Infant Jesus of Prague

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Holy Infant Jesus of Prague
Gratiosus Jesulus Pragensis
Pražské Jezulátko
Santo Niño Jesús de Praga
LocationPrague, Czech Republic
Date1555
WitnessSaint Teresa of Avila
María Manrique de Lara y Mendoza
TypeWax coated wooden statue with wooden base & silver erector
Holy See approvalPope Leo XIII
Pope Saint Pius X
Pope Benedict XVI
ShrineOur Lady of Victory Church
 
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Holy Infant Jesus of Prague
Gratiosus Jesulus Pragensis
Pražské Jezulátko
Santo Niño Jesús de Praga
LocationPrague, Czech Republic
Date1555
WitnessSaint Teresa of Avila
María Manrique de Lara y Mendoza
TypeWax coated wooden statue with wooden base & silver erector
Holy See approvalPope Leo XIII
Pope Saint Pius X
Pope Benedict XVI
ShrineOur Lady of Victory Church

The Infant Jesus of Prague (Czech: Pražské Jezulátko; Spanish: Niño Jesús de Praga) is a 16th-century Roman Catholic wax-coated wooden statue of child Jesus holding a globus cruciger, located in the Carmelite Church of Our Lady Victorious in Malá Strana, Prague, Czech Republic. Pious legends state that the statue once belonged to Saint Teresa of Avila and allegedly holds miraculous powers, especially among expectant mothers.

The statue is known worldwide in relation to earlier child-Jesus icons, most prominently the Santo Nino de Atocha in Spain and Latin America (13th century), the Santo Nino de Cebu (1521) in the Philippines, and recent ones such as the Holy Infant of Good Health (from Mexico, 1939), and the Divino Niño (from Colombia, 1940's).

In addition, the statue has also merited Papal recognition through Pope Leo XIII who instituted the Sodality to the Infant Prague of Jesus in 1896, followed by Pope Saint Pius X who organized the Confraternity of the Infant Jesus of Prague in 1913, and most recently, Pope Benedict XVI, who granted a Canonical Coronation to the image as well as a spare Ermine fur cape during his Apostolic visit to the Czech Republic in September 2009.

History[edit]

The exact origin of the Infant Jesus statue is not known, but historical sources point to a small 19 inch (48 cm) high sculpture of the Holy Child with a bird in his right hand presently located in the Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria de la Valbonna in Asturias, Spain which was carved around the year 1340. Many other Infant Jesus sculptures were also carved by famous masters throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. Often found in early medieval work, the significance of the bird symbolizes either a soul or the Holy Spirit. The sculptures of the Holy Child were dressed in imperial regalia reflecting the aristocratic fashion of that period.[1]

One legend says that a monk in a desolated monastery somewhere between Cordoba and Sevilla had a vision of a little boy, telling him to pray. The monk had spent several hours praying and then he made a figure of the child.[2]

The Hapsburg Royal family took over rule of the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1526; the kingdom developed close ties with Spain. The statue first appeared in 1556, when Maria Manriquez de Lara y Mendoza brought the image to Bohemia upon her marriage to Czech nobleman Vratislav of Pernstyn. An old legend in the Lobkowicz family reports that María's mother, Dona Isabella, had been given the statue by Saint Teresa of Avila herself.[3] Maria received the family heirloom as a wedding present. It later became the property of her daughter, Princess Polyxena von Lobkovice (1566–1642).[4] In 1628, Princess von Lobkowicz donated the statue to the Discalced Carmelite friars (White Friars).[5]

Upon presenting it, the pious princess Polyxena is said to have uttered a prophetic statement to the religious: "Venerable Fathers, I bring you my dearest possession. Honour this image and you shall never want".[4] The statue was placed in the oratory of the monastery of Our Lady of Victory, Prague, where special devotions to Jesus were offered before it twice a day. The Carmelite novices professed their vow of poverty in the presence of the Divine Infant. Upon hearing of the Carmelites' devotions and needs, the Emperor Ferdinand II of the House of Habsburg sent along 2,000 florins and a monthly stipend for their support.

The elaborate shrine which houses the wax-wooden statue. Church of Our Lady Victorious, Mala Strana, Prague, Czech Republic.

In 1630, the Carmelite novitiate was transferred to Munich. Disturbances in Bohemia due to the Thirty Years War brought an end to the special devotions, and on November 15, 1631, the army of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden took possession of Bohemia's capital city. The Carmelite friary was plundered and the image of the Infant of Prague was thrown into a pile of rubbish behind the altar. Here it lay forgotten, its hands broken off, for seven years, until it was found again in 1637 by Father Cyrillus and placed in the church's oratory. One day, while praying before the statue, Father Cyrillus claimed to have heard a voice 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." Since then, the statue has remained in Prague and has drawn many devotees worldwide to honor the Holy Child. Claims of blessings, favors and miraculous healings have been made by many who petitioned before the Infant Jesus.[6]

In 1739, the Carmelites of the Austrian Province formed a special devotion apart from their regular apostolate. In 1741, the statue was moved to the epistle side of the church of Our Lady of Victory in Prague.

