Jan Sarkander was born on December 20, 1573 in Skoczow in Czeszyn Silesia as a son of a local burgher Gregory Matthew Sarkander and his wife Helena Gurecká from Kornice. After the death of his father his mother moved with their children to Příbor to the son from her first marriage Matouš Vlčnovský. Jan obtained his primary school education at the parish school in Příbor, and then he left for further studies to the Jesuits in Olomouc. After the year 1599 when the Olomouc schools were closed due to the plaque, he continued with his studies in Prague, where he graduated as a master of philosophy on May 9, 1603. In the year 1604 he began to study theology on Graz, but in the year 1606 he suddenly returned to Moravia and announced the marriage settlement with Anna Plachetská on September 3rd in Velké Meziříčí. We do not know if he really got married or if Anna died before the wedding or shortly after it. Her death, however, was the only possible explanation why the marriage settlement was not cancelled, and Sarkander took all four lower priestly ordinations on December 22, 1607 in Kroměříž from the hands of Cardinal Dietrichstein. As a cleric he eventually assisted his brother Mikuláš, the Brno canon, in Opava. A year later he was ordained a sub-deacon in Olomouc and the following year a deacon with the Jesuits in Brno. He took his ordination as a priest again from the hands of Cardinal Dietrichstein on March 22, 1609 in the St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral in Brno.


Jan Sarkander in Czestochowa

Jan Sarkander served as a priest at various places of the Olomouc diocese, initially with his brother in Opava - Jaktař, then in Uničov, Charváty, Zdounky, Boskovice and finally in Holešov. During his
stay in U1ničov he was arrested for the first time and interrogated on suspicion of a cooperation in a resistance movement against the King Mathias, which his brother Mikuláš has been involved in. In Holešov, where he had been working in the turbulent time of Revolt of the Estates, he became involved in the conflict with the neighbouring non-Catholic aristocrats, primarily with Václav Bítovsky from Bítov at Bystřice under Hostýn, one of his later judges. At the beginning of May 1619 Moravia joined the Bohemian Estates and the regional governor Ladislav Popel of Lobkowicz, the Lord of Holešov was deposed and imprisoned in Brno. As hostility against Sarkander arose, he decided to leave for some time. He took advantage of a trip with Lobkowicz’s equerry to Krakow and set off on a pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary of Czestochowa. He returned to Holešov at the request of the released Lobkowicz at the end of November 1619.

Cossacks kneel before the Blessed Sacrament

His trip to Poland was fateful for him, however.At the beginning of February 1620 a troop of a Cossack light cavalry named after the Polish warrior Alexander Lisowski2 made their way through Silesia and Moravia in the direction to Vienna. They were hired from a Polish King Sigismund III by the imperial representative General Michal Adolf Count Altman. Their crusade through the enemy territory was marked by pillage. Bystřice under Hostýn that belonged to the newly established highest judge of Moravia, the Protestant Václav Bítovský, was particularly affected, while Holešov remained untouched. On February 6th, when the Cossacks had been approaching the town, Sarkander sent the procession of the Catholics, lead by the chateau chaplain Samuel Tuček with the Holy Monstrance in his hands, to meet the soldiers. The Cossacks dismounted from their horses, bowed down before the Blessed Sacrament and continued on their journey to the town of Napajedla. Sarkander was not thanked for this, however. The government of the country was in the hands of the non-Catholics already and the unexpected rescue of Holešov even strengthened the suspicion of the Moravian Estates that Sarkander - as a Lobkowicz’s emissary - had arranged the Cossacks’ invasion of Moravia during his trip to Poland. An arrest warrant of the Catholic priests in Holešov was issued and Jan Sarkander was accused of the conspiring with the enemy, of spying and of intrigues against the revolt of the Protestant aristocracy. He tried to hide in Tovačov, the chateau of the Lobkowicz’s wife Anna Eliška of Salm, but he was betrayed, captured in the forest nearby Troubky by Estates mercenaries and taken to3 Olomouc to the prison.


4 5

Arrest of Jan Sarkander

We have detailed information about the martyr’s death of Jan Sarkander from the account given to Cardinal Dietrichstein in the year 1621 by the Olomouc town lawyer Jan Scintilla, the only Catholic7 present at the interrogations. Along with him the judging tribunal consisted of six noblemen and three Olomouc councillors. Scintilla’s eye-witness account was, apart from the public opinion of that time, the decisive evidence of the fact that Sarkander’s trial was not merely a political affair, but also a religious one.

