The History and Veneration of the Infant Jesus of Prague
The statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague is more than 400 years old. It reflects God´s incarnation, spiritual childhood and the dignity of both Christ´s and our own humanity.
According to sources, the statue of the Prague Infant Jesus originates in Spain. It was probably made in Spain sometime in the second half of the 16th century or earlier. Legend says that the Infant Jesus miraculously appeared to the monk who moulded the statue based on his vision A different legend tells us that the statue was owned by St. Theresa of Jesus who greatly venerated Jesus' childhood and spread the veneration of the Infant Jesus throughout Spain. She is said to have given the statue to friend whose daughter was getting married in Prague.
It an established fact that the statue of the Infant Jesus was brought to Prague by the Spanish Duchess Marie Manriquez de Lcara, who married Vrastislav of Pernstejn in 1556. Later she gave the statue to her daughter Polyxena of Lobkovic as a wedding gift. She greatly venerated the statue and received consolation and help from it many times.
Polyxena of Lobkowicz donated the statue as a precious gift to the monastery of Discalced Carmelites at the church of Our Lady Victorious. The Carmelites placed the statue in their novitiate chapel so that the young monks would learn the virtues of small Jesus. The novitiates greatly took to the statue and performed everyday worship before it. Later the novitiate was closed down in Prague and the veneration of the Infant Jesus almost ceased.
In 1631 the Saxons seized Prague. The Carmelites fled from the monastery. The monastery was plundered and the Infant Jesus damaged and discarded as junk.
The monks returned to Prague in 1637. With them was also Father Cyril of the Mother of God, originally from Luxembourg, who remembered his time as a novice and the powerful intercession of the Infant Jesus. He found the statue among old junk. With great sorrow he discovered that both its arms had been broken off. During prayer he heard the Infant Jesus say: “Have mercy on me and I will have mercy on you. Give me my arms and I will give you my peace. I will bless you as much as you will venerate me!”. Eventually, Father Cyril was able to have new arms made for the Infant Jesus.
The Infant Jesus began to bless the monastery, the local people, and also the entire city of Prague. He was credited with miraculous healing and also amongst other things, with saving Prague during the Swedish siege in 1639. At that time the statue was located in the choir where the believers could not worship it publicly.
In 1641 the statue was moved to a chapel in the church, on the left behind the entrance (today the St. Cross Chapel). In 1651 the statue was carried in processions to Prague churches.
In 1655 the statue was crowned by the Bishop of Prague. The number of miracles and prayers answered continued to rise.
The capacity of the chapel was no longer sufficient. Crowds of admirers were blocking the entry to the church. For this reason, in 1741 the statue was relocated to its present place on the right in the middle of the church nave. In 1776 a worthy altar was built for the statue.
The Empress Marie Terezie personally donated an embroidered robe to the Infant Jesus in 1754. The veneration of the Prague Infant Jesus started to spread to all the other countries of the former Austrian empire.
In 1776 a worthy altar was built for the statue. Both walls of the alcove are covered with plates of thanks for intercessions.
The successor to the throne, Josef II. (1780-1790) launched a campaign against both the monasteries and common peoples' religion. The Carmelite monastery in Mala Strana was abolished as part of Josef's reforms. The church and the altar of the Infant Jesus went into decay.
The restoration of the altar in 1879 was successful but the Infant Jesus had to beg for the money for the restoration himself. He made a pilgrimage through Prague's women convents with a begging sack. The necessary sum of money was collected, and at the same time the veneration of the Infant Jesus was revived. Reports of miracles were coming from throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The 300th anniversary of the veneration of the Infant Jesus was marked with great splendour. The Infant Jesus was also the focus of great attention from the participants at the Catholic Convention in 1935. By the turn of 19th and 20th century, the veneration of the Infant Jesus had spread all over the world in a miraculous way. It took roots to the greatest extent in Spain from where the Infant Jesus originated. The Spanish and Portuguese travelled with pictures and statues of the Infant Jesus over the Atlantic Ocean to the colonial countries in South America. Thanks to missionaries, colonisers, and European immigrants, the Infant Jesus is known in India, China, the Philippines, and in North America.
Due to Nazi and communist dictatorships, veneration was silenced for more than 50 years. However, crowds of pilgrims still travelled to the see the Infant Jesus, mainly from Spanish speaking countries.
In 1993, the Discalced Carmelites returned to the Church of Our Lady Victorious. The veneration of the Infant Jesus was brought back to life.
The most important event so far has been the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. In his speech, the Pope stated that the Prague Infant Jesus demonstrated God's closeness and love through his child tenderness. The Pope prayed for children who are victims of violence and different forms of abuse. He also prayed for broken and unfaithful families. He offered a crown as a present for the Infant Jesus.
Veneration of the Prague Infant Jesus is a spiritual extension of Christmas. We bow down to Christ embodied. We profess that God took onto Himself human form and recognise that childhood is part of it. “God made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness…” (Phil 2,7). Jesus Christ experiences complete human life, from beginning to end. In His conception, birth, and childhood we meet the real God, as well as in his adulthood, death, and resurrection. Adult Jesus, Master and teacher, later on invites his disciples: “In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18,3)
Initially veneration was spread by the Carmelite order. A copy of the gracious statue has travelled to almost every monastery. From the middle 18th century the veneration of the Prague Infant Jesus spread to all the countries of the former Austrian empire. A second wave of veneration occurred at the turn of 19th and 20th century when veneration miraculously spread all over the world. This spread of veneration also has its strongest roots in Spain, from where the Infant Jesus originates. Spanish and Portuguese travelled with pictures and statues of the Infant Jesus across the Atlantic Ocean to the colonial countries in South America. Thanks to missionaries and European immigrants, the Infant Jesus is known in India, China, the Philippines, and in North America. Today it is venerated most in Spanish-speaking countries. News of prayers being miraculously answered comes from all over the world.