont des Arts Bridge covered in love locks By Berlinuno – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

 

Besides the aesthetics issue, there is a threat to the structural integrity of a bridge from the added weight. On May 9, 2014, the weight of padlocks on the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris caused the collapse of part of the parapet. When officials took down all the locks on the bridge, they weighed in at 45 tons.

Some people blame the current craze on a 2006 Italian book turned popular movie called “I Want You” in which a couple put a love lock on a lamppost on Rome’s 2100 year old Ponte Milvio Bridge. Harmless enough when on person does it, but of course not so harmless when thousands do. The poor lamppost finally gave way from the weight of all this love, prompting officials to start imposing a fine of 50 Euros on anyone caught attaching a love lock to any part of the bridge. Indeed, in more and more cities, the locks are considered vandalism and are regularly removed with bolt cutters and hacksaws.

It will come as no surprise to you that love locks have made their way onto the Charles Bridge in Prague. A large majority of these have been attached to the fence like grille work on the parapet that marks the spot where John of Nepomuk was thrown into the water.

This seems a logical place considering love locks would most certainly fall under his jurisdiction as patron saint of both confessors and bridges. Considering the intersection of these two stories made me wonder what secret confessions he took to his watery grave and what he might think about all of these public confessions of love without repercussion. How times change.

Authorities Remove Love Padlocks From Charles Bridge

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – 

Of course, city workers regularly come and remove the Charles Bridge love locks, and for all I know, they probably end up in a landfill.  I wonder what that might mean for the durability of the relationships these locks symbolized. Did someone somewhere in the world feel a twinge of misgiving when the bolt cutter callously snapped their lock’s bond?

Authorities Remove Love Padlocks From Charles Bridge

Perhaps it is time for a new tradition that might satisfy everyone: lovers, locals, city governments, and the environment. I propose that sweethearts take a lock of each others hair and intertwine them, offer up a prayer of safekeeping to St. John, and then let their locks float down into the water. Hair is weightless, biodegradable, and requires a sacrifice from both parties. Padlocks are here today, gone tomorrow, but John of Nepomuk has staying power. He is still going strong after 500 years. It might just work.laurent-gence-N46GvUbUhrI-unsplash

Leaving Home

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on UnsplashThe essence of leaving home is change. Change brings the excitement of new adventure as well as fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar. As children going away to camp, or as young adults going off to college, many of us have felt the temporary, but very real pangs of homesickness. Those times when loss of the familiar feels like a trap door has opened beneath our feet. But eventually we embrace leaving as a part of natural growth.

Photo by Nils Nedel on UnsplashAnd then something happens over time. We work hard to create a comfortable world around us that is to our liking; our home, friends, activities, the work we do- they all become part of a rhythm of days that flows like a well-worn river bed. Life becomes more complicated too, and entangled with responsibilities. No longer can we simply “pack up and go.” Sometimes there is so much effort involved in getting away that we simply don’t. Pretty soon complacency begets inertia. And once again, we find that leaving home is not so easy to do for a whole new set of reasons.Photo by Erik Odiin on Unsplash

As I contemplate moving to Prague, I wonder if I will be able to leave home when the time comes. The immensity of leaving all that is comfortable and familiar to me; my great little house, my routine, my senior pets, for a place that is entirely foreign sometimes overwhelms me. How will it all get sorted out? Physical aging too has shown me just how easy it is to succumb to inertia. It brings new meaning to the law of physics that states “a body at rest, tends to stay at rest.”

I assure you that my decision to go has not been taken lightly. I believe that acknowledging doubts and fears is not a defeatist attitude, it’s just being honest. Even with all the uncertainty and complications known, and yet to be discovered, I’m still going to continue to work toward my goal in the coming year- because, of one thing I am certain. Just like exercising your body to keep it able to exercise, change is a muscle that must be flexed in order to keep it loose and limber. Remaining flexible and open to change are what keep us young as we age. Leaving home and moving overseas to an unfamiliar place is a big and scary thing, but oh, the possibilities!Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Dear Readers: Have you experienced the inertia of complaceny? Resistance to change? Maybe it was a time when you too were leaving the familiarity of home. How did you, or are you dealing with your fear? Please share.

 

 

 

 

New Beginnings- Taking Chances

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“For our country- we endure to the end”

OCTOBER 18, 1918- OCTOBER 28, 2018

Today marks the 100th birthday of Czechoslovakia. On October 28, 1918, after centuries of oppression under Austro-Hungarian rule, the Czech people realized their dream of freedom and self-governance.  Although other dictatorial rulers tried to squash their independence, (Nazis from 1939-1945 and the Soviets from 1945-1992), the Czech people and their spirit have risen above every obstacle. Centennial celebrations have been occurring throughout the year, culminating in this weekend’s events which include parades, fireworks, and an open air concert by the Czech Philharmonic. IMG_0091

This seems an appropriate moment to share with you, faithful readers, that I too am embarking on a new beginning. The Bohemian Freethinker is making preparations with the hope of moving to Prague, where I will teach English for a year. My anticipated departure is in the summer of 2019, to begin their school term in September.IMG_0089

It is not too common for someone 59 years old to uproot and move to a foreign country, and it will certainly not be a “walk in the park” to do so. But I am going to give it my best shot and I will be journaling my experiences along the route over the next year. My hope is that if there is anyone out there reading this who thinks it is too late to try to make a dream a reality- please, think again. It is never too late to become the person you were meant to be. 

p.s. Dear Readers, what new beginnings have you embarked upon lately? Please share in the comments!

 

When You Have More Skeletons Than You Know What To Do With

 

Dusan in the Sedlec Bone Church

I took these photos when I visited the Bone Church in 2007

It’s a dilemma. What do you do when you are the caretaker of the skeletal remains of between 40,000 and 70,000 people? Such was the legacy and dilemma left to a small chapel, now known as “The Bone Church” in the town of Kutna` Hora in the Czech Republic. As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention,” and The Bone Church, is certainly testimony to, (at least one man’s), inventive creativity.Sedlec Bone Church from 14th Century

 

Originally part of the Sedlec Abbey which was founded in 1142, the Bone Church sits atop the site of the Abbey’s old cemetery, a very popular spot in which to be buried in the day. Its popularity was due to the fact that the cemetery was rumored to possess an unusual Holy relic soil from Golgotha, the site of Jesus’s execution.Sedlec Bone Church

After many centuries, including the unprecedented ravages of The Black Death in the mid 14th century, the cemetery became filled to capacity and overflowing. When the present day Bone Church was built around 1400, thousands and thousands of skeletal remains were exhumed and stacked as there was no other place for them.Sedlec Bone Church

The task of bringing order to the “bone yard” fell to a wood-carver named Frantisek Rint, in 1870. Apparently, left unsupervised and to his own devices, Mr. Rint utilized his artistic talents and arranged the bones into the interior decorations and adornments that we see today. 

 

Dear Readers, please share any macabre places you have visited!

Sedlec Bone Church near Kutna Hora

This chandelier contains at least one of every bone found in a human skeleton!