Its replicas found in many Irish homes, the Child or Infant of Prague is an essential part of Irish Catholic Heritage and part of varied local customs for years, but more of that later. I recently joined the many pilgrims from all over the world and paid my first visit to the Child of Prague, in the Church of Our Lady of Victory. The Church is dedicated to Our Lady of Victory and St. Anthony of Padua and is the keeping of the Discalced Carmelites who returned to Church in 1993 after an absence of two hundred years.
The statue of the Infant Jesus originates in Spain and various legends surround it origins. It arrived in 1556 in Bohemia with Duchess Maria Manrique de Lara. It was gifted to her at the time of her marriage to a local noble. It was subsequently presented to the Discalced Carmelites in 1628 by her daughter.
In 1637, having suffered from the vagaries of war the Child was discovered in a corner of the Church minus his hands by Father Cyril of the Mother of God. He is reputed to have heard the Child saying to him:
"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."
New hands were made for the statue and the Church and people of Prague began to benefit from its blessings.
The statue represents Our Lord when a few years old. It has a wooden core with the surface made of modelled wax. One hand is raised in blessing whilst the other holds an orb with a cross. Its gold crown is a later addition. It has an extensive wardrobe of beautiful clothes and is dressed for the liturgical season by Carmelite Sisters of the Child Jesus. A coronation feast is held on the first Sunday of May each year.
Every souvenir store in Prague offers a plethora of copies of the statue but if you do visit please wait and support the the shop in the Church which offers a range of statues, medals, prayer cards and other goods. There is also a small museum in which you can see some of the stunning costumes with their amazing workmanship.
The first copy of the statue was brought to Ireland in 1890 to St Joseph’s Monastery at Mount Carmel, Loughrea in County Galway and there are a number of Irish customs relating to the Child of Prague.
One custom was to keep a coin under a replica of the statue to ensure that the house was never without money. The second relates to the weather. Burying a statue or putting it under a hedge was considered to bring good weather and so was often done by brides the night before their wedding. In some areas custom said that the statue had to have lost its head before it would become effective in ensuring good weather, however, the decapitation had to happen by accident!
The Traditional Irish Wedding book gives three customs in connection with the Child of Prague. Firstly to place the statue under a bush and if when taken it out its head is missing the next day will bring good weather. The second is for it to be placed in the hallway of the bride's house with paper money underneath and finally to place it to one side of the door of the Church on the wedding morning.
It would be interesting to hear if readers are aware of other customs relating to the Child of Prague.