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. Big fan of "Call the Midwife"--no contest today! And liberation of slaves is also worthy of a vote.

    Great to get a glimpse of the redoubtable Oliver!

  2. I have often felt that my lips were figuratively padlocked. The literal version makes me cringe and gasp. Putting love into action is risky business. I'm taking these stories at face value, and appreciating them for their own sake, Happy Day fellow Lentenors.

  3. John was very tempting as I recently experienced confession for the first time, but as the son of an OB/GYN I had to go with Raymond.

  4. I fear that indeed "Call the midwife" might be having something of an influence on the voting here!

    1. I agree. Voting because you've watched a TV show? Really? But, I guess it's all in fun & we get to learn about saints with whom we may not be familiar. Have a great weekend!

  5. Wow, some thought provoking arguments today! I voted for Nonnatus, even though I don't watch Call the Midwife. Frankly, I liked his image better than Nepomuk's who looks a bit like a wimp, in my opinion. Also, I'm all for midwives, babies, and mothers!

  6. Chummy told Sister Monica Joan and Nurse Mount that voting for Raymond Nonnatus was "tickety-boo"!

  7. Oliver, so great to see you and what you've accomplished at your home church. And thanks, Oliver's Mom, for taking and posting the picture. Now on to voting. I chose Raymond because he was so dedicated to freeing slaves and sold himself in exchange. Also, as he was supposedly born by c-section I have to feel a connection as my son was also born by c-section after many hours of labor and fetal distress and would not be here today if not for that surgery. It's been a long time ago but I remember it vividly. My sweet boy, now a man, will be 30 next month but Oliver reminds me so much of him at that age. Keep going Oliver. I know God has great plans for you.

    1. As we say in the south, Oliver, you are the bomb! Good to see your face and thanks to your mom for posting your picture. Keep the faith!

    2. Thank you for continuing Lent Madness at St. John's! I have been worrying about it and am glad to see that you have continued the tradition!

    3. Oliver, I agree with you, so I also voted for John (but will be happy with either saint in this round!.

  8. It is possible that the Saints you are proposing this Lent are simply TOO obscure. I'm not feeling the love this year.

    1. The Augustines, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon and G.F. Handel are hardly obscure.

    2. But that's how we learn new stuff--from reading about people who have been obscured by time. That's part of the fun!

    3. I like that I didn't know about either of these two before. While it's interesting learning new facts about saints I already know, learning about saints I didn't know is even better.

    4. A couple of years ago there were some extremely obscure women (Hedewich, IIRC). I like learning about the unknown saints as well as the well-known ones.

  9. My child was born via C-section, so Raymond gets my vote today,
    they both make me wonder about going to confession .

  10. My partner and I read the bios every morning during our commute, and then vote together. While our joint vote went to Nonatus as a person who acted for his faith, I at least was torn. I look on Nepomuk as holding up the preservation of the expectation of privacy that we now grant not just to clergy, but also to doctors, lawyers, and journalists. When my country has ignored that privilege, extended to all in the fifth amendment, it has led to dark times for us.

  11. I'm a huge fan of Call the Midwife so I had to vote Nonnatus! Also, the thought of one person being worth the lives of 28 others appealed to me.

  12. Had to go with Raymond after the line, "Everybody wanted a piece of him." Now THAT'S what I call a saint!

  13. Raymond has my vote. But I wondered if it is not his mother who should be the patron Saint of midwives, expectant mothers, and newborn babies.

  14. Since Nonnatus had nothing to do with the manner in which he was born (leading to connection with midwives, birth, etc) and John had everything to do with keeping confidentiality and losing his life for that courage, I go with John.

  15. The German-speaking Nepomuk died for the power of the Church, but Nonnatus gave his life for the Gospel.

  16. While I have enjoyed "Call the Midwife" I must say I am voting for Nonnatus because the poor guy had a padlock put through his lips after saving countless Christians. And John seems a bit iffy.

  17. Had to go with Nonnatus as my great grandmother was a midwife in Freestone County, TX in 1860-1900. Her great great great granddaughter is now a Family Doctor in Kent, OH. Also, loved his freeing of the slaves. Need this one since my choice of Theodore got beat yesterday.

  18. For Raymond Nonnatus and John of Nepomuk
    Dunedin, Hymnal ’82, 31 and 455

    Two saints who gave their lives away;
    A choice we’d never wish to make,
    Refused from higher road to stray
    Thus honored Christ for Love’s own sake.

    Ray’s life was giv’n to freeing slaves,
    When all else failed, himself he gave.
    He suffered greatly e’re he died
    His body e’en then others claimed.

    John would not break the sacred seal.
    He kept true faith with those he served.
    He chose to die as one baptized,
    In waters deep; he never swerved.

    1. Thank you, Diana!
      I heard on an SEC posting that you were posting poems. This is the first time I remembered to search for your poem. Perfect to do during my lunch. Diana, thank you for sharing your creativity with all of us.

  19. "Traditions agree he was delivered via Caesarean section, and so was “not born” (according to the scientific understanding of medieval Europe)." Boy, you guys know how to whet one's appetite. Have multiple grandkids delivered via c-section. Can't wait to tell them "if only you were born in medieval Europe". Discussion should be hilarious.

    1. Ah, but your grandkids delivered by C-section wouldn't have been born in medieval Europe -- they would have been not-born!

    2. Actually, your grandkids delivered by C-section wouldn't have been born in medieval Europe -- they would have been not-born!

  20. My father is named Raymond, as was his father and my late brother. It seems an old-fashioned name now, but I associate it with integrity, which Raymond Nonnatus had--so that's where my vote goes.

  21. I was on Team Raymond until I started thinking about the geopolitics. Running around during the Reconquista saving Christians from their Evil Moorish Captors is...not sitting well with me right now.

    Even if John of Nepomuk was fake, the ideas he stands for are ones I'm feeling.

  22. Nonatus - I'm a fan of Call the Midwife, but I like the fact he is the patron saint of those wounded by gossip.