This text has been excerpted from "The Infant of Prague" by Ludvik Nemec, 1958 Benzinger Brothers, Inc.
The beginnings, or birth if you will, of the Statue of the Infant of Prague, comes to us more as a story than historical fact... and there are several versions. One is that the statue was given to Maria Manriquez de Lara by St. Teresa of Avila, who first conceived of dressing the Infant as a King. A second version is that the Statue came from Italy, where the Child Jesus was honored in Rome, Florence, Salerno, and Naples. The difficulty with this version is that the Statue of the Infant of Prague, in terms of style, speaks definitely in favor of Spain. In Spain, the idea of kingship was more firmly established as a sharing of the power of God with mankind. Spain was also the country in which Carmelite mysticism reached its heights, especially in terms of "God-Child" and "God-King". Related below is a third version of the beginnings of the Miraculous Statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague.
The miraculous infant of Prague appeared on the European scene in the seventeenth century at a time when a large part of Europe was in the throes of the Thirty Years War. This was a desolate period of wartime tragedy: towns and villages were pillaged, fields lay uncultivated for want of laborers, family hearths were disrupted and often deserted.
The city of Prague presented such a scene. It would seem providential that at this time and in Prague itself the Infant Jesus renewed His call to peace among men of good will, and revealed a kingship transcending human ideals. For in those days Prague was a place where the conflict of religious, cultural, political, and economic interests had reached its height.
The royal progress of the little King on to the European scene, however, had been set many years before in Spain. Spain was the privileged place where mysticism penetrated the realms of divine mystery. Spain also provided the scene in which a wedding night became the means by which the Infant King sent His image into Bohemia and thus into the world at large.
As tradition has it, the story begins in Cordova, in the castle of Don Garcia Manriquez de Lara and his wife Dona Isabella, on the eve of their daughter Maria's departure for Prague and her wedding to Lord Vra-tislav of Pernstyn. The large hall of the old Moorish castle in Cordova was resplendent with an array of wedding gifts. Noblewomen of the realm moved slowly among the tables, their chatter partly muffled by the rich Moroccan tapestry which covered the walls. In the expert way of women, an eyelash was raised here and there, a covert glance flashed a spark, or a tongue exclaimed enviously. None of their own daughters could expect such bridal treasures as these: dinner sets of tinted Bohemian glass; Parisian goblets showing varicolored edges; gossamer lace from Naples, the gift of Maria's maternal grandparents; and a case of pearls from Dona Isabella's widowed sister, whose husband had been viceroy of the Spanish possessions in India.
Two objects especially aroused the curiosity of the guests— a gorgeous coat of sable, and a pair of dainty boots lined with ermine, send by Empress Maria from Vienna. "These" someone was heard to whisper, "are at least practical, even if they are imperial—what with the senorita going off to that ice-bound country of Bohemia!"
The evening reception over, Maria went to Dona Isabella's rooms for a last mother-daughter talk. "Mother," she said, "this room holds so much of you, your person and your life, that I want to savor it once again, now that I am leaving you to go to a distant country. I probably will not return this time."
" I will not let you go, then, Maria, without giving you a personal Protector. Your husband's arm is only the arm of a mortal man. Come." And taking Maria's hand she led her across the room, lifted the bottom of the arras tapestry covering the wall, and touched a panel hidden there. The doors opened to reveal a small statue of the Child Jesus, aglow in the candlelight of the chandelier above them.
The image, rather Moorish in cast of features, with curly blond locks, a living charm in the set of its eyes, was clothed in a white tunic with ruffled lace about the wrist. The imperial orb lay in the palm of the left hand while two fingers of the right were uplifted in benediction.
Dona Isabella whispered: "This is my wedding gift to you, my good daughter. He will go with you to Bohemia; He will be your Proctor in your new life." Mother and daughter dropped to their knees in silent prayer.
"He is such a darling, Mother! How did you come by it, and why have I never seen it until now?"
"Let us sit here and I'll tell you of the strange manner I came by it, of its mystic origin, and of your appointment from above to carry it to the city of Prague, whence its fame, power and blessing will spread far and wide, ever across the shining seas."
Then Dona Isabella began her mystic tale:
It happened shortly after your departure for Prague in Empress Maria's entourage. A girlhood friend of mine, Dona Dolorida de Vives, wrote that after the death of her husband she had retired from Valencia to her estate in Nuestra Caseta. She begged me to come for a visit, and to ease the void of your absence I gladly agreed.
The journey through Andalucia was most pleasant. It was so much like the Italy of my childhood. Perhaps it was this sense of nostalgia that made me susceptible to the charming luxuriance of this countryside. I promised myself a leisurely exploration on some later day. So, on my return journey I bade the attendants ride on home, retaining only the coachman Murgo, and faithful old Lorenzo.
I told Murgo to drive along the banks of the Guadalquivir southwards where the distant sea glimmered in the sun. This was the land of your father's forebears who fought long and bravely, wresting the soil foot by foot from the Moors until at last Ferdinand drove them out of Granada. This was just before Columbus, an Italian like myself, sailed from Palos into the uncharted Atlantic to discover a new world, the New Spain.
Steeped in the sylvan beauty of God's handiwork as we slowly rode along, I glimpsed a most haunting vista through an arch like growth of plumbago vines whose masses of huge blue blossoms grew twice as high as a tall man. I called to Murgo to stop so that I might explore this wonderland. Wishing to be alone, I left Murgo and Lorenzo with the coach and slowly strolled up the valley.