Interrogation of Jan Sarkander                  Torture of Jan Sarkander

                              10                             8

 In Olomouc prison Jan Sarkander underwent four interrogations with the use of torture from February 13th to 18th, 1620. According to the opinion of the judges he - as a Lobkowicz advisor and confessor - should have known about preparations of the military invasion of Moravia. Sarkader refused, however, to reveal what he had heard during confession, and replied: “I do not know anything, but even if I had been informed about something during the Confession, everything was sealed with the Holy Seal; therefore I would never, even under torture, violate this sacramental secret; with God’s mercy I would rather bear all possible evil than - even for a moment - betray what I am bound to by this Sacrament.”

11 The final interrogation, on February 18, 1620, lasted as much as three hours and it came to its end only after repeated protests of one of the judges. Jan Sarkander did not 9 survive the after-effects of the torture and after a month of suffering he died in the prison on March 17, 1620. He was buried in the Virgin Mary church at Předhradí, in St. Vavřinec chapel and a stone slab with inscription emphasizing his innocence was placed on his grave. Jan’s brothers had embedded a stone plate with epitaph and relief of the torture, Latin dedication, the story and causes of his death, into the wall next to the grave.


Reverence, Beatification and Canonization

The reverence for Jan Sarkander as a saint dates from the day of his funeral that was on March 24, 1620. His body placed in the coffin was covered by a red chasuble symbolizing the colour of the blood spilled for Christ. Obviously Jan Sarkander was regarded as a martyr for faith by his contemporaries already. Cardinal Dietrichstein himself referred to him as a martyr in several letters and he had pieces of cloth with his blood moved to the cathedral 13treasure. The Sarkander’s grave soon became a destination of both domestic and foreign pilgrims and his martyr death inspired many literally and artistic works.



Jan Sarkander

The beginning of the beatification process initiated by Olomouc Cardinal Wolfgang Hanibal Schrattenbach caused remarkable growth of the Sarkander’s cult. By one-hundred’suvod 600 300 anniversary of Sarkander’s death the first altars to his honour came into being in Olomouc, Brno and Vienna. He was often compared to his Czech counterpart - St. Jan of Nepomuk. Both of them were often depicted on one work of art, and that way the ban on public showing defence to Jan Sarkander was often got round. In the year 1758, when the main supporters of Sarkander’s beatification – Cardinal Troyer and Pope Benedictus XVI. – died, the negotiations in this direction were discontinued for a long period. The consequent war events as well as the upcoming Enlightenment caused some decay of the beatification efforts that were revived as late as in the year 1827 thanks to the Emperor Francis I and his brother Rudolph Jan, the Archbishop of Olomouc. Nevertheless the process could be completed only by Cardinal Fridrich Fürstenberg. The beatification breve by Pope Pius IX was dated September 11, 1859 and besides description of Jan’s life and torture to death he allowed calling him Blessed and consented to his public reverence. The beatification ceremony took place on May 6, 1860 in the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Sarkander’s name day was established on the day of his death, March 17th. During the adaptations of the church calendar after the Vatican Council II the Saint’s day was moved to May 6th, the day of Jan’s beatification, in the Czech lands.

In Moravia and Silesia the Sarkander’s beatification was a great success. Simultaneously with increase of the reverence the efforts towards his canonization started to appear. However the crisis of the Austrian monarchy and the two consequent World Wars caused delay of placing a formal requirement for the initiation of the canonization process, which was finally done only on January 31, 1980, mainly thanks to Bishops Herbert Bednorz from Katowice and Josef Vrana from Olomouc. Already on July 31th of the following year Pope John Paul II confirmed the order of the Sacred Congregation for Canonization about his canonization process. The Bishop Vrana’s information note for the whole archdiocese contained the appeal for deepening of the reverence to Jan Sarkander and also announcement of the related celebrations and worships. The order of the Sacred Congregation meant also permission for all formal steps necessary for the canonization, and especially necessity to fulfil the two basic conditions: regeneration of the reverence and accomplishing extraordinary proofs of his sanctity by prayers answered at the Saint’s intercession. After appointment of František Vaňák as Archbishop of Olomouc, he set the canonization of Jan Sarkander as one of the goals of his episcopate, and also Msgr. Jaroslav Němec was appointed as the new postulator. The historical part of the process had been closed already, and in the year 1991 the diocese process in Katowice was completed. The subject of the investigation became the extraordinary healing of the Skoczow parish priest Karel Picha. In the year 1992 the medical consultative committee of the Sacred Congregation for Canonization acknowledged finally and unanimously that it could not been explained by natural reasons. In the following year this was confirmed also by the theological committee and by the College of Cardinals. The miraculous healing was attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Jan Sarkander, who special prayers were addressed to. The final step in the canonization was the agreement of the entire church. This last condition was satisfied during the Papal Consistory that was called by Pope John Paul II on April 5, 1993 at presence of the Papal Curia. Then the Blessed Jan Sarkander could be registered in the List of Saints. The ceremonial canonization with participation of Pope John Paul II took place on May 21, 1995 in Olomouc.

