Why Do People Rub Statues?
Almost everywhere we’ve traveled around the world, we find statues that have been rubbed or touched in strategic places. Some are stone and a part is rubbed smooth, but most are bronze and get rubbed so much that parts become shiny-goldish. It seems that mostly this tradition starts in the belief that rubbing a certain part of a certain statue will bring good luck. Sometimes we can find a story connected to why a particular statue gets chosen, but sometimes not.
On this Eastern Europe trip we encountered quite a few of these statues and I’ll try and put together a fun collage.
In Krakow we found Eros Bendato (Eros Bound, 1999) by Igor Mitoraj in Rynek Glowny (the main square).
See an earlier post about this here https://mackie250stl.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/question-about-the-head-sculpture-in-city-garden-solved/
It’s a huge hollow bronze head, laying on its side, and bound with 2 strips of bronze tape. Visitors are fascinated and stop to look, touch it, and take photos on it or next to it. It’s certainly an unusual modern touch in the old square with its gorgeous medieval buildings. People refer to it unofficially as “The Head”. We joined the throngs of people around this unusual sculpture and Sonya rubbed its nose, even though no special part of this head has been specially rubbed. I couldn’t find any story about touching and good luck associated with this sculpture—it seems people are just fascinated with it as a whole.
In Prague we came across two such rubbed statues: a statue/monument on St Charles Bridge with two rubbed spots, and a statue up on Castle Hill outside the Toy Museum.
Charles Bridge (Karlov Most) is the famous historical bridge crossing the Vltava River in Prague. In medieval times, it was the main pedestrian route linking the Old Town with Mala Strana (Little Quarter), and then onto Prague Castle. In the late 1600s and early 1700s, 30 statues of various saints, knights, and a crucifix were erected along the railings of the bridge, one of which supposedly can give you good luck.
We were curious about certain spots on some of the bronze sculptures that have been rubbed by passersby to a brightly polished shine. These spots often have people lined up waiting for a touch (including us!).
The most famous seems to be the Statue of St John Nepomuk (Jan Nepomucky). It is the 8th statue on the right hand if you are heading from Old Town Square towards the Prague Castle.
St. John was martyred on this very bridge in 1393 and became the patron saint of Prague. John of Nepomuk was a priest in Prague under King Wenceslas IV (son of Charles IV) and the Queen made confessions to him. Unfortunately, the King was a very suspicious man and pressed John of Nepomuk for the Queen’s confessions. John of Nepomuk would not reveal this, not even to the King, because it would break the confidentiality of the confessional. So he was killed by being thrown into the Vltava River from the bridge and drowned. This made him an instant hero and martyr for the church.
There are two plaques on this large statue. Tradition says that if you rub
the bronze plaque depicting St John being thrown off the bridge you will one day return to Prague, or a wish will come true. This has been polished shiny by the many people who have touched it over the centuries.
The other plaque depicts a knight, his dog and a woman (possibly the Queen), which is just as shiny but we could find no special meaning. Tradition has probably evolved to give that good luck too. The original statues were replaced with replicas in the 1960s, but the traditions continue unabated.
We rubbed both plaques for good luck and in the hopes of returning to Prague one day.
Up on Castle Hill on the way out of the castle complex by Golden Lane, we found an unusual rubbed statue at the entrance to Supreme Burgrave’s House, now the Toy Museum. It’s a statue of a naked adolescent boy and his penis has been rubbed shiny. I couldn’t find any information on this, so I guess a good-luck tradition has evolved around this too. There was a suggestion that the famous Czech sculptor David Cerny created it, but I couldn’t corroborate that.
Many visitors titter a bit when they see this, but they still touch just the same!