Raymond Nonnatus vs. John of Nepomuk

Today marks the last matchup of a full week of saintly action! Raymond Nonnatus, a 13th century Spaniard, takes on John of Nepomuk, the 14th century patron saint of Czechoslovakia.

Yesterday, in the closest vote of Lent Madness 2017 to date, Odo of Cluny held off Theodore the Studite 52% to 48%. Odo will advance to the Saintly Sixteen where he'll face Mechtild of Magdeburg.

One point we want to stress before you start pulling levers for Raymond or John. You should know that our fabulous Celebrity Bloggers are kept to strict word counts on their write-ups. Of course so much more could be said about each saint presented in Lent Madness. If you're curious about learning more about a particular holy soul, we encourage you to dive deeper! Often additional information gleaned by participants is shared in the comments sections below each post. Feel free to share tidbits and resources with your fellow Lent Madness pilgrims. In the next round, the Saintly Sixteen, we get into Quirks and Quotes (either by or about said saint). So fear not. The further a saint advances, the more information you'll be given. [Here endeth the Lent Madness lesson].

Those of you who read the comments will be very familiar with Oliver--Nine Years Old. Well, we are pleased to report that Oliver's mom sent us this picture of the boy himself, posing in front of the pictorial bracket he created for his home church, St. John's in Stamford, CT.

Oliver With Bracket

We'll see everybody bright and early on Monday morning for the Battle of the Augustines™ as Augustine of Canterbury squares off against Augustine of Hippo.

Raymond Nonnatus

Raymond Nonnatus lived in thirteenth-century Spain, and his nickname “Nonnatus” refers to his birth. Traditions agree he was delivered via Caesarean section, and so was “not born” (according to the scientific understanding of medieval Europe).

We don’t know much for certain but gather that Nonnatus was either the rebellious son of a local count or a local shepherd’s child. Either way, tradition says he spent his childhood tending sheep and liked to spend his spare time praying in his local church.

According to one story, Nonnatus convinced his father to let him join a group of monks in Barcelona. Called the Mercedarian order, these men were devoted to freeing Christians from slavery around the world.

After emancipating 140 slaves in Valencia, then another 250 slaves in Algiers, Nonnatus ran into trouble in Tunis—or rather, the ransom money ran out. So, Nonnatus surrendered himself as payment, winning the freedom of 28 captives. His captors, according to legend, bored a hole through his lips with a red-hot poker and padlocked his mouth shut to prevent Nonnatus from preaching. His Mercedarian brothers came to his aid and paid his ransom so that he could return to Spain. Impressively, he clung to life for several more months before dying in 1240 in Castle Cordona, near Barcelona.

After his death, Nonnatus’s popularity flourished—literally, everyone wanted a piece of him, with the count and the townsfolk of Castle Cordona and the Mercedarians all laying claim to his body. To settle the dispute, it was decided to put his body on the back of a blind mule, let the mule wander loose, and see where the mule decided Nonnatus should be laid to rest. The mule proceeded to the chapel where Nonnatus had spent so many of his childhood hours in prayer—and there he was buried. Nonnatus is celebrated as the patron saint of midwives, expectant mothers, and newborn babies—which is why the Anglican order in the novel and popular television program Call the Midwife is named Nonnatus House. Nonnatus and his locked lips remind us of the seal of the confessional, the falsely accused, and those wounded by gossip.

Collect for Raymond Nonnatus
God of all light and life, you knit together birth and death in beautiful mystery: Grant us, through the example of your servant Raymond, whose death was punishment for the lifegiving ministry he proclaimed as an emancipator, the courage to be reconciled to you and the world, through Jesus Christ our only Mediator and Advocate, who dwells with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Megan Castellan

John of Nepomuk

John of Nepomuk (also called John Nepomucene) was born around 1345 in Bohemia, part of the modern-day Czech Republic. He studied at the University of Prague and later at the University of Padua, eventually becoming the vicar-general of St. Gilles Cathedral (St. Gilles Church) in Prague.

It is believed that King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia (not the Good King Wenceslas—this Wenceslaus was definitely not good) engaged in a feud with John over the appointment of a new abbot. John appointed an abbot to the abbey at Kladruby whom the king opposed. On the night of March 20, 1393, John was thrown into the Vltava River and drowned.

