One of the things that I wanted to be absolutely sure to see while I was in Prague was the statue of the Infant of Prague. This little (it’s small!!) wax statue, located in the Church of Our Lady Victorious, is a highly venerated image of baby Jesus….or for some of us, Ellegua. (Maferefun, Ellegua!). This is one of the popular and fairly common syncretizations for Ellegua and it’s my favorite.
The day after we visited Sedlec and Kutna Hora (I know, I know, I’m getting out of order, but I promise I’ll write about that amazing visit most likely tomorrow), we went to various special sites in Prague. One of them, was the Church of Our Lady Victorious. I didn’t know what to expect. I have a statue of the Infant of Prague for Ellegua, but that’s a far different cry from actually being in the presence of such a venerated relic.
Firstly, with all due respect, the Czech Republic seems very different from Poland in the matter of piety. Many of the Churches we visited were no longer active, which was very disconcerting for me personally to experience. All in all, there wasn’t the visible display of piety that I found in Poland. I even had one woman tell me that the majority of her countrymen were atheists (I think she was likely exaggerating, but it seems that WWII and the Soviet occupation had a deep, abiding, and corrosive impact on the faith of the people). Perhaps I am simplifying but whereas in Poland, the devotional piety was so palpable I felt like I could almost grab it and wrap myself in it like a blanket, in Prague, I mostly sensed vestiges of it long, long past. (It’s worth pointing out that the Czech Republic was also a battleground during the Catholic – Protestant wars in the 17th century and that surely had is repercussions here too).** So I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into this church (goin’ to church to visit Ellegua…. ^_^).
I was pleasantly surprised. Oh my Gods, when I first walked in, my belly was all -aflutter. I was excited at the prospect of finally getting to see the Infant of Prague in person. There was a queue, a devotional queue! He is placed centrally along the right-hand wall, in an elaborate shrine and there’s room in front of the shrine for worshippers to go, kneel, and pray. To His right, to my surprise, was a Black Madonna, given to the Church by Brazil. I have a deep love for the Black Madonna and saw four of Them on this trip. Sadly, I did not make it to Czestochowa, but I do intend to visit there too one day. This one took me as a surprise. Since there was a little crowd praying around and before the Infant of Prague (Ellegua!), I first paid my respects to the Black Madonna and only then made my way to the prayer book – written in multiple languages—that rested on the railing in front of the Infant.
I spent some time paying my respects, praying, and eventually making offerings (candles….one could buy and light plenty of candles in the church. I really need to get a multi-tiered iron tea light holder for my ancestor shrine room…). That was all. Then I went to the small religious gift shop attached to the church and got a few things for my Ellegua shrine (including holy water from the church, and a small replica of the Infant of Prague).
It may sound uneventful, but it was really quite exciting for me. There’s a synergy in that Church, around that shrine that words fail me in describing. It was, yet again, one of those places where all the ragged threads of my religious and spiritual journey through the years came full circle and it was delightful. Maferefun, Ellegua!
** Vestiges of this history show up in some of the religious imagery in the churches too. A the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, the violence of the imagery – saints murdering Protestants—right central to the main altar instead of the crucifixion really disturbed my more –or-less Protestant traveling companion. I pointed out that the iconography was no friendlier toward my kind: on one side they had saints slaughtering Protestants, and on the other, Pagans. That church was, however, an anomaly. We spent more time than usual in it only because of the amazing acoustics – we attended a concert there one evening.