Sto. Niño de Praga

The Abbey Church was dedicated to the Holy Infant of Prague when it was consecrated in 1926. The image of the Holy Infant sculpted in 1905 was installed above the Abbatial throne of the altar. Since then, the devotion to the Holy Infant of Prague has become part of the tradition of San Beda University. The annual triduum-novena and procession during the last weekend of January are religious activities anticipated not only by the members of the Bedan community but also by devotees of the Holy Infant all over Metro Manila.

The devotion to the Holy Infant of Prague has its origins in the latter part of the Thirty Years War which ravaged Europe from 1618 to 1648. The war broke out as a result of the claim of Frederick the Elector Palatine to the throne of Bohemia, which is now Czechoslovakia. It was a religious war involving the German Protestant and Catholic princes at the start, and later, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, France, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Against the backdrop of religious and political hostilities unfolds the story of the Discalced Carmelites of Prague, who initiated and promoted the devotion to the Holy Infant. The Emperor Ferdinand II was their patron and protector, and when he left Prague for Vienna, they fell into hard times. A benefactress, Princess Polyxena, widow of Albert of Lobkowitz, came to their aid. Sometime in 1628 the Princess decided that she should give the community more than just material support. She gave them her most precious possession, a statue of the Infant Jesus, which she had brought from Spain and which had been given to her mother as a wedding gift. The statue was made of wax, 48 cm. high, its right hand extended in blessing and its left holding a golden globe. The image was installed in the church of St. Mary of the Victory, which was dedicated to the Blessed Mother in thanksgiving for the victory of the Catholic forces over the Protestants at the White Mountain in 1620.

In 1630, because of the continuing hostilities of the Thirty Years War, the Carmelites had to leave Prague. Their church was profaned and the image of the Infant Jesus was thrown among the debris behind the main altar.

In 1631 the Carmelites returned to Prague, but only after 6 years was the image found behind the altar. Both hands had been broken. The statue was reinstalled and sometime later the hands were restored. Prayers to the Infant Jesus saved the city from plague and twice from enemy invasion, namely, in 1637 and 1639. Miraculous cures have been obtained through devotion to him. The cult of the Holy Infant of Prague spread throughout Europe, and the Carmelites served as its custodians.

The devotion to the Sto. Niño is the oldest and probably the most popular in the Philippines. Pigafetta reports that a statue of the Holy Child was given to the wife of the chieftain of Cebu after her baptism. Forty four years later, in 1565, when Legaspi and his men settled in Cebu, an image of a child was found in a box among some ruins. It was probably the statue given by Magellan. The major Sto. Niño festivities in the Philippines include those in Tondo, Pandacan, Cebu, Kalibo, and Tacloban.

On December 13, 1903, the Benedictine community in Manila agreed to establish the Confraternity of the Infant Jesus for the students of the Colegio de San Beda. The following day the students presented to the Rector a formal petition for the establishment of a confraternity.

The hymn O Niño Dios was composed by Fr. Jaime Bofill, O.S.B. who taught music at the Colegio. On January 17, 1904, the feast of the Sto. Niño at San Beda was celebrated for the first time. Since no statue was available, a framed picture of the Holy Child was used. On November 4, 1904, a wooden image of the Sto. Niño de Praga was installed at the chapel of the Benedictine community in Tanduay. It was made by Maximo Vicente and it is said to be a copy of the image venerated in the church of the Salesian Sisters in Barcelona, Spain.

On December 28, 1904, the Archbishop of Manila, Jeremias Harty, gave permission for the establishment of the Confraternity of the Sto. Niño de Praga. The first procession of the Sto. Niño with the image by Maximo Vicente was held on January 20, 1905. Its route was from the Colegio de San Beda on Arlegui to the chapel of the Benedictine community on Balmes Street.

The Benedictine Priory in Manila was raised to an Abbey in 1924, and in 1926 the Abbey and the Colegio de San Beda moved to new buildings on Mendiola Street. Since then, the shrine of the Sto. Niño de Praga has been in the Abbey Church of Our Lady of Montserrat. Since 1975, the Feast of the Santo Niño de Praga has been celebrated by the Benedictine Abbey in Manila as a Solemnity.

The Pista ng Santo Niño triduum is celebrated from Friday to Sunday on the last weekend of January.  




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