In this edition we read from your letters of condolence on the death in December of the former president Václav Havel; we quote from your answers to December's mystery Czech quiz question; and we announce a brand new question for January. Listeners/readers quoted:Mary Lou Krenek, Allan Loudell, Jana Zimmer, Lynda-Marie Hauptmann, Andy Martynyuk, Madeleine Blum, Bibi Z. Shah, Jaroslaw Jedrzejczak, Caitlin Brown, Colin Law, Charles Konecny, Jonathan Murphy, Hans Verner Lollike.
Hello and welcome to the first Mailbox of 2012. First, let me thank you for all those lovely Christmas and New Year’s greetings from all over the world. It’s good to know that you have remained faithful to Radio Prague and still keep in touch. We were also touched by the many letters of condolence on the death in December of the former president Václav Havel.
For example, Mary Lou Krenek, our regular follower in Texas, wrote:
“It was sad to hear of the death of President Václav Havel this morning. The world and the Czech Republic have lost a great man. My only regret is that I was not able to meet him. Maybe, the Nobel Committee will award the Nobel Peace Prize to him posthumously. He led Czechoslovakia and now the Czech Republic into the twenty-first century with vision and grace. He was a beacon of peaceful dissent for all of the dissident movements around the world. May God bless his family, friends, and country in this time of mourning.”
Allan Loudell wrote from the US state of Delaware:
“I can't recall the death of another world leader who has brought me to tears as the passing of Václav Havel. He so transcended most world leaders... an incredible moral visionary. I realize Mr. Havel was tarnished some by his time in politics. That would have been inevitable. But his legacy will endure and continue the line of Gandhi, Mandela, and other 20th century giants. I trace half my ethnic roots to the Czech Republic, and Havel truly made me proud to be part Czech-American! May Havel's spirit continue to live!”
Jana Zimmer also follows us in the United States:
“As a Czech-born American I have respected and admired Václav Havel for all my adult life. I wish I were in Prague right now, so I could stand with the Czech people to pay my respects. This 'virtual' condolence will have to substitute. Havel was surely one of the greatest human beings of the 20th century. The world needs so many more like him.”
Lynda-Marie Hauptmann from the US writes:
“It was with considerable sadness that I read of the death of former dissident and former President Václav Havel. Though I was born and raised here in the US, I have an endless affection for my dad's beloved homeland.
“The greatest thing I can say to Mr. Havel, and even this does not seem to be enough, is Thank You. My dad died nearly 6 years before the Velvet Revolution. It is something I wish he could have lived to have seen. 20th Century history was not overly kind to the people of this small nation. Wars, dictators, massacres, oppression... the list goes on and on.
“I remember hearing about the street protests in Prague in 1989, and thinking, ‘Please, not ANOTHER Prague Spring! Not another massacre of Czechs and Slovaks!!’
“Thankfully, people of vision, courage and conviction like Václav Havel were at the forefront of this new movement, which eventually became the Velvet Revolution. I think I might have scared my neighbors, because I was jumping up and down, and screaming like a lunatic when I found out that the revolution was successful. Finally, Czechoslovakia was able to determine its own destiny.
“Three years later, after seeing the horrors of the downfall of the regime in Romania, and the terrible conflicts that engulfed the former Yugoslavia, I watched with an intense, grateful pride as Mr. Havel, the first post-communist President of Czechoslovakia, helped preside over the Velvet Divorce, the separation of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I was never, ever so proud to be Czech (well, at least half, anyway) in my entire life.
“This was a shining example of what good, decent people can do if they have the courage and conviction to put it all on the line. This was proof that standing up to tyranny, while dangerous, is the right thing to do. All of this from a man, who, though a dissident, did not seem to envision himself as a great leader. All Václav Havel knew was that something was not right, and he put himself at considerable risk to right great wrongs. I hope this is what everyone remembers of him, and that his family and friends, and even the nation, take comfort from it.
“So, thank you, Mr. Havel. I hope you rest in peace, because you have certainly earned it.”
Andy Martynyuk, Radio Prague's listener since 1984, from Moscow, Russia wrote:
“Please accept my sincere condolence on the death of Václav Havel. He was a real democrat and a devoted human rights fighter. I mourn with you.”
This is what Madeleine Blum from England wrote:
“I would like to thank you for your superb countryman Mr. Václav Havel and ask you to accept my condolences and a share in the grief.
“Thank you Mr. Havel for all you did on earth and now you are with Him, the Lord Jesus, whom you have obviously served all your life. This world will be worse off without you.”
Thank you very much for those messages of sympathy as well as your comments regarding our recent broadcasts.
Now onto our regular Mailbox business. It’s time to look at your answers to our December mystery Czech quiz question:
Bibi Z. Shah writes from Pakistan:
“This month’s personality is Saint John of Nepomuk, a national saint of the Czech Republic, who was drowned in the Vltava river at the behest of Wenceslaus, King of the Romans and King of Bohemia.”
Jaroslaw Jedrzejczak from Poland adds:
“As you know John of Nepomuk was dropped from the Charles Bridge into the Vltava River. This scene is depicted in a relief placed on the altar of John of Nepomuk in the church St. Nicolas of Myra in the Polish town Bochnia near Krakow.”
Caitlin Brown from the US wrote:
“According to legend, John of Nepomuk was the confessor to the Queen of Bohemia and refused to reveal any information she had given during her confessional. He was tortured and eventually thrown into the Vltava River to his death at the behest of King Wenceslaus of Bohemia, hence he became a martyr for upholding the laws of the Catholic Church.
“There are a number of stories and theories about the ‘real’ reason for the death and canonization of John of Nepomuk. Details aside, ultimately it appears that the clash between secular and religious authorities, potentially for political gain, is at the root if it. A re-animated version John of Nepomuk was featured in May in the web comic The Sorrowful Putto of Prague which Radio Prague brought to my attention with the interview of its creator James Stafford! Thanks for always keeping me updated!”