Eventually the story was told like this: King Wenceslaus suspected that his wife had a lover. Because John of Nepomuk was her confessor, the king ordered him to reveal the name of her lover, but to no avail. As punishment, the king ordered John to be drowned. Because of this legend, John of Nepomuk is considered the first martyr of the seal of the confessional and a patron against slanderers. Because of the way he died, he’s also considered a protector from floods and drowning.

John of Nepomuk is typically represented with a halo of five stars, commemorating the stars that hovered over the Vltava River on the night of his martyrdom. Sometimes his figure is accompanied by an angel indicating silence with a finger placed over the lips.

Collect for John of Nepomuk
Merciful and forgiving God, we thank you for the gifts of confession, absolution, and reconciliation; for without them, we are without remedy and solace in our sin and shame. Thank you for the life of your servant John of Nepomuk, who upheld the seal of the confessional even unto death, for the sake of your love. Grant that we might have such zeal and conviction in our own day, to the honor and glory of our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ. Amen.

-Hugo Olaiz

[poll id="179"]

Raymond Nonnatus: By JosepBC (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
John of Nepomuk: [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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301 comments on “Raymond Nonnatus vs. John of Nepomuk”

  1. I'm a nurse-midwife, so HAD to vote for Raymond! (Nonnatus is celebrated as the patron saint of midwives, expectant mothers, and newborn babies.) Go, Raymond! #Midwives

    1. I am also a nurse -midwife and had to vote for him. Also John had to keep a secret, well we midwives keep plenty!

    2. Midwives, mothers all honor Raymond. I confess to being slightly swayed by the humanity evidenced in every episode of Call the Midwife. But really, as the mother of 3, Raymond wins my vote

      1. Call the Midwife...one of the best PBS programs of all time. I was inspired by the work of the Sisters of Nonnatus House..love in action.

      1. Caesarians were named after Caesar of Rome fame. They have been done for at least 2 thousand year.

        1. This is a false derivation. The word "caesus" in Latin means "a cutting," so the word "cesarean" and the name Caesar just have a common root. Julius Caesar's mother also lived well into old age, and there's no historical evidence of him being born by cesarean. The Romans did use this method, but only in extreme cases - where the mother was already dead or on her way to it... (Sorry, I'm a Latin teacher; I can't help it! I only just had this corrected in my own knowledge about six years ago, so, it's clearly a common misconception!)

          1. Thank you Lauren for that explanation!! I'm a nurse-but not a midwife, but never knew this.

        2. Julius Caesar was not delivered via a Caesarian Section. During that time in Ancient Rome, a "caesarean section" was performed only to remove an infant from the womb of a mother who had died in childbirth. Caesar's mother survived her childbirth.

        3. I voted for John because of my Czech heritage. Lauren, after taking Latin for 8 years and studying with Latin texts, I have great respect for Latin teachers, but my research indicated that ”Caesarean section” come from the Latin caedere – to hack. to cut. Caesus has more of a meaning to beat. Not connected with Julius Caesar in any case. The earliest C-section seems to be on Bindusara’s mother in about 320 BCE. Interesting motives in those days! Thank the Lord for Raymond that C-sections were more advanced in those days.

      2. Reportedly it is called Caesarian after Julius Caesar who was also reportedly a "nonnatus" having not come into the world the natural way.

      3. C-section delivery before the late 19th century were almost always fatal for the mother, and often took place near or just after death in labor. Childbirth was very, very risky for most of human history.

        1. C-Sections were used because pf the death of the mother, most commonly. Neonates' mother died attempting child birth. Caesar was delivered normally, in spite of the name. Pliny the E;der may have started the rumor about Julius. My favorite reference is from MacBeth, Act V, Scene 8:
          MacDuff Despair thy charm,
          And let the angel whom thou still hast served
          Tell thee,
          Macduff was from his mother’s womb
          Untimely ripped.

        2. Proof of that is the petition in the Great Litany "for women in childbirth". And childbirth is, unfortunately, still very dangerous for many women around the world. According to UNICEF around 800 women a day died globally in 2015 from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

      4. Probably the mother did not survive, though.

        The plot of Macbeth also turns on Macduff not being "of woman born" ("Macduff was from his mother womb / Untimely ripp'd") and thus being able to defeat Macbeth despite the prophecy that none "of woman born" could prevail over Macbeth.

      1. I would say yes, as in last year's LM, he was Oliver-eight years old. I hope I am still playing Lent Madness when Oliver starts posting as a seminary student.

