The Charles Bridge has 30 statues that line the balustrades on each of its sides. The statue pictured here is that of Saint John of Nepomuk; it was installed in 1683 and is the oldest statue on the bridge.
John was born in a small town in Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic) in the 14th century. He studied canon law in Prague and Padua in Italy, and eventually became the head vicar of a large cathedral in Prague. At this point, John ran afoul of Wenceslaus IV, the king of Bohemia, over the appointment of an abbot to a powerful abbey in Bohemia. To add some spice to the stew of religious nonsense that John got caught up in, there were two popes at the time, one in Rome and one Avignon, France. Naturally, the two popes were antagonists quarreling over the kind of stuff that religious types always seem to be fighting about; you know, god, beliefs, doctrine, all of which generally boil down to money and power. In the case of the abbot’s appointment, the king’s man was favored by the pope in France, while the choice of the Archbishop of Prague, John’s boss, was supported by the pope in Rome. In the event, John appointed the archbishop’s nominee. The king threw a hissy fit and, on 20 March 1393, had the hapless head vicar tortured and thrown off the Charles Bridge to drown in the Vtlava River. John was canonized some 300 years later; there was only one pope in Rome at the time.