The Infant jesus of Prague is a miraculous* wax statue with a moving and edifying history. It was first donated to the Discalced Carmelites of Prague by a rich lady who, after the death of her husband, desired to dedicate herself to works of piety and charity. The lady donated the statue (very dear to her heart) to the Carmelites saying “I hereby give you what I prize most highly in this world. As long as you venerate this image you will not be in want”. The lady’s work proved prophetic on several occasions as the following years proved that whenever the Carmelites seriously recurred to the statue, they were helped and when they neglected its proper devotion, they weren’t.
The Carmelites put the statue (made of wax itself, with rich vestments) in their oratory and performed special devotions in front of it twice a day. For some reasons, such devotions were particularly loved by the novices. Particularly by one, Cyrillus, who was through his prayers delivered from a period of spiritual dryness. But then the Thirty-Years war started to bite and in 1630 the novitiate was removed to Munich; the devotion was more and more neglected and the prosperity of the community progressively declined.
The following year, the Protestant troops of King Gustavus Adolphus took Prague. The Monastery was plundered and vandalised, the statue was damaged and thrown over a heap of rubble behind the high altar. It stayed there completely for the following seven years, years of great hardship for the community.
In 1637, Cyrillus – in the meantime Father Cyrillus – came back to Prague still occupied by the Protestant invaders. He remembered the little statue and asked of the prior to be able to search for it; the entire place was turned upside down until the statue was finally found and recovered from his pile of rubble. That the rubble had remained there for years without anyone “cleaning up” tells the story about the poverty of the times. The little statue was put in a fitting place and the devotions started again, this time with greater zeal due to the difficulties of the times.
Cyrillus was once again the most fervent disciple of this devotion and one day, whilst praying, he heard the following words:
“Have pity on me, and I will have pity on you. Give me my hands, and I will give you peace. The more you honour me, the more I will bless you”.
Only then Cyrillus noticed the missing hands of the statue behind the rich vestments that adorned it. Several attempts followed to have the statue repaired by Father Cyrillus. He asked the money for the repair from the prior, who wouldn’t open the purse of the very poor community. He begged the Blessed Virgin to help him and as a result was called to the sickbed of a wealthy man who, told of the story, donated a large sum for the repair of the statue, but the prior decided to buy a new statue instead. The new statue was accidentally (or rather: providentially) destroyed just after being put into place and the devotion to the mutilated statue was resumed, the problem of the repair still to be solved. Then a new prior was elected and Cyrillus begged for the funds once again, but once again his wish was refused. Stubbornly, he once again asked the Blessed Virgin for help and as a result received a large donation by an anonymous woman. This time, the prior took almost all of the money, leaving Cyrillus a portion insufficient to repair the statue. It really seemed that this statue was never to be restored, but our chap was of the kind that never let go and he put his trouble in front of the statue itself. Once again he heard the following words: “Place me near the entrance of the sacristy and you will receive aid”. This our Cyrillus promptly did and a short time later a stranger offered to pay for the repair. This time the prior didn’t appropriate the fund and the statue was rapidly restored.
From then on, the devotion to the statue rapidly procured a great fame. The prior itself was rapidly healed by the pestilence which had befallen Prague after promising to recite Holy Mass before the statue for nine days if healed. During a successive period of great financial need, the prior ordered that the entire community should pray in front of the Divine Infant and again, generous financial help promptly came. In the meantime the popularity of the statue had started to grow, so that it was moved again from the oratory to the church to allow for its veneration by the general public. In 1641, a large donation allowed the erection of an altar to the Most Holy Trinity, with the statue of the Infant Jesus placed within it. It didn’t remain there for long, though, because the following year another generous donation allowed the erection of a chapel dedicated to the Divine Infant, completed and consecrated in 1644. Since then, the devotion has continued to spread and the favours received through its devotions have become innumerable. The devotion to the Infant Jesus grew more and more and in 1665 a crown was prepared for the statue and put in place on the Sunday after Easter.
The devotion to the Holy Infant is now spread worldwide. It has generated a series of worldwide recited prayers: the Prayer of Rev. Cyrillus, the Litany of the Miraculous Infant, the Prayer to the Infant Jesus to be said by a sick person, the Prayer of Thanksgiving for Graces Received from the Infant Jesus among them, though the most famous must be the Chaplet of the Infant Jesus of Prague. The Church of Our Lady of Victory is visited by around 500,000 pilgrims every year.
The fortune of the devotion is probably due not only to the innumerable favours granted to those devoted to it, but probably also to the favour that this devotions found among saints like Therese of Lisieux. You must also consider that the devotion to the Infant Jesus was not a new phenomenon having been widely spread during the Middle Age, with St. Francis and St. Bernhard of Citeau among its best known followers.
The idea of the Infant Jesus, so powerless and still so powerful, so little and still so big, has never failed to inspire and to this day Catholics can very well, particularly in times of need, relate to this beautiful paradox of Christianity. In addition, it is easy to see how the devotion to the Infant Jesus puts us in front of another mainstay of Christian thinking: the opportunity to pray with great candor, defenceless humility and, well, tenderly shameless confidence, that is to say with the typical attributes of a child’s prayer. In front of Jesus we are all children. We need to pray like a child does. We need to pray with exactly those qualities that can make a child’s request so difficult to refuse.
This message wants to be a small contribution to the revival of this beautiful Catholic devotion, neglected after Vatican II as almost everything unapologetically Catholic and hopefully destined to greater glory in the decades to come.
* In the Catholic sense, of course. Please don’t go around saying that Catholics believe that wax statues make miracles. Thanks!