For the past five years my oldest daughter Jenny and her husband John have lived in Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, or Czechia as it is now called. Czechia is the official English short name specified by the Czech government.
Last week Jenny asked me to make something special, like a rosary or a chaplet, that she could give her favorite student, a Catholic lady from Peru who lives in Switzerland. I suggested an Infant Jesus of Prague chaplet. Jenny liked the idea so I got out my garnet stones, sterling silver wire and antique sterling medal of the Infant Jesus of Prague and made the chaplet.
Realizing I did not know that much about the origin of the Infant Jesus of Prague I spent a few days doing research and put together the story which will be included with her gift. I would like to share this story with you, which in turn I hope will also spread the devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague.
Infant Jesus of Prague
The devotion to the Holy Child Jesus has been a tradition of the Catholic Church for a very long time. This devotion is a veneration of our Lord’s sacred Infancy. We take our honor and devotion to the Child Jesus directly from Sacred Scripture itself. In the Gospels we are reminded of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem and how in the Gospel of Luke 2:8–20: The shepherds were informed on the hillside by an angel “I bring you news of great joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born for you, he is Christ the Lord.” The shepherds then went off to see for themselves and ended up glorifying and praising God.
And in the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12 it is recorded how the three Magi (Kings/Wise Men) traveled from far to drop to their knees and pay homage to the infant Jesus.
And there is one more significant event recorded in the Gospel of Luke 2:21–35: The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple, which is the rite of the Consecration of the first born. Simeon, the old priest and custodian of the temple recognized at that original sacred altar, without any prompting, that he was in the presence of the Savior of the world:
At that time there was a priest, a venerable old man named Simeon to whom the Holy Ghost had revealed that he would not die before seeing Christ the Redeemer (Luke 2:26).
As the holy family entered the temple, Simeon was inspired to meet them, and taking the Child in his arms exclaimed: “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation…” (Luke 2:29-30)
And turning to Mary Most Holy, he prophesized, “Behold this child is set for the fall and resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted…and thy own soul a sword shall pierce…” (Luke 2:34-35)
Many saints had very strong devotions to the Divine Child, notably St Thérèse of the Child Jesus, St Francis of Assisi with his origination and recreation of the Christmas crib in Greccio, St Anthony of Padua who is never featured without the little child in his arms or sitting on his knee, 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 neighbors. 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 or Czechia) 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 those who prayed before the Infant Jesus.
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 Doña 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 Our Lady Victorious in Mala Strana (Little Quarter), that had opened in 1613, saying, “I am giving you what I most esteem of my possessions. Keep the sculpture and venerate it and you will be well off.” This statue then became known as the Infant Jesus of Prague. It stands 47cm high (includes a 2cm base) and has a long gown around the wax body.
Infant of Prague speaks to Fr Cyril twice
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 (Latin for “Mother of God”), returned to Prague and found the Holy Infant statue buried in the ruins of the Our Lady of Victorious church. Both hands had been broken off. 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.”
The repairing of the statue’s hands was a miracle since Fr Cyril and his peers did not have the financial resources nor the know-how to repair them. Through prayer, Fr Cyril asked the Blessed Virgin Mary on several occasions 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.” 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. He created and attached the Infant Jesus’ left hand holding a ball, representing the world with a cross on top and the right hand holding two fingers up in the sign of peace.
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 Fr Emericus a Santo Stephano, published in German in 1736 and in Czech in 1749.
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 Our Lady of Victorious 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.
Our Lady Victorious church was officially returned back to the Discalced Carmelites in 1993, since the takeover by the Maltese Knights in 1784. Today, thousands of pilgrims pay homage to the Infant Jesus 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.
Infant Jesus of Prague Chaplet & Prayer
This chaplet consists of 3 Our Fathers in honor of the Holy Family, and 12 Hail Marys in memory of the 12 years of the Sacred Infancy of our Divine Saviour. To this chaplet of 15 beads is attached a medal of the Infant Jesus [of Prague].
Chaplet of the Holy Infant Jesus
“The More You Honor Me The More I Will Bless You”
On the medal the following invocation is said: Divine Infant Jesus, I adore Thy Cross and I accept all the cross Thou wilt be pleased to send me. Adorable Trinity, I offer Thee for the glory of Thy Holy Name of God, all the adorations of the Sacred Heart of the Holy Infant Jesus.
Each Our Father and Hail Mary is preceded by the aspiration:
“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.”
On terminating the chaplet say:
Holy Infant Jesus, bless and protect us.
This devotion owes its origin to the zeal of Sister Marguerite, a Carmelite religious, who died in France in 1648. She was distinguished for her devotion to the Holy Child Jesus.
The Divine Infant revealed to His faithful servant how pleasing to Him is this holy practice; He promised her that He would grant special graces, above all purity of heart and innocence, to all who carried the chaplet on their person and recited it in honor of the mysteries of His holy infancy. As a sign of His approval, He showed her these chaplets shining with a supernatural light.