My auntie has great devotion to the Infant of Prague and she has a little statue of the Infant in her loungeroom which I have always liked but not really understood. What is the origin of this devotion, and what does it have to do with Prague?
Devotion to the Child Jesus under the title Infant of Prague owes its origin, as one can imagine, to the city of Prague, in what is today the Czech Republic.
It seems that the statue first appeared in 1556 in Spain, when Maria sw Manriquez de Lara y Mendoza received it as a wedding present and took it to Bohemia on the occasion of her marriage to Czech nobleman Vratislav of Perstyn.
An old legend has it that Maria’s mother Doña Isabella had been given the statute by St Teresa of Avila. Maria in turn gave it to her daughter Princess Polyxena of Lobkowitz as a wedding gift.
The statue is about half a metre in height, of wood, wax, and cloth, with the infant Jesus dressed in royal robes and wearing a king’s crown.
In his left hand he holds a globe with a cross on top and his right hand is raised as if giving a blessing.
Related article: Q&A with Fr John Flader: A saint of great suffering
After the death of her husband, Princess Polyxena devoted herself to works of charity and was particularly helpful to the Carmelite Friars in Prague.
In 1628, when the Carmelite Monastery was reduced to poverty owing to the ravages of war, the princess gave the statue of the Child Jesus to the friars, telling them: “I give you what I prize most highly in the world. Honour and respect the Child Jesus and you shall never be in want.”
The Carmelites placed the statue in their oratory and conducted special devotions to the Child Jesus twice a day.
The words of the princess proved prophetic, for as long as the Carmelites kept up their devotion to the Divine Infant of Prague, everything went well for them. In 1630 the Carmelites were forced to flee the city during the Thirty Years War and, in the confusion which reigned, they left the statue behind.
The Swedish army took possession of the city in 1631 and one of the soldiers threw the statue onto a pile of rubbish behind the altar of the chapel.
In 1637 peace once again came to Prague and the Carmelites returned. One of the friars, Father Cyril, who had previously received great spiritual help through his devotion to the Infant of Prague, searched for the statue and eventually found it in the midst of the rubbish.
Overjoyed, he placed it back where it had been in the oratory.
Then he knelt down to pray before it and contemplated the great event of the Incarnation of the Son of God as man.
He was filled with awe and wonder as he prayed to the God who had become a child out of love for mankind.
Suddenly the statue spoke to him.
Father Cyril was stunned as he heard these words: “Have mercy on me and I will have mercy on you. Give me hands and I will give you peace. The more you honour me, the more I will bless you.”
Startled, Father Cyril examined the statue and, on drawing aside the mantle covering it, found that both hands were broken off.
Related article: Q&A with Fr John Flader: A special octave, indeed
The hands were later restored through the generosity of a devotee of the Divine Child.
For almost four centuries the promise of peace and blessing has inspired worldwide devotion to the miraculous Infant Jesus of Prague.
Among the most well-known devotees was St Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. The original statue is still preserved in the church of Our Lady of Victory in Prague.
Pope Leo XIII approved devotion to the image in 1896 and instituted a sodality in its honour.
In 1913 Pope St Pius X established the Confraternity of the Infant Jesus of Prague under the care of the Carmelites and in 1924 Pope Pius XI granted its first canonical coronation.
Pope Benedict XVI crowned the image for the second time during a visit to the Czech Republic in 2009.
On that occasion he donated a golden crown with eight shells and numerous pearls and garnets which has adorned the statue ever since.
Today, replicas of the small statue are venerated all over the world and the list of blessings, favours and miraculous healings attributed to the devotion is endless.