Description[edit]

The small statue is a 19-inch (48 cm) high, wooden and coated wax representation of the Infant Jesus. The surface of the wax is quite fragile. In order to protect the fragile wax surface, the bottom half below the waist is enclosed in a silver case.[7] The right hand of the statue is raised in a gesture of blessing, with two fingers raised symbolizing the two natures of Jesus Christ and the three folded fingers represent the Holy Trinity. The left hand holds an imperial orb surmounted by a cross, signifying sovereignty. The image is clothed in a long robe below which his bare feet can be seen. In the past, the statue was decorated with small jewels, presented as gifts. The most valuable one was a copy of the Order of the Golden Fleece, which is now lost.

Since 1788, the statue's raised two fingers have worn two rings, as a thanksgiving gift by a noble Czech family for healing their daughter, along with its golden blond hair. Some earlier records indicate that the original wig was possibly white.[5]

An early German copy of the statue, note the white wig as opposed to the traditional blonde hair. circa. 1870

Vestments[edit]

Several costly embroidered vestments have been donated by benefactors. Among those donated are those from Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria, which are preserved to this day. A notable garment in the collection is an ermine cloak placed on the statue the first Sunday after Easter, which is the anniversary day of the coronation of the statue by the bishop of Prague in 1655.[4] In 1713 the clothing began to be changed according to the liturgical norms. Other valuable garments worn by the image are vestments studded with various gemstones, embroidered with gold French bullion wire threading, and silk fabrics as well as handmade lace customised purposely for the statue.

Devotion[edit]

In April 1639, the Swedish army began a siege of the city of Prague. The frightened citizens hurried to the shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague as services were held day and night at the Church of Our Lady Victorious in the Little Quarter. When the army decided instead to pull out, the grateful residents ascribed this to the miraculous Holy Infant. The tradition of the Infant Jesus procession and the coronation continues to this day. This ceremony is the closing highlight of the annual Feast of the Infant Jesus in Prague.

The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is the principal feast of the miraculous Infant.[8]

Many saints have had a particular devotion to the Infant Jesus, such as St. Athanasius, St. Jerome, Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, and Anthony of Padua. The 1984 miniseries Teresa de Jesús (film), shows Saint Teresa of Avila with a statue in a number of scenes. As novice mistress, Therese of the Child Jesus placed the statue in the novitiate at Lisieux, because she knew the many blessings the Divine Child brought to the Carmelite novices in Prague when it was placed in their midst.[8]

Today, thousands of pilgrims pay homage to the Infant of Prague every year. Statuettes of the Infant Jesus are placed inside many Catholic churches, sometimes with the quotation, "The more you honor me, the more I will bless you."

Devotion to the Child of Prague and belief in its power to influence the weather is still strong in many parts of Ireland. A wedding gift of a statue of the Child of Prague is particularly auspicious. The practise of putting it out in the hedge or burying it in the garden as a solicitation for good weather is widespread in areas as far apart as Cork, Dublin, Sligo and Leitrim. [9]

Once every four years, two wooden statues of Infant Jesus made in Prague are sent to various Catholic churches of the world. The church in Prague gave two of the Infant Jesus statues to Fr. Agnel School of Vashi, Navi Mumbai. The Infant Jesus Shrine in Vivek Nagar, Bangalore was consecrated on the 22nd June 1989.[10]

Papal endorsement[edit]

In 1896, Pope Leo XIII confirmed the Sodality of the Infant of Prague by granting plenary indulgence to the devotion.

In 1913, Pope Saint Pius X established the Confraternity of the Infant Jesus of Prague under the canonical guidance of the Carmelite Order.[11][5]

In September 2009, Pope Benedict XVI made an Apostolic visit to the Czech Republic and visited the Church of Our Lady of Victory in Prague. The Pontiff donated a golden crown with eight shells with numerous pearls and garnets, which is at present worn by the statue.[12] Since that year, the old "cushion crown" of the image is now permanently kept in the Carmelite museum on display behind the Church while the Garnet crown granted by the Pontiff is the one that is permanently worn by the statue.

At present, the image, along with the Santo Nino de Cebu, enjoys the status of being canonically crowned as the only Christological image amongst various Marian images that were previously crowned by a Pontiff.

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Coordinates: 50°05′08″N 14°24′12″E / 50.08556°N 14.40333°E / 50.08556; 14.40333