Happy Birthday to a Lucky Bridge

On this day in 1357, the construction of the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, was kicked off. What makes this a significant date in the world of luck is the fact that this bridge was designed, from the beginning, to be lucky. The original Charles Bridge had been destroyed in the devastating flood of 1342, so much care was taken by King Charles IV to ensure that the new, replacement bridge could withstand future floodwaters. He consulted his astrologers, who deemed that it would be most auspicious for the foundation stone of the new bridge to be laid in 1357 on the 9th of July at exactly 5:31 a.m., a date that forms a palindrome (135797531).

A number of lucky legends concerning the bridge have emerged over the centuries. It is said that special lucky ingredients of eggs, milk, and flour were added to the mortar to give it extra strength, and that every statue added to the bridge subsequently was also fortified with these ingredients. Another legend relates to the statue of St John of Nepomunk, the oldest statue on the bridge. Supposedly, St John was murdered on the orders of King Wenceslaus after he refused to tell the king about the content of the queen’s weekly confession. His body was thrown into the Vltava River, and at the precise moment his body hit the water, five stars appeared in the night sky and could be seen for miles around. (This is why the statue of St John is depicted with a halo of five stars around his head.) There is a brass plaque that depicts this moment underneath the statue, and since the ancient bridge has become Prague’s most popular tourist destination, it has become customary for the thousands of tourists visit the bridge every day to rub the plaque for good luck.

There seems, however, to be a little disagreement as to where precisely one should rub. Some advise rubbing St John’s carved body on the plaque, while others say that one should rub the carving of a dog next to it. Later this month, I will be traveling to Prague and will visit the bridge to conduct a few rubbing experiments and separate fact from fiction. Stay tuned for the full report.

–Kevin

(Photo by Bruno Girin)