Such, I mused, must have been the Garden of Eden tended by Adam and Eve in the days of their innocence. Deep in meditation on all this loveliness, I came upon the ruins of a castle, or possibly the remnant of a monastery. Behind the tall front wall I discovered a sort of cloister. Large-leafed vines in full bloom masked it and only a close inspection revealed a small portal. I tapped on the door with a knocker tarnished green from long disuse.
Half of the portal swung open and there stood before me an old man in a brown cowl and habit, a white beard framing his sallow cheeks. He looked like a hermit of ancient times. He gazed at me for a long, silent moment, an absent, abstracted look in his eyes-the look of a man who has dismissed this world.
Then, without reply to my greeting, he said: "You have come."
The unexpectedness of the words took away my breath! I had come here by sheer accident—on a whim of home-sickness-and this person had been expecting me! And, as if to confirm this declaration, he opened the door wide and with a silent nod of his head directed me into a side room where refreshments were waiting.
"Dona Isabella Manriquez de Lara, this Santo Nino Jesus is your appointed gift, destined as dowry for your daughter. Do you not see which way He is facing? To the north and the east. That is the way He will go with Senorita Maria Ana after her espousals to Lord Vratislav of Pernstyn. This Santo Nino Jesus will bring peace and piety to that nation now seething in the cauldron of religious strife and war." Then, lifting the case, he placed it in my arms.
I stood stunned, awed that this friar, in the solitude of the forest, should have had not only the assurance of my coming, but also the knowledge of my name and even of your departure to Bohemia. Silently he led me back and bade me sit down. Then he told me this story:
"Until a year ago," he began, "four friars by the will of the Most High survived in these ruins of their monastery, sacked threescore years ago by the retreating Moors. Then at Pentecost, the youngest of them was called to heaven. This statue was the occasion of his going.
"Brother Joseph of the Holy House was humble with the simplicity of a child. His hands, tapered and delicate like a girl's, were as deft and clever as an artist's. His devotion to the divine infancy was so vivid and personal that, whether in kitchen or vegetable garden, he used to talk softly as if the Child Jesus were there with him in person. He confessed that again and again he had pleaded with the Santo Nino to show Himself to him as the Boy He was with Mary and Joseph in the holy home of Nazareth.
"One day while Brother Joseph was scrubbing the hallway there suddenly stood before him a boy with a beauty not of this world. 'How you do make the floor glisten, good Brother,' the Child exclaimed. 'Can you say the Hail Mary?'
"Brother Joseph put down his scrub cloth, folded his hands, and with downcast eyes began the angelic salutation. At the words 'and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,' the Boy interrupted with 'That is 1,' and forthwith He disappeared.
" 'Come back to me, Little Jesus, or I'll die of yearning!' Day after day the friar pleaded, in chapel, garden, or cell. Once he thought he heard a voice: 'I'll come, only be prepared at My coming to make a waxen image just as I am'.
"Brother Joseph forthwith hastened to the prior, gave an account of the vision and the voice, and begged for an allowance of wax. He never before made a statue, but what experience lacked, love and anticipation supplied. So with deft fingers, paring knife, and artist's brush the good man molded and carved again and again the model of the Divine Child, which was as clear to his mind's eye as it had been to his physical eye on the day of the apparition. Each figure, better than the one before, was kneaded back into a ball of wax in readiness for the coming of the Child.
"At last the day arrived when, surrounded by angels, the Child Jesus appeared and took His pose. As if the hour were by appointment, Brother Joseph took up the wax, kneaded it in his palms, then skillfully began to mold it against the prepared frame of wood, fingertips giving it shape, knife blade carving in exact similitude of the Model, soft brush touching color to eyes and cheeks and the folds of the garment. With a last lingering look from statue to Model and back again, Brother Joseph of the Holy House, with a sigh of ecstatic joy, rested his head on his folded hands before his statue, and the angels took his soul with them as they returned home to their King.
"Thus the friars found him and laid away his mortal remains, proposing to place the wondrous statue upon the altar. But on the very night of his burial Brother Joseph appeared to the prior as he slept, and said:
" This statue, made by unworthy me, is not for you. Within the year, Dona Isabella Manriquez de Lara will appear and you shall give it to her as dowry for her daughter who will transport it to Bohemia, and from the queen city of that kingdom it will come to be know as the Infant Jesus of Prague among peoples in many lands. Grace, peace, and mercy shall come to the land He hath chosen for His dwelling place; its peoples shall be His people and He shall be their Little King.'
"Now you have come", concluded the old friar. " I alone was left to await the day of your coming, and I have now fulfilled this purpose. Now I may sing the Nunc dimittis of the Compline of my earthly days. You have Brother Joseph's statue, case and all. Go in peace and pray for my soul."
Since I've had this wondrous statue, Dona Isabella continued, my heart has been at ease about your future. For this reason I agreed to your marriage with Lord Vratislav of Pernstyn, who takes you so far away, forever. I held myself custodian of this blessed treasure destined for you by this mystic appointment.
Let me add the closing chapter to this history, as enigmatic as was the beginning. One evening, as I knelt in meditation before the Santo Nino, a spell of urgency came upon me to visit once again that mysterious monastery in the plumbago-covered ruins down south of the Guadalquivir. With Lorenzo and Murgo I found the valley easily enough, for its Eden-like luxuriance had deeply impressed itself upon my mind, but try as we would we found no trace or hint of the cloister's existence. The valley was the same, the arching trees, and the vines swaying from their branches, but no vestige of any building was there. I questioned the peasants who had lived in the vicinity all their lives, but no one had ever heard of such a place, let alone seen it. It had simply vanished like a castle in fairyland. Was this only a fancy induced by a homesick heart? Who knows?