Thursday, October 23, 2014

Infant Jesus of Prague

The Bear and his mate visited the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois yesterday. (It's the only place around here you can find a good Reuben sandwich, among its other attractions.)

In the gift shop, the Bear's eye was caught by a doll of a crowned child. One hand held an orb, the other was raised in blessing. Little fancy garments were offered for sale alongside it. It was the Infant Jesus of Prague, of course, but beyond that the Bear knew little. He had seen a few in Catholic homes, usually under a glass dome. Frankly, they seemed weird and a little over-the-top.

After returning home, however, the Bear's mind kept returning to the innocent, if strange, image. Each time his thoughts rested on the Infant Jesus of Prague, his heart felt an unaccustomed lightness. The infancy, the childhood of Jesus, spent within the loving embrace of Mary and Joseph. Why not have a devotion to the Child Jesus? After all, many saints have. St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis, and Bernard of Clairvaux come to mind. That night, pleasant dreams followed, involving a baby.

How strange for a Bear to be touched by a dressed-up baby doll!

The origin of the Infant Jesus of Prague can be traced to Spain, where pious legend says it was once owned by St. Teresa of Avila. It came into the hands of a noble Spanish family, and was brought to Prague when a daughter of the family married a nobleman there. The woman's daughter later presented it to some Carmelite novices, and the Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand II provided funds for its honor and upkeep.

In 1630, the Protestant army of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden rampaged through Prague and sacked the oratory where the Little King was installed. The statue was buried in trash, its hands broken off. Seven years later, Fr. Cyrillus is said to have been miraculously led to the statue. It remains to this day displayed in an elaborate shrine in Our Lady of Victory, Prague.

Like many Catholic devotions, it is surrounded by an extravagant growth of promises and reported miracles. Perhaps we have learned to be too cynical in our day as we believe our ancestors to have been too credulous.

The clothes are modeled on the fashions of 17th century aristocrats -- He may be a child, but He is a king, after all! They are often changed in keeping with the colors of the Church calendar.

The motto associated with the statue comes from Fr. Cyrillus' vision: "The more you honor me, the more I will bless you." The devotion was granted a plenary indulgence by Pope Leo XIII.


  1. This one was recently at this Shrine too. Some years ago my religious name actually was given to me by inspiration in this plain church. Last month I visited the beautiful Basilica of St. Louis and then came to the Shrine. Pre-conciliar beauty and post-conciliar almost iconoclasm. The front sanctuary has three jutting areas all about equal. One for the very large ambo area, one for the smaller octagonal altar, and one for the piano as if they are all equal in importance.
    But that aside, I also have an Infant of Prague and he is in my living room. He belonged to my grandparents and I had him refurbished and made clothes in liturgical colors. The Infant of Prague image has a wonderful history as you have learned.

  2. I remember my grandmother had a beautiful statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague on her armoire, under a glass dome.. I was always fascinated by it Thanks for this article.

  3. Well, that was just beautiful Bear...I've been pondering heavily the last few days on the Incarnation of Our Blessed Lord.....GOD becoming man, and dwelling among us; obedient to His parents; growing and learning and taking onto Himself an aspect of His own creation, a truly human nature. My God the beauty! The little 'doll' kinda just encapsulates it, no?


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