When I was a baby, my parents bought our family a small statue of the Infant of Prague.
I still have that statue in my home.
So when my brother and I went to Prague in December, we felt compelled to visit Our Lady Victorious Catholic Church, where the statue is located. We wanted to see the statue depicting the baby Jesus as a little king in royal robes with a crown on his head, a globe with a cross on top in his left hand, and two small fingers raised in a blessing in his right hand, symbolizing the two natures of Christ.
Legend says that the Infant of Prague statue was made more than 400 years ago by a friar based on his vision of the Holy Infant. The wax-coated wooden statue reportedly once belonged to St. Teresa of Avila in Spain and later was brought to Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic.
A prominent family owned the statue for several years and eventually gave it to the Discalced Carmelites in Prague in 1628.
Shortly after this, Prague was under siege and pillaged as part of the 30 Years War. The Infant of Prague statue was put in storage behind the main altar of Our Lady Victorious and the Carmelites fled.
When they returned, Father P. Cyril found the statue in 1637 in a pile of rubbish. The statue’s hands were broken off. While the priest was praying, 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 statue was repaired and so was the church. Today, the 18-inch statue is visible behind a glass case on a side altar of the church.
My brother and I eagerly climbed the steps to Our Lady Victorious Catholic Church, built in 1611 in a part Renaissance, part early baroque style. We saw people at an altar on the right, kneeling before the famous Infant of Prague statue that looked both small and imposing. We joined them and prayed silently.
Eventually, we went upstairs in the church to visit a museum displaying approximately 80 colorfully embroidered Infant of Prague cloaks from around the world. (The Infant of Prague has nearly 400 different cloaks.) We also saw ornate chalices, crosses and various sculptures. We learned that the church offers Mass in Czech, English, Spanish, French and Italian.
Seeing the Infant of Prague statue is a spiritual highlight of any trip to Prague. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI visited it during his apostolic visit to the Czech Republic. Several Catholic souvenir stores near the church offer Infant of Prague statues in all heights, statue cloaks, prayer books, necklaces, holy water bottles, pictures, rosaries, scapulars and more.
Many Catholics meditate on the Infant Jesus’ words to Father P. Cyril: “The more you honor me, the more I will bless you.” In today’s world, perhaps devotion to the Infant of Prague is more needed than ever.
(Mary Klaus is a freelance reporter for The Catholic Witness.)
By Mary Klaus, Special to The Witness