PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – I realised this was a church to be taken seriously when the Czech woman in the adjacent pew glared at a group of school kids who’d just clattered in.
My mum takes churches like this seriously. My aunty takes them über seriously. I – well – I like churches but I don’t take them that seriously.
In wax we trust
For those of you who don’t have Irish mothers, firstly: congratulations on being spared endless cups of chewable Irish tea. And secondly: congratulations on not knowing the Infant of Prague, because I can now fill you in…
The Infant of Prague is a 45cm wax effigy of the infant Christ who is said to have spread miraculous healings and blessings to locals during his 400 years in the city.
Christians call him ‘Bambino di Praga’ – or Child of Prague – and travel across the world in their droves to pay their respects to him at The Church of Our Lady Victorious.
According to Deirdre (my mum), the Infant of Prague is THE small guy to pray to in times of need.
He’s helped my aunty’s heart stay strong 'as an ox’ after operation. Helped me get safely to Prague (thank you). And helped my mum recover from cancer. Fair play.
He has also – I jest you not – a better wardrobe than me with upwards of 100 doll-sized gowns that he wears depending on the liturgical season.
In fact, head upstairs and you can visit the small, but fascinating museum, dedicated to the Infant’s various robes. It includes a robe that was embroidered, by hand, by Empress Maria Theresa, and a crown donated to the statue by Pope Benedict XVI.
So, when I came face-to-wax face with Bambino di Praga, I was happy to show my reverence by being hushed in his presence, like so many other good Christians had been over the years.
The sound of silence
The Altar of the Infant Jesus is on the right-hand side as you enter The Church of Our Lady Victorious, and the Infant himself is set inside a glass box high up on the red and grey marble.
Silver cherubs and angels swirl by his sides, in what can only be described as a sacred rip curl of precious metals and golden sunbursts.
To his left, St. Joseph and to his right, Our Lady. And somewhere amongst the gilded milieu (I later learn) is God; allegorically represented as an old man.
With the church atmosphere so silent it's almost sliceable, I look for the nearest – and best – pew to be able to take in the full glory of the miraculous Infant of Prague, who my mother and most of my Irish relatives have so much faith in.
The sound of… WTF!
The pew that offers both solitude and a perfect vista, is the one opposite the Czech lady, who frowned away the school children. And who is now head-bent in contemplative prayer.
I’ve never been very good at shimmying in and out of pews – although I’ve had enough practice over the years thanks to Deirdre – so I feel a bead of sweat trickle down my spine at the anxious prospect of getting into this one totally noise-free.
Pushing the fatly embroidered kneeling cushions out of harms way, I steadying myself, using the wooden pews as immobility rails, until I reach the perfect vantage point for my moment of Christian reverence.
Very relieved I didn’t disturb the fierce Czech lady opposite, I take a deep, smug breath – and sit down.
On my bag.
Which has my rape alarm in it.
Which goes off.
And screams out the sound equivalent of:
“HOLY FXK, HOLY FXK, HOLY FXK-er-tee-FXK!”
At this point, I have two options: apologise to the Czech lady who was now staring at me, white as a sheet, and then say 30 Hail Marys to the Infant of Prague, who is also wide-eyed in horror.
Needless to say, I left the church and the Infant of Prague a lot quicker than the group of school children had.
I just hope Deirdre forgives me.