Jan Sarkander's tomb in Virgin Mary church at Předhradí

The main place related with the Martyr’s cult was naturally the Sarkander’s grave in the St. Vavřinec chapel of the Virgin Mary church at Předhradí, until the dissolution of this church in the year 1784. We could get an idea about the appearance of this chapel in the Baroque period mostly from the period graphic arts. Already in the year of Sarkander’s death his brothers have embedded there the stone epitaph. Step by step the chapel was being equipped with the altar, paintings and primarily with the representative gravestone with Jan’s bust accompanied by figures of angels with the attributes of his martyr’s death (a torch, a beam, a torture rack and a wheel). The living reverence was reflected also by many ex voto (votive presents) that the believers hung in the chapel interior on the wall.

After the dissolution of the Virgin Mary church at Předhradí in the year 1784, Jan’s relics were moved to the St. Michael’s church. They remained there until the year 1859, when they were excavated in relation with his beatification. One part of the relics was consequently sent to Rome and another part was placed in the side altar consecrated to Jan Sarkander. The scull along with the other remains was placed in the new reliquary in the St. Wenceslas Cathedral in Olomouc on the occasion of the beatification ceremony.

The interior of the underground All Saint Martyrs chapel

The place of Jan Sarkander’s martyr’s death in Olomouc has been connected with reverence to him up to the present. The part of the town prison with the torture chamber was adapted to a chapel in the years 1672 – 1673. On its foundations the new building of the chapel consecrated to All Saint Martyrs went up (1703 – 1704), and it was later rebuilt by the master-builder Jan Jakub Kniebandl (1721 – 1724). In spite of a different original consecration it was called Sarkander’s chapel right from the beginning and Jan’s death was reminded there every year. On the occasion of his beatification in the year 1860 another reconstruction of the chapel interior was initiated by Archbishop Fridrich Fürstenberg. In the years 1908 – 1912 František Cardinal Bauer had a new chapel built on the same place. It was consecrated to Jan Sarkander, who belonged to the Blesseds at that time already. Like in the Baroque period the torture tools – the rack and the wheel – have been preserved in its underground up to these days. The stone slab with Jan’s epitaph from the former Virgin Mary church at Předhradí was moved and embedded here.

Jan’s Legacy

The saint is a man, who the church – according to the prescribed investigation – announced to be in Heaven, with God, and who is allowed to be asked for intercession. Like the vertical of the church reminding the man that there is also another dimension than the sole horizontal of the earthly life, the saint with his existence as a spiritual vertical continuously reminds and shows to everybody the fact that the greatest and final goal of the life is God. He testifies about the real home behind the gate of the death, about the home with the fatherly and motherly arms, testifies about a deep sense and value of the selfless love, faithfulness, truth and righteousness. The possibility to ask for intercession points then to relations that cannot be interrupted even by death.

All this can be applied also to St. Jan Sarkander canonized by Pope John Paul II in our days and among us – in Olomouc. Having been declared as the Saint this Czech priest with Polish roots was highlighted to the eyes of the whole world both as an example and intercessor. His bravery, supported by God’s help, shows especially in our time that seems to lose God from its field of vision, that God exists and that just God is the highest and final aim of the man. Jan Sarkander’s priestly faithfulness to the confession secret witnesses very strongly the value of the Sacrament of Confession and the value of the forgiveness of sins that Jesus Christ gained for us with his suffering and death on the cross. Jan’s faithfulness in prayers, when he could not turn pages in his breviary due to dislocated arms and did so with his tongue, testifies no less strongly about the value of the prayer that connects us with God and thus fills us with the light and strength. His bravery in suffering shows to us all that it is possible to give a sense even to the severest pains through faith, and that even the worst injustice can be overcome with forgiveness.

St. Jan Sarkander is then a valuable help for the right orientation in our lives and also the friend, who we can turn to with trust and ask for intercession in our needs.



Commentary on the Chapel of St. John Sarkander

Stopover – in front of the chapel, at the fountain named “The Spring of Living Water of St. John Sarkander”

Dear friends,

We are standing at a significant place connected with the end of life of the saint of our nation and our city – Saint John Sarkander. In front of us you can see a chapel built on the site of an earlier Chapel of All Holy Martyrs which too had arisen as a result of rebuilding a former city prison where John Sarkander died on March 17th 1620. This chapel was built in 1908 - 1912 in Neo-Baroque style by the Prague-based architect Eduard Sochor on the initiative of the St. Michael’s parish priest Msgr. Ignatius Panák and consecrated by the Archbishop of Olomouc, Cardinal František Saleský Bauer. All three of them are depicted as sandstone sculptures as part of the exterior decoration. On the four corners of the main elliptical dome, there are four sculptures. Above the place where we are standing, there are two women - Saint Paula, the patron saint of the city of Olomouc and Saint Hedwig, the patron of Silesia, the native land of Saint John. On the opposite side we can see two men - Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order (baptism patron saint of Ignatius Panák) and Saint Clemens Maria Hofbauer, our national saint, canonized by the time when the chapel was built.