        1. I hope I see Oliver posting as a seminary student too and thank mom for posting photo!

    1. I voted for Nonnantus because I've always supported nursing mothers and infants! Not to mention he was one of the first truly Freedom Fighters! I just wish I could see the picture of our little Oliver?

    2. Love seeing Oliver as well!! This vote was tough for me....I admire and respect a man from that time in history NOT turning against the woman who confessed her affair, however, I decided on Raymond due to a tough time delivering my only son, who is 16 years old now and a beautiful boy!!

  2. As a huge fan of call the midwife, and the mother of 4, I had to go with Raymond of Nonnetus.

    1. I voted for Nonnatus.......I always wondered where the name of the house in 'Midwife' came from. I was a girl in England growing up in that period. But I also favor Raymond for his releasing of the slaves and the suffering he went through.

  3. I'm going to guess that a lot of folks have watched "Call the Midwife," which is fun and utterly sentimental. Watch the poor have lots of babies in post-war England! I am giving the nod to John today, because the idea of protecting the sanctity of the confessional seems very important to me. Gossip and slander are clearly the themes for the day; they are as damaging today as they ever were. We now find them infesting social media. The whole concept of "fake news" seems to me a version of gossip and slander. John of Nepomuk seems like a good patron for journalists today, the one who will not reveal his sources. So given the crucial need for a vigilant and faithful Fourth Estate in our fragile democracy, I am going to support John. Plus he seems like a precursor of Jan Hus, of blessed memory. Eastern Europe is a vitally important part of Western culture, a rich interface between east and west and a complex region worth our respect and understanding. John it is for me today.

    1. If it feels sentimental - read the books on which the series is based! They are excellent and show the crushing poverty and danger of that part of London at that time.

      1. The first season used period photographs of the London East End, which were very powerful. I will find the books (thought series was based on a single memoir). For me the series points to need for universal healthcare!

        1. I listened to the books on audio and they were amazing. It was so educational. As an American, I had no idea. I knew of the hardships of World War II but not what went on in the 50's and early 60's.

        2. The series also beautifully shows imperfect folks struggling with their own challenges while being Jesus's hands in their corner of the world. Both of these saints touched me for exactly the reasons St. Celia shared.

    2. I'm going with John as well. What is forgiveness if our sins are not sealed? His silence is important. (Also, I'm not in an area where that TV series is seen..)

    3. Excellent argument and connection to the life we live today. Thanks for your contribution to this discussion.

    4. MY THOUGHTS! Exactly to the Point. God Bless You and as His people we would all stand together, in silence when required.

    5. Yes, TBtG for abbots like Raymond who'll stand up to a king. According to the witches of Shakespeare's Macbeth, however, John (being from his mother's womb "untimely ripp'd) is qualified to actually DISPATCH a king (not that he would).

      1. OOOPS! I reversed their names.

        TBtG for abbots like John who’ll stand up to a king. According to the witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, however, Raymond (being from his mother’s womb “untimely ripp’d") is qualified to actually DISPATCH a king (not that he would).

        1. Having recently attended a wonderful production of Macbeth at our local theater (Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) I remember vividly the scene between Macduff and Macbeth where Macduff declares he was not "of woman born". So I go for Raymond. And I just downloaded the audiobook of the first volume of Jennifer Worth's memoir.

      2. Another tough choice. I have to start reading the comments before voting. There have been a couple of times I think I would have considered the other choice. I had to go with Raymond this time, though. Did anyone else tightly purse their lips together after reading about the hot poker incident?

    6. Excellent points, I agree that gossip and slander are horrible scourges, and we need the 4th estate more than ever!

  4. I am a huge fan of Call the Midwife so had to vote for Raymond, fascinating though John is.

  5. John Nepomuck is actually thought to be completely made up to create a Bohemian or Czech national saint around the time of the Catholic Reformation...

  6. I have a good friend who is going to have a baby. So I feel I must choose Raymond Nonnetus and pray for a happy, healthy baby - who may be devoted to inclusivity and against any person being "less than" another. Somehow, knowing this child's parents, I am sure this will be a wonderful child that will grow into an amazing adult. So - "You Go" Nonnetus!!

  7. Patron saint of midwives, expectant mothers and newborn babies and gave his own freedom to free slaves! How could I not vote for Raymond.

