When I first met my husband, he wore a religious medal I was unfamiliar with. The image on the medal was that of Jesus as an infant, but dressed in clothing from the 15th and 16th century. I was confused and uninformed about this image, so my husband shared that in his small hometown, Prague, Oklahoma (prounounced Pr-egg, not Prah-g, like the city in Czech Republic), is the National Shrine for the Infant Jesus of Prague (Prah-g).
So of course, I had to do a little bit of research…
The Infant Jesus of Prague is originally from Spain. Legend says that the Infant Jesus appeared to a monk, who modeled the statue based on the apparition. According to another legend, the statue belonged to St. Terese of Avila, whom was the founder of the Discalced Carmelites and had a great love and devotion for the Child Jesus. She supposedly gave the statue to a friend of hers whose daughter was to travel to Prague (Bohemia).
What is definitely known about the statue is that Duchess Maria Manrique de Lara came to Bohemia to marry a nobleman in 1556 and received the statue from her mother as a wedding gift. When the Duchess’ daughter Polyxena was widowed, she gave the statue to the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites who were part of the church community of Our Lady of Victory in 1628.
The Carmelites placed the statue in their novitiate chapel so young monks could learn from the virtues of the Child Jesus. During this time, the Thirty Years’ War was happening in Europe and Prague was taken over by the army of the king of Sweden. The image of the Infant Jesus of Prague was later found by Fr. Cyrillus in a pile of trash that had been thrown behind the altar in 1637. The statue had been forgotten, with its hands broken off. Fr. Cyrillus placed the statue in the church’s oratory. One day while praying, Fr. Cyrillus heard a voice saying, “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.” Repairing the statue’s hand was a miracle, as Fr. Cyrillus didn’t have the money or skills to do so. He prayed to Our Lady of Victory to provide the money, and the Divine Infant spoke again saying, “Place Me near the entrance of the sacristy and you will receive aid.” Fr. Cyrillius did this and a few days later the statue was fixed by a man who visited the sacristy.
After the statue was repaired, miracles began to be reported, increasing the veneration of the Holy Child. Though Prague suffered through wars and civil unrest, the church and the Infant Jesus of Prague chapel were miraculously protected.
I share this story of the Infant Child of Prague because as we are about to celebrate Chiristmas, we often forget to spend time reflecting on the Divinity of the Child Jesus. The childhood of Christ is an important theme for us Christians and it is important for us to reflect on the incarnation of our God and Lord Jesus Christ in an infant.
There’s a wonderful and popular novena associated with the Infant Jesus of Prague that can be prayed either over the course of nine days or nine hours. And as this year is our first year Christmas together as a married couple, Jerry and I began praying the novena for a special intention on its traditional start date of the 17th, which means we’ll end the prayer on Dec 25th, on the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. (Note, you can pray this novena at any time, and it’s particularly encouraged during the Christmas season.)
It’s important to know that devotion to the Infant Child of Jesus statue is not idolatry (statue worship) but a devotion to the Child Jesus. And this image is just one of the more popular images to visualize the Christ Child. The are many other images, including el Divino Niño (Divine Child) in Colombia, el Santo Niño de Atocha (Holy Child of Atoch) in Spain, Santo Bambino di Ara Coeli in Rome, Devoción al Pequeño Rey de la Gracia (Little King of Grace) in France and el Santo Niño de Cebu (Holy Child of Cebu) in the Phillipines.
Now, about the name “Creepy” Baby Jesus… let’s just say that a friend of mine, when I showed her the image said the child looked a bit creepy because no infant (except those in creepy and scary movies) would be standing upright and in a pose like the Infant Jesus of Prague. I definitely agree with her about the unnatural state of statue. But we both agree that no matter how unnatural the statue may look to us, it doesn’t change the unique and important devotion.
To read or learn more about the Infant Jesus of Prague, visit the website of the Original Shrine in Prague, Czech at http://www.pragjesu.info/en/ or visit the National Shrine website at http://www.shrineofinfantjesus.com/. And if you’re ever in Oklahoma, consider visiting this Shrine. It’s pretty and serene. And it’s where I’ll be blessed to celebrate Christmas Mass this year. And if you want to see a a picture of the Infant Jesus of Prague dressed in His Christmas finest, find me on Twitter at @ritamgs
“Celebrate the feast of Christmas every day, even every moment, in the interior temple of your spirit, remaining like a baby in the bosom of the heavenly Father, where you will be reborn each moment in the Divine Word, Jesus Christ. –St. Paul of the Cross