A friend, a lapsed Catholic, was at the family home for her mother’s funeral. Her sister called from the mother’s bedroom, “Lisa, where is Mom’s statue of The Infant of Prague?” Lisa’s partner, a lapsed Congregationalist, looked puzzled, “The impotent frog?”
The Infant of Prague statue was the American Boy Doll of my Catholic childhood in the fifties. My mother had an eight-inch statue of the IOP under a glass dome on her beloved Ethan Allen sideboard. The cherubic child with the ornate dresses and enviable golden curls, held up two fingers of the right hand, not in a victory sign, more an iPad swipe. In the left hand, the child held an orb that looked a lot like the decorative but dusty, gold-banded Courvoisier bottle filled with blue-colored water in the musty pine-paneled basement bar my parents never used. My Dad was so not Mad Men.
Like the American Girl Doll, the IOP came with his own infant-icon back story. The statue’s lineage is an extended episode of Antiques Roadshow. The original wax-coated wooden statue has been traced back through Polish Princesses and Papal patents to Teresa of Avila, a major mystic and heavy-hitting self-flagellator during the Inquisition. Congratulations! You’ve got something there!
It is not clear from my own extensive wiki-search how the IOP, heirloom of Polish nobility and mascot of the Carmelites, came to be the patron saint of felicitous weather. Even today I hear otherwise secular planners of family reunions, gay weddings and outdoor fundraisers say they have, “turned the statue around” in hopes of good weather. Just in case.
Our family IOP is quite antique. If I could find him, I would put him on a lazy Susan on the windowsill. It has spun through many shifting winds of different papacies just in my lifetime: Pius XII the anti-Semitic dried apple head pope; John XXIII who opened the Vatican windows to let in some air; John Paul who installed double-paned Anderson windows then locked them tight, and Benedict XVI who put bars on the windows and installed a better alarm system. I only wish I had paid more attention to the Roman numerals. I’d be such a better crossword puzzle solver.
Pope Francis I certainly started off his papacy with some hopeful gestures: bus-riding, soccer loving, papal crowd surfing, prisoner foot-washing. Unlike ex-Benedict, he didn’t seem to scare the children. But soon the Pope was kicking the nuns off his bus, and espousing the Papal party line of the glories of celibacy and evils of homosexuality. Turns out it was all atmospherics. The impotent fog.