Colin Law from New Zealand writes:
“Svatý Jan Nepomucký or St John of Nepomuk. He was born Jan Velflín in Pomuk, probably between 1340 and 1350 and died tragically on March 20th 1393. In 1384 two settlements in the area of Pomuk were amalgamated and became known as Nepomuk.
“John studied at Prague University and worked for 10 years as a notary. He was ordained as a priest in 1380 as Rector of St Havel in Prague’s Old Town. From 1382 he studied law at Padua University and in 1389 when he was named vicar general to the Archbishop of Prague.
“The king, Wenceslas IV (not to be confused with earlier Saint Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia), was known for his interference in church appointments and John felt it necessary to defend the autonomy of the Church. In 1393 Wenceslas wanted to set up another bishopric in Bohemia, using finance from a rich Benedictine monastery in Kladruby, whose abbot was close to death. But when the abbot died, Wenceslas was away from Prague and the Benedictines immediately elected a new abbot whose appointment was confirmed by John. Wenceslas was furious that he was unable to change the appointment and had all the participants arrested and interrogated. John and one of his officials were tortured. However, because the matters were outside the king’s jurisdiction and belonged to the religious court, Wenceslas had to release all except John, who was thrown into the Vltava River and drowned on 20th March 1393.
“There are alternative opinions on the reason for John's death. One suggestion is that John died because he had the audacity to criticize the king himself. Another suggestion is that John was tortured because he was the confessor to the Queen Sophia and he refused to reveal the queen's secret of the confession when Wenceslas wanted to know if the queen had been unfaithful to him. The fact remains that John died defending the laws and autonomy of his church.
“Veneration of St. John of Nepomuk spread rapidly and the oldest statue on Charles Bridge was erected near the location where he was thrown into the river. There are now some 70 similar statues in Prague and eventually over 30,000 statues were erected on bridges all over Europe. The mortal remains of St. John of Nepomuk are located in the St. Vitus Cathedral.”
“Here was a priest, faithful to the teachings and tenets of the Catholic Church and who, under the threat of death would not betray his Sacrament of Holy Orders. So did King Wenceslas of Bohemia (not to be confused with Good King, St. Wenceslas) have Fr. John tortured and thrown into the Vltava River because he appointed the Archbishop's abbot, or because he would not reveal the queen's confession, or as some say, was it a combination of both? But whatever the reason, he suffered a cruel, horrible death and because of all he endured, he was canonized a saint, to be forever known as St. John of Nepomuk, Martyr of the Confessional. He is also the patron Saint of Bohemia, patron of silence and floods. It is fitting that the oldest statue on Charles Bridge is that of St. John of Nepomuk. Go touch it for luck.”
Jonathan Murphy from Ireland writes:
“The saint's name is St John of Nepomuk. I am always amazed to see his statue as I travel in Central and Eastern Europe, he is certainly very popular. As the patron saint for protection from floods his statue is placed on many bridges.“
Mary Lou Krenek from Texas wrote:
“As a canon of the Prague Cathedral, he advanced to the post of vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Prague in 1393. King Wenceslaus IV and the Archbishop of Prague John of Jenstein were arguing over the Benedictine Abbey of Kladruby which Wenceslaus IV wanted to confiscate once the old abbot died. When the abbot died, Nepomuk as vicar-general, appointed a new abbot. At a conference of king and archbishop, Wenceslaus IV went into a rage, seized three of the archbishop's counselors including Nepomuk and ordered them to be tortured. John resisted the torture to the last. He had to undergo all forms of torture including the burning of his sides with torches. Finally, the king ordered him to be put in chains, led through the city with a block of wood in his mouth, and thrown into the Vltava River in March 1393.
“Five stars hovered in the sky over the place he was drowned. The water had a strange, shining appearance. This helped the people find his body. His body was taken from the Vltava River and interred in the Cathedral in Prague.
“After three centuries and much controversy, he was beatified in 1721 and canonized in1729. St John Nepomuk is the patron saint of Bohemia and the patron of confessors, against calamities, bridges, and because of the manner of his death against floods.
“St John Nepomuk is portrayed in art as an Augustinian canon with a fur cape usually with a bridge nearby. He may hold his finger to his lips. He may also hold a padlock to his lips and has five stars around his head. It is considered good luck to touch his statue.”
“I have been a protestant pastor for 35 years since my ordination. As you know, confession is not an obligation in the protestant churches, but on the other hand it is a function that we fulfil under the same terms as catholic priests, when we are asked to do so. The pastor is not allowed to break the Seal, except when other people’s life might be in severe danger. Mostly today you experience confession in a more unofficial way, such as: ‘There is something I would like to tell you….’
“I can’t tell you about my experiences, but a little incident many years ago: A lady that I knew quite well one day came to my office and asked me: ‘You are not supposed to tell anyone what I tell you now?’ Which I could confirm. She then gave me a telephone that her son together with other boys had taken from a public telephone box. Simply broken it off. She asked me to give it to the police without telling them. So I did. I still remember that the young police officer was not very happy, when I did not want to give him names. But luckily I was not drowned in Vltava from Charles Bridge.”
Many thanks for your interesting and well-researched answers. This time the prize goes to Caitlin Brown from the United States. Congratulations and those of you who haven’t been lucky have another chance this month.
Our January mystery man is the Moravian-born Austro-Hungarian architect whose major works can be found in Brno, Vienna, Prague as well as Paris and who became famous for his ideas expressed in the essay ‘Ornament and Crime’.
Please send us his name to firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of January. We’ll be looking forward to your answers as well as reception reports and comments. Until next time, good-bye.