Prague’s flagship annual baroque river festivities are currently underway at Charles Bridge in Prague marking the feast of St John of Nepomuk, the patron of boatmen and bridges. The traditional ceremony, called Navalis, dates back to the 17th century and was renewed in the Czech capital in 2009.
Navalis traditionally takes place on the eve of St John’s day, which falls on May 15. It starts with a mass in St Vitus’ Cathedral and continues with a festive procession from the cathedral across Charles Bridge. The festivities will culminate on Tuesday night with a baroque concert and a large fireworks display on the Vltava River.
Vojtěch Pokorný, chairman of the St. John of Nepomuk Association, which organises the present-day Navalis festivities, says the first-ever Czech Navalis took place in Prague in 1627 on the occasion of moving the remains of St. Norbert to the Strahov Monastery.
“The first Navalis festivities linked to St John of Nepomuk took place in Prague in 1715. They were inspired by the city of Venice, where the tradition had been established already in the Middle Ages.
“For the inhabitants of Prague, May 15 was one of the most important days and the festivities were the biggest and most spectacular celebrations of the year.”
Pilgrims from all across Europe gathered in Prague on the feast of St John of Nepomuk to honour the memory of the saint, who was martyred in 1393 at the behest of King Wenceslas IV, being thrown off Charles Bridge in Prague and drowned in the Vltava River.
According to a legend, he was the confessor of the king’s wife and refused to reveal the queen’s secret to her husband. But it is more likely that he was actually caught in a power struggle at the court.
The tradition of the Baroque feast was renewed in 2009 by Zdeněk Bergman of the Charles Bridge Museum. According to Vojtěch Pokorný, for the tenth edition of Navalis the association wants to mark the long-term friendship between Prague and Venice.
“As always, we have brought several gondolas from Venice. But this year, the Venetian City Hall has also loaned us two historical warships called bissonne. These ornamental boats were used for instance at the battle of Lepanto in 1751.
“They are 17- metre-long wooden boats adorned with statues. The first one, Cavalli, has two silver horses at the bow symbolizing the boat’s speed. The other, Geographia, has a statue of a woman holding a Globe, celebrating Venetian discoveries overseas.”
The two historical Venetian warships were floated on the Vltava River on Monday afternoon and will be on display until Tuesday evening, when the tenth edition of the Navalis festivities comes to a close.