This pilgrimage church, built in honour of St John of Nepomuk, stands at Zelená Hora, not far from Ždár nad Sázavou in Moravia. Constructed at the beginning of the 18th century on a star-shaped plan, it is the most unusual work by the great architect Jan Blazej Santini, whose highly original style falls between neo-Gothic and Baroque.
The Vicar General of the Prague Archbishopric, Jan (John) of Pomuk, died a martyr's death in 1393. In 1719 his physical remains were studied by a commission appointed by the Archbishop of Prague of the day when it was found that his tongue was perfectly preserved, which was interpreted as evidence of his sanctity. This initiated a wave of enthusiasm for the cult of the martyr, and in particular at the Cistercian monastery in Zdár nad Sázavou, near the Bohemian border with Moravia.
This monastery had inherited the role of the monastery at Zelená hora, near Nepomuk, where St John Nepomuk received his early education, which had been destroyed in the Hussite wars. It was monks from Zelená hora who founded the Zdár nad Sázavou house, whose abbot from 1705 until 1738 was Vaclav Vejmluva, a dedicated follower of St John Nepomuk. He conceived his project to build a church to the glory of the saint which would at the same time demonstratet he relationship betweent he two Cistercian houses.
The church was intended from the start as a place of pilgrimage. Work began in 1719, three years before the formal canonization of John of Nepomuk confirmed the unofficial status that he had been given in his native Bohemia for centuries. The architect was Jan Blažej Santini, who had been working for Vejmluva since 1706 on various projects at the monastery. The abbot worked closely with the architect in the design of the church by laying down its ideological framework, based on the symbolism of the saint's tongue and the numerological significance of the numbers 3 and 5 (the saint died at the age of 53).
The unfinished church was consecrated on 16 May 1720, the date of St John Nepomuk's martyrdom. The construction of the main structure was completed by 1721 and its preliminary furnishing and decoration was celebrated by a second consecration the following year, although work on the cloisters and other ancillary elements was not completed until 1727. Major items of its interior furnishings, such as the main and side altars, the pulpit, and the many statues, were added in later years.
The church was a major centre of pilgrimage from its foundation until 1784, when the monastery was abolished. It continued as a place of worship, and in the 19th century the cloister was used as a cemetery; the tombstones of this period survive in situ.