Jana Volfová - Twists of Fate - in History and Myths
Our readers who know Czech are already familiar with the many articles written by Jana Volfova. This time we have selected a tale from her latest book concerning a relic which is beloved by all Catholics on our planet. In the following text we left out only details about the church history; those places are indicated by dots in brackets.
The Infant Jesus of Prague
The Infant Jesus of Prague is also known as L’enfant charitable de Prague, Bambino Giesu di Praga, Das gnadenreiche Jesuskindlein von Prag or El Niňo Jesus di Praga…
We could continue in other languages, but all titles would mean one thing: The name of a little wax figurine of Infant Jesus originally brought to the Czech lands by Marie Manrique de Lara, a Spanish aristocratic lady, who married one of the richest noblemen of the 16th century, namely Vratislav of Pernštejn. The couple had eleven children; nine daughters and two sons. Even though they were members of nobility, it was hard to find suitable bridegrooms for the daughters – especially after their father’s death and subsequent financial difficulties. Therefore it is likely that the pious Lady of Pernštejn often turned for help and solace to the little statue of Infant Jesus which reminded her of her old home and carefree youth. She gradually succeeded to marry off all her daughters.
Her greatest success was undoubtedly the marriage of her 20-year old beautiful daughter Polyxena to Vilém of Rožmberk. The bridegroom was actually almost thirty years older than the bride, but he came from the most important family in the kingdom. As a wedding gift the bride received from her mother the memorable statuette of the Infant Jesus – maybe in the hope that the fourth marriage of childless Vilém of Rožmberk would finally be blessed with an heir. That did not happen. Vilém died five years after the wedding. The young widow moved to a castle in Roudnice and for a while it seemed that she would remain unmarried. However, after long eleven years she did get married, at age thirty six, to a Zdeněk Popel of Lobkovic. He was a year younger than his new wife, very well educated, a skilled politician and the leader of the Catholic nobility in the Czech lands. The marriage remained childless for a long time. But in 1609 Polyxena – now forty two years old – gave birth to a healthy boy, whom the happy parents named Václav Eusebius. To have a first child at that age was and still is a small miracle. When Polyxena’s husband died nineteen years later in 1628, Polyxena donated the little statue of Infant Jesus to the church of the barefooted Carmelites in the Lesser Quarter of Prague. [...]
The Carmelites were not doing too well in Prague at the time. First of all, the country was being ravaged by the thirtyyear war and the members of the order were not getting the promised support from the Emperor. According to legend, the Carmelite monks suddenly received from the Emperor - in 1628 - an income of 2000 gulden and a regular allowance of food, just after obtaining the little statuette of the Infant Jesus from Polyxena of Lobkovic. But three years later the monks faced other problems. Troops from Saxony invaded the city and plundered ruthlessly wherever they went. Some of them destroyed the interior of the Church of St. Mary the Victorious, stole all valuable objects and tossed the little sculpture of Infant Jesus into a corner of the oratory with other trash. It stayed there for the next ten years while the country was being devastated by fighting armies.
In 1638 a few of the Carmelites returned to the monastery. One of them, Brother Cyril, discovered the little statue dressed in a faded blue gown and placed it again on the altar. A certain former military commissar offered to repair the figurine’s broken legs. Thereafter he was miraculously cleared of a false accusation and also his family situation suddenly improved. When the founder of the monastery, Father Dominik, became ill, he promised to take better care of the little sculpture if he would be healed. Soon thereafter he became well again. During the hard times of the thirty-year war many believers – rich and poor – turned to the little statue of Infant Jesus in prayer. The number of miraculous healings increased. The believers would bring the statuette many gifts to express their gratitude for its intercession and for wishes granted. During the invasion by the Swedish army that occupied the left bank of the river Vltava in 1648, he residents of the Lesser Quarter would bring their possessions to the church in the hope that they would not be stolen. The monastery became a shelter for the poor and also for the injured Swedish soldiers. Upon the request of the monastery’s prior, General Konigsmarck established a special patrol to guard the church and the monastery. As a result the whole area was protected from pillaging. Even the supreme Swedish military commander (who later became King Karl Gustav) visited the church and gave the Infant Jesus thirty ducats.
Since the second half of the 17th century, the fame of the Infant Jesus as a miraculous intercessor for those who could not have children spread all over Europe and later all over the world. Replicas of the miraculous statuette appeared in many Catholic churches. They are still greatly honored especially in Spanish-speaking countries, such as Mexico, and in Central and South America. In the 1950’s the representatives of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia were greatly embarrassed because the delegation from the Vietnam People’s Republic brought a beautiful dress as a gift for the Infant Jesus.
And this brings us to another noteworthy fact: The little statue of the Infant Jesus owns a large collection of beautiful gowns. They are decorated with rich embroidery and with pearls and other jewels. They were handmade by women in gratitude for help received. One outfit was even sewn by the Empress Maria Theresa herself, who gave birth to many children, but was not particularly fond of the Czechs. The collection of clothes for Baby Jesus is cared for by nuns. They change the Infant’s outfits according to the church calendar: It wears a red dress before Christmas, a lilac one before Easter, then green… Since the 18th century the sculpture has been enclosed in a glass cabinet placed on a base of gilded silver and you will find it on the right side in the church. The figurine has a beautiful little crown on its head. It holds an imperial apple in its left hand and its right hand gives blessings to the believers. Around its neck hangs a miniature version of the highest order of the land – The Order of the Golden Fleece.
This little statuette made by an unknown woodcarver in Spain five hundred years ago gives hope to the believers, and delights the non-believer by its gentle sweetness. Because of the Infant Jesus, the church of St. Mary the Victorious is one of the most visited and most famous sights of Prague, second only to the Hradčany Castle.
Twists of Fate in History and Myths – Dějin a mýtů hrátky osudné
Daranus 2007, 288 pages,
approx. 50 illustrations,
recom. price 269 Kč;
Free continuation of the successful and repeatedly published book Twists of Fate in Czech History – Českých dějin hrátky osudné. Most of the stories in this book were originally written for the readers of our journal. The stories in her new book also predominantly deal with Czech themes but she also acquaints us with some important personalities and incidents of countries near and far. We find here some ancient Egyptian, antique or biblical stories. Starting with the oldest times we finally find ourselves in the 20th century. Here we are captivated by e.g. the narration about the Battle of Zborov or about the fateful year 1938. Concerning unusual personalities, we learn more about Antonín Dvořák, or the physician and traveler Emil Holub or the writer Jaroslav Hašek – Love Story With a Bitter Taste, or we find reminders of some pronouncements of Jan Masaryk – The Great Son of a Great Father.
Volfova has a gift of a "light pen" – she knows how to tell stories engagingly and with wit – relating tales both serious or funny, tragic or comic. She has also included many stories about women often omitted by other writers. In forty three chapters of her last book we find much that might be helpful to us to better understand the present times and possibly also ourselves. The book is suitably complemented by drawings by Ludmila Lojdova, artist and illustrator.
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JanaVolfova (1944), writer and publicist, was born in Veselé near Mnichovo Hradiště which is close to the enchanting region entitled the Czech Eden. After studies at Charles University she taught history and geography at the venerable Prague Academic Gymnasium which recently celebrated its 550-th anniversary of its founding. She says that she loves Prague (where she spends most of each year) almost as much as she loves her country of birth and its history. Her writing career started in earnest in 1998 after being encouraged by the editor of the Czech Dialogue where most of her stories were first published. The best of them are included in her last book.Selected excerpt and following
texts by Jarmila Lakosilová
Translated by Marie Dolanska
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