PHOTO GALLERY: Navalis festival revives centuries-old traditions on Charles Bridge

The annual religious festival brought colorful costumes and daring stunts to the waterfront in Prague's center.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 16.05.2023 17:00:00 (updated on 16.05.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

The annual Navalis festival brought skydivers, live music, and a colorful parade to Prague’s Charles Bridge. The event commemorates St. Jan Nepomucký, a Roman Catholic saint who is the patron of waterways.

The renewed version of the festival is now in its 15th year. It takes place on May 15, the eve of the feast day of the saint, who was canonized in 1729. The first Navalis celebration in 1868 was tied to the laying of the foundation stone of the National Theatre.

The festival was popular in the early part of the 20th century, but was not performed under communism due to its religious nature. The revived version of the festival features people in 19th-century dress.

Costumes figures on horses led the procession. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Costumes figures on horses led the procession. Photo: Raymond Johnston

This was the first year that Jan Graubner, who took over as archbishop of Prague in July 2022, presided over the festival.

A member of the Prague Venice team, which organizes the festival. Photo: Raymond Johnston
A member of the Prague Venice team, which organizes the festival. Photo: Raymond Johnston

After a mass at St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague Castle, a procession carrying artifacts related to St. Jan, including a statue and other wooden sculptures, went through Malá Strana and stopped on Charles Bridge for prayers and benedictions in front of the statue of St. Jan and at a marker that shows the spot where his body was thrown from the bridge in 1393 after he died from torture. Both of these spots are popular attractions for tourists, who often form lines to touch them.

A statue of St. Jan Nepomucký is carries in the procession. Photo: Raymond Johnston
A statue of St. Jan Nepomucký is carries in the procession. Photo: Raymond Johnston
A wooden statue of St. Jan Nepomucký nears the bronze one. Photo: Raymond Johnston
A wooden statue of St. Jan Nepomucký nears the bronze one. Photo: Raymond Johnston

He and several other priests had been caught up in a dispute with King Wenceslas IV. According to legend, five stars appeared over the water after St. Jan died, and five stars are one of the symbols of this saint.

Women in traditional dress. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Women in traditional dress. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Gondoliers from Venice. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Gondoliers from Venice. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Archbishop Jan Graubner next to Charles Bridge. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Archbishop Jan Graubner next to Charles Bridge. Photo: Raymond Johnston

After the procession, five swimmers went into the Vltava to retrieve large yellow floating stars. This was followed by a skydiver trailing sparks who swooped down and went under one of the arches of Charles Bridge in a breathtaking stunt. Later, a group of five skydivers in lit outfits and trailing sparks would land on a platform in the river.

A skydiver headed to swoop under Charles Bridge. Photo: Raymond Johnston
A skydiver headed to swoop under Charles Bridge. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Three of a group of five skydivers. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Three of a group of five skydivers. Photo: Raymond Johnston

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A skydiver hovers over Prague Castle. Photo: Raymond Johnston
A skydiver hovers over Prague Castle. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Swimmers retrieve golden stars. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Swimmers retrieve golden stars. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Venetian gondola. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Venetian gondola. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Boats on the water. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Boats on the water. Photo: Raymond Johnston

On the shore, a polka band played traditional Bohemian music while on the water boats including a gondola from Venice sailed around a stage in the water.

A polka band plays traditional music. Photo: Raymond Johnston
A polka band plays traditional music. Photo: Raymond johnston

Some of the women in the most elaborate Slavic costumes had a hard time leaving the area, as every few steps they had to stop and pose with tourists who wanted pictures. A journey of a few meters took several minutes, but they were in good spirits and laughed at their persistent lack of progress.

Costumes women pose with tourists. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Costumes women pose with tourists. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Costumed women pose with tourists. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Costumed women pose with tourists. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Women in elaborate costumes. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Women in elaborate costumes. Photo: Raymond Johnston

The main part of the evening was a concert on a barge in the river. Throughout the concert, boats sailed in a circle while some gas jets shot up flames in time with some of the more upbeat sections of music. In the past, the evening ended with fireworks but that is no longer the case, as the city has been strictly limiting that due to concerns for wildlife and the environment.

Boats and jest of fire. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Boats and jets of fire. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Blasts of flame kept time to the music. Photo: Raymond Jhnston
Blasts of flame kept time to the music. Photo: Raymond Jhnston
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