    Thanks for the picture, Oliver's Mom. I always look forward to reading Oliver's comments.

  8. Oh, my, what a quandary. My Mother-in-law's family came from Bohemia. Since I am sure Ray will get the nod, I will stick with the family origins.
    What fun to have Oliver's face to go with his reasoned responses.

  9. With Nonnatus, we get both the sealed lips (though, ewww) and pregnant women/babies/midwives. This was my easiest vote yet. (And I'm glad to see that Oliver is, in fact, a real person!)

  10. I chose Raymond because he was so well minded, on helping others rather than himself. Now that's being true to yourself and others.

    *And OLIVER if your reading this I just wanted to say..... YOUR AWESOME!!!!!!

    1. Sarah Rose and Oliver keep up the inspiring comments. I also know a ten year old, Katie, a veteran of a few Lent Madness series, who is engaging in wonders of the Saints. SEC: Maybe a future Celebrity Blogger or two?

      1. Celeste and SEC, wouldn't it be fun to have a couple of our younger participants here write a story of the saints in one of the brackets?

    2. Sarah Rose, I always look for the comments you make, as well as for Oliver. I have seen a couple of new young commenters this year, also. So good to read your explanations of your voting. All of you, please continue to be a vital part of our Lent Madness!!

  11. Going with Raymond Nonnatus today in honor of a dear friend and of my sister-in-law, who are both midwives, and an agency near the Oneida Reservation where I now serve, started by midwives, called the Wise Women Gathering Place. Though that apparently puts me on the bandwagon, I still haven't seen Call the Midwife.

  12. Raymond for sure. A man of action and prayer who devoted himself to freeing slaves. The image of padlocked lips is a stunner.

  13. Another delightful tradition linked to John which may influence the musicians in our crowd: "Amongst English Bellringers at the midpoint of Spring, on the feast day of St. John Nepomuk, an apprentice bellringer will "shear" the hair from the head of his ringing master. It has been suggested that this tradition may stem from an influx in the seventeenth century of refugees from Malta, who settled at the Western end of Cheapside, and who brought with them the cult of Saint John of Nepomuk. This practice has now generally fallen out of use, except in the parish of St Vedast Foster Lane in London, at the West end of Cheapside, in the shadow of St. Paul's Cathedral, where it is still upheld."

    1. "This practice has now generally fallen out of use..." Hahaha! Some traditions are best left to fall by the wayside!

    2. I have not heard of Saint Vedast before. Does anyone know more about this Saint worthy enough to be patron of a parish in the shadow of the Saint Paul's?

  14. I wonder if the vote is being influenced by watchers of the BBC television show "Call the Midwife."

    1. This would not be the first time a Lent Madness vote was influence by a secular event or two. Remember Frances Perkins, her ties to the Department of Labor and to Mount Holyoke? Watch how the nurses will come out to vote for Florence Nightingale. A huge part of the Lent Madness fun!

  15. To lay down one's life for the life of others is a great calling. I had to give the nod to Nonnetus not only for his status for protecting babies and mothers but because he was willing to lay down his life for others.

  16. It is nice that John kept the sacredness of the confessional, but Raymond sold himself to ransom 28 slaves. That IS saintly!

  17. Ah....hard choice. Love "Call the Midwife," but I'm of Bohemian descent, so I'll vote for John. I'm afraid we will be outnumbered in the end!

    1. Yes truly a difficult choice. As 4 of my children were deli ered by midwives in my home, I already knew of raymind before the program (which I zealously watch) . But my ancestry is also Bohemian so I'll vote for the underdog.

  18. I voted for Raymond because of his extreme support for slaves and sacrifices to them, as well as his early dedication to Christ...

  19. Voting for John Nonnatus, in honor of Elaine, the midwife who guided me through 33 hours of labor!

  20. Great to "see" Oliver! I was beginning to wonder whether he was a creation of the SEC.
    Clever saintly pairing today -- two men devoted to upholding the sanctity of the confessional and the protection of their respective sources. As a former journalist, I applaud that. Ended up going for Nonnatus for his added value in freeing slaves.

  21. This was really a hard choice. My Great Grandmother was Czech and a wonderful midwife. Nepomuk or Nonnatus? Nonnatus won out with his self sacrifice to free slaves.

  22. I thought it was great how John freed a ton of slaves, and then offered himself to free more!