Right ahead of us, there is a modern artefact – a fountain called “The Spring of Living Water of St. John Sarkander” built by the City of Olomouc in 2007 to commemorate the canonization of St. John Sarkander by Pope John Paul II (now a saint himself) in Olomouc on May 21st 1995. Otmar Oliva, a sculptor from the city of Velehrad, attempted to commemorate the last moments of the saint's life. John Sarkander was tortured and spent his last month dying in pain in the city jail's dungeon where he could see only stars through the jail window. The artist incorporated therefore a star into the pavement of this little courtyard and brought it up on a slender obelisk-like stele. There are two shells cut from one piece of red granite and from each of them three trickles of water are gushing, brought from a well located in the chapel’s basement next to the torture instruments. On opposite sides, the fountain is decorated with two unmistakable symbols: a symbol of Evil – two snakes devouring each other; and a symbol of Goodness - Christ's spikes symbolizing his infinite love for man which kept him on the cross stronger than the nails. On the side of the fountain, there is a ribbon with emblems of cities associated with the life of Saint John: Skoczów - his hometown, Olomouc, Prague, Graz - the place of his studies, and Holešov - the last town where he served as parish priest. Now we enter the chapel itself.

Stopover - in the upper part of the chapel

We are now in the main room of ​​the chapel and can see an imaginary vertical line going through the hole in the floor and connecting the underground where St. John suffered (symbolizing life sorrow, suffering and death) with our level (representing the present) and with the shiny top of the dome (symbolizing the future of a person who has reached the goal of being - God). The chapel is noticeably decorated by a Latin inscription that translates as follows: Blessed John overcame the body pain by invocation of Jesus, Mary and Anne. Above this inscription, there are frescoes of four angels symbolizing John’s virtues, again expressed in Latin: As a priest - he believed – said nothing - suffered.

In the altar area, there are three frescoes by painter Jano Köhler.

The first shows St. John in a crowd of Catholics holding a monstrance in his hand and going towards an army of 2,000 Polish Cossacks who had arrived to Holešov. When they saw the crowd with a monstrance and the Blessed Sacrament, they spared Holešov and withdrew. However, they burnt down the neighbouring city of Napajedla as well as a number of towns and villages before. That event gave rise to the suspicion that St. John had an agreement with them or that he had even invited them when on a pilgrimage to Czestochowa.

The second fresco depicts his torture on a rack in front of a tribunal of nine Protestants and one Catholic - John Scintila, a city representative, who later reported in detail about the interrogation and torture of St.John to Cardinal Dietrichstein. During the interrogation John was asked about the confession of Ladislav Popel of Lobkowitz, provincial governor and the lord over Holešov, whose confessor he was.

The third fresco on the front of the apse depicts a scene from the prison with St. John lying on straw with his arms dislocated from the shoulder joints, praying the breviary. In the background we can see three Carthusian monks from the monastery of Štípa near Zlín who had been arrested for the same reason but were released a week later.

Stopover - in the basement at the torture rack

We are now at a place of great suffering, but also a great bravery and strength of spirit. Here, on this torture device, Saint John was tortured three times within one week in February 1620. Under torture, when one would probably confess to everything due to the pain, Saint John called upon Jesus, Maria and Anne and did not confess to the alleged treason (invitation of Polish Cossacks). According to legend, Saint John collapsed on the floor asking for water after one of the hearings. His appeal was not heard and suddenly a spring burst in front of him from which he could drink. This is illustrated on an old engraving on the info panel. At that point, there is now a well seven meters deep from which water is pumped into the fountain. Remarkably, the chapel is located at a hill top.

In the basement, there is the original tombstone with the relief picture of his torture and an accompanying Latin text placed by Sarkander’s brothers on his first tomb at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Předhradí (abandoned and ruined after Josephine reforms in 1784). There is also a chasuble embroidered with the image of St. John – a gift from the Skočov’s native parish (now in Poland). In addition, a copy of a letter handwritten and signed by St. John from 1608 and a Czech - English info panel about the life, suffering and importance of this saint. After the Church of the Virgin Mary, whose model is on display at the Regional Museum, was closed, the tomb of St. John was transferred to the St. Michael’s Church. In 1860, John Sarkander was beatified and his grave was moved to the St. Wenceslas Cathedral, where it remains today.

The fact that this Czech priest with Polish roots was canonized highlights him as an example and an intercessor before the eyes of the world. He and his heroism supported by God's help shows in our days, when world seems to have lost God from the sight, that God exists and that God is the supreme and ultimate aim of every man.