The exact origin of the Infant Jesus statue is not known, but historical sources point to a 19‑inch (48 cm) sculpture of the Holy Child with a bird in his right hand currently located in the Cistercian monastery of Santa María de la Valbonna in Asturias, Spain, which was carved around the year 1340. Many other Infant Jesus sculptures were also carved by famous masters throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. Often found in early medieval work, the significance of the bird symbolizes either a soul or the Holy Spirit. The sculptures of the Holy Child were dressed in imperial regalia reflecting the aristocratic fashion of that period.
One legend says that a monk in a desolated monastery somewhere between Cordoba and Sevilla had a vision of a little boy, telling him to pray. The monk had spent several hours praying and then he made a figure of the child.
The House of Habsburg began ruling the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1526; the kingdom developed close ties with Spain. The statue first appeared in 1556, when María Maximiliana Manriquