Interesting Wedding Customs: Ireland: Child of Prague
The Child of Prague tradition is an interesting one. The majority of Irish weddings that we photograph involve the child in some way. Either the couples themselves or their families place their faith in the child to ensure good weather on the day. We thought we'd take a look at the infant's history to see how this custom began and why.
Where did he come from?
Although the child is synonymous with Prague, his history begins in Spain where a small carved statue of the Holy Child was placed in a monastery in 1340. Then later in 1555 a similar small statue of the infant Jesus was given as a wedding gift to a Spanish noblewoman called Maria Manrique de Lara y Mendoza. The legend is that Maria was gifted the child by St. Teresa of Avila.
Maria then brought the statue to Bohemia and gave it to her daughter Princess Polyxena von Lobkowicz who in turn presented it to the Carmelites. It was given pride of place in the oratory of the monastery of Our Lady of Victory in Prague.
During the Thirty Years War the monastery was plundered and the statue was discarded in a pile of rubbish where its hands were broken off. It was rediscovered in 1637 by Father Cyrillus who reportedly heard a voice say, “Have pity on me, and I will have pity on you. Give me my hands, and I will give you peace. The more you honour me, the more I will bless you.” It has remained in that oratory ever since and has been linked to numerous healings and miracles. All subsequent Child of Prague statues are based on this original Spanish gift.
So what are the Irish Child of Prague wedding traditions?
There seem to be a few variations on the same theme. Some leave the child inside, in their hallway the night before a wedding. Some leave the child outside. Some leave the child outside under a bush.
Then there is the question of whether or not the child needs to be beheaded. This rather strange addition seems to come from the fact that the statues were, in the past, made rather shoddily. The neck was a weak stress point and when left outside over night, the clay or plaster of paris would contract in the cold and the head would invariably fall off. In our wisdom, we Irish decided that a decapitated baby Jesus was a good omen. Some people qualify this by claiming that the head then needs to be placed or glued back on the body.
There does seem to be an interesting connection to the original statue who lost its hands and pleaded with the priest to “Give me my hands, and I will give you peace.” So the statue has a history of both losing body parts and of rewarding people who reattach them.
Nowadays Irish people invested in their wedding day don’t like to take the chance that the infant’s head will fall off naturally, so customary and savage beheadings have become the norm. Improved statue quality and modern manufacturing quality control processes are to blame. Thankfully though it is in his nature to be forgiving and the infant does still seem to confer good weather to these zealous couples.
The Irish are alone in their belief that the child of Prague can influence the weather and it is unclear where this tradition started. The child was originally presented as a wedding gift so it has that connection. Perhaps Maria’s wedding day was full of sunshine, but then again, she was married in Spain, so that is more than likely to have been the case.
Whatever the truth, whatever the logic, our qualitative and speculative analysis is that they work. We have shot many many weddings and always notice that when there is emphasis on the Child of Prague, the weather is usually nicer than it was the day before.