Irish traditions and the Infant of Prague

The Infant/Child of Prague is a small wax medieval statue of the  Christ child, adorned in an elaborate robes, housed in the Carmelite Church of Our Lady Voctorious in Malá Strana, Prague.  Copies/reproductions of this statue were at one time  found in the majority of Catholic homes around Ireland.  This little statue was called upon for help to ensure good weather for family occasions such as wedding, communions  and confirmations.  Prague is a long way from Ireland so  how did the tradition of this statue from the Czech Republic arrive in Ireland?

The origins of the statue

The very early history of the statue is obscure but it appears to have been made in Spain and  the Spanish noble woman Isabella Manrique  gifted the statue to her daughter  Marie  on the occasion of her wedding to the Czech nobleman Vratislav of Pernstyn. Later the statue came into the possession of her daughter the Princess Polyxena von Lobkowicz, who in 1628 presented the statue to the Carmelite friars  at the church of the Virgin Mary the Vicorious in Malá Strana, Prague.

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An early German copy of the statue, note the white wig as opposed to the traditional blonde hair. circa. 1870

During the 30 years war the monastery was sacked and the statue lost.  Some years later in 1638  Fr. Cyrill found the statue on a rubbish  heap  in the ruins of the church. He  placed the statue back in the church and one day while praying before it  the priest  heard the statue utter the 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 honor me, the more I will bless you.

The statue was later restored to its former state and the damages  such as the loss of its hands, that had occurred over the years, were repaired.   In the ensuing years any miracles were performed  and devotion to the statue grew steadily and spread. Over the years  tiny and very elaborate vestments were given as gifts to the statue. In 1713 the caretakers of the statue began to change the robes of the statue according to the liturgical norms. The statue has a wardrobe of around 100 hundred vestments. In 1913 Pope Pius X established a confraternity to the Infant of Prague and today over 2 million people visit the shrine annually.

Irish devotion and traditions

Devotion to and small replica statues of the Infant of Prague became popular in Ireland in the late 19th to early 20th century in Ireland.  Over the years the statue has become linked to Irish wedding customs. Although there are some variations, most  customs insist on placing of the statue outside  of the brides house under a hedge or bush in the garden to  guarantee  fine weather.  Some people say the statue needs to be outside the church where the wedding is to take place and  others even go so far as to bury it in the garden.  The custom developed from a belief that the statue can control weather. The statue was even used to try to aid  good weather for this years G8 summit by Ferghal Purcell the general manager of the Lough Erne Resort, the location where  the summit was being held.

Navan born actor and former bond star Pierce Brosnan engaged in the custom  for his wedding to Keely Shaye Smith.

We got married in Ballintubber Abbey and held the reception in Ashford Castle, it was August and I remember this old woman telling me we had to get a Child of Prague statue and put it outside the west corner of the building to make sure it didn’t rain. The Child of Prague is a little statue of Jesus dressed as a king and it’s an old tradition to put it out the night before a wedding. So I staggered out after my night out with the lads and many Guinnesses into the gardens of Ashford Castle and found a hydrangea bush and put the statue in it (Taylor 2013).

There is also a tradition that  the power of the statue was strongest if its head has been knocked off  but his had to happen “accidentally”.

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Headless Infant of Prague photo provided by Maura Wall Barret.

Another Irish tradition was that people would place a coin under the statue  to ensure the house would never be hungry or in want

References

Ferguson, S. 2013. ‘Religious statue believed to guarantee good weather’ BBC News’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-22783440

Taylor, R. 2013. ‘Child of Prague ensures Brosnan’s big day is shaken, not soaked’ Irish Times http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/child-of-prague-ensures-brosnans-big-day-is-shaken-not-soaked-232781.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_Jesus_of_Prague#cite_note-2

http://catholicheritage.blogspot.ie/2011/10/child-of-prague.html

http://www.navstevapapeze.cz/places/prague/church-of-our-lady-of-victory-infant-jesus-of-prague%5Ben%5D