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History of the Infant Jesus of Prague

by Anders Wong

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  • Description:
    A brief history of the devotion to the Holy Child Jesus of Prague.
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Introduction

The devotion to the Holy Child Jesus has long been a tradition of the Catholic Church for a very long time. This devotion is a veneration of our Lord's sacred Infancy. Many saints had a very strong devotion to the Divine Child, notably St. Therese of the Child Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua, and St. Teresa of Avila.

Prague is the capitol city of the Czech Republic, which is at the very central of Europe with Germany, Poland, Russia and Austria as its neighbours. The history of the Infant Jesus of Prague started in the 17th century when a statue of the Infant Jesus was brought into Bohemia (now Czech Republic) and eventually was given to the Discalced Carmelites in Prague. Since then, the statue has remained in Prague and has drawn many devotees worldwide to go and honor the Holy Child. Many graces, blessings, favors and miraculous healings have been received by many who petitioned before the Infant Jesus.

History

The exact origin of the Infant Jesus statue was not truly known, but historical sources point to a small 28cm high sculpture of the Holy Child with a bird in his right hand carved in around the year 1340. Many other Infant Jesus sculptures were also carved by famous masters throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.

The popularity of the Child Jesus grew in the Baroque period in Spain which may have been caused by the visions of St. Teresa of Avila. A number of sculptures made in Spain eventually found their way to Prague. These sculptures were made of wax, ivory, and bronze and were dressed in garments reflecting the aristocratic fashion of that period.

It is unknown to this date which of those early sculptures that got to Prague was the exact origin of the Infant Jesus of Prague. It was speculated that it came from a monastery in Bohemia and from there it was obtained by Dona Isabella Manrique who gave it as a wedding gift to her daughter Marie Manrique who married a noble of the Czech kingdom. Later, the Holy Infant statue was again given to Marie's daughter Polyxena as a wedding gift in 1587. In 1628, Lady Polyxena presented the statue to the Carmelites at the Church of the Virgin Mary the Victorious in Mala Strana saying, "I am giving you what I most esteem of my possessions. Keep the sculpture in reference and you will be well off".1 This statue then became known as the Infant Jesus of Prague. It stands 47 cm high (includes a 2cm base) and has a long gown around the wax body.

Shortly after 1628, the Saxons and the Swedes took turns to invade Prague and the Carmelites had to flee and the veneration of the Holy Infant ceased. It was not until 1638 that a young priest named Fr. P. Cyril, a Matre Dei, returned to Prague and found the Holy Infant statue buried in the ruins of the Lady of Victory church. Fr. Cyril cleaned the statue and placed it in the oratory for worship. While he was praying before the Infant Jesus, he heard the Infant Jesus say, "Have pity on Me and I will have pity on you. Give Me My hands and I will give you peace. The more you honor Me, the more I will bless you". 2

The repairing of the statue's hand was a miracle since Fr. Cyril and his peers did not have the financial resources nor the know-how to repair it. Through prayer, Fr. Cyril asked the Blessed Virgin Mary in several occassions to to provide the necessary funds for fixing the Infant statue. The Divine Infant spoke to him again, "Place Me near the entrance of the sacristy and you will receive aid".3 Fr. Cyril then did what he was told and in a few days time, the statue was fixed by a man who came to the sacristy to offer help.

Since the statue was fixed, a number of miracles had occurred and the word began to spread, resulting in a large increase of veneration to the Holy Child. This includes the Czech nobles as well. These early miracles were recorded in a book by P. Emerich a St Stephano, published in German in 1736 and in Czech in 1749.4

In 1641, an altar was built for the Infant Jesus in the church, and in 1644 a chapel was built, but was not completed until 1654. Many nobles of the time had greatly supported the Infant Jesus, among them were Lady Polyxena, King Ferdinard (Czech), King Charles Gustav(Sweden), and Bernard Ignatius of the Lords of Martinic. It is interesting to note that the crown over the Divine Infant's head came from Bernard Ignatius, who presented the Infant statue with a little gold crown set with precious stones and jewels on January 14, 1651 during a procession that carried the Infant Jesus statue from the Lady of Victory church to other Prague churches. The Infant Jesus was solemnly coronated on April 4, 1655 by the Archbishop Josef Corta acting for Cardinal Harrach III who was sick.

After that period, Prague went through more wars and unrest but the church and the Infant Jesus chapel was miraculously protected. In 1776 the altar was rebuilt using marble and two huge sculptures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph were placed to the left and right sides of the altar. The Holy Infant was kept in a glass case standing on a pedestal engraved with crystals, and surrounding the Infant were twenty angels in gold.

Since then copies of the Infant Jesus were made and distributed throughout European churches. The Spanish colonial efforts later brought the Infant Jesus to the Philippines and to central America. And since then, the devotion has kept spreading to all parts of the world.

Conclusion

The Lady of Victory church was officially returned back to the Discalced Carmalites in 1993 since the takeover by the Maltese Knights in 1784. Today, thousands of pilgrims pay homage to the Infant of Prague each year. The tradition of the Infant Jesus procession and the coronation continues to this day. On May 27,1995, a solemn procession of the Infant Jesus took place in the streets of Prague with Cardinal Sin of Manila (Philippines) and Cardinal Vlk of Prague leading the procession. This ceremony was the closing highlight of the annual Feast of the Infant Jesus in Prague.

As the devotion to the Infant Jesus spreads throughout the world, many parishes now offer Holy Mass and novenas to honor the Holy Child of God and many prayer groups have been formed. Jesus has kept His promise that the more that He is honored, the more that He will bless them. This is truly evidenced by the many favors He has granted to those who ask Him.


Footnotes:

1. Forbelsky, Royt, Horyna: Holy Infant of Prague, Arentinum, Prague, 1992

2. 'Devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague', Tan Books, Rockford, 1975

3. ibid. #2

4. ibid. #1

Sources:

1. Daughters of St. Paul : Infant of Prague Devotions, St. Paul Books & Media, Boston, 1992 2. Joan Cruz : Prayers and Heavenly Promises, Tan Books, Rockford, 1990 3. Lady of Victory Parish, Prague, Czech Republic 4. Sanctuary of the Infant Jesus, Arezano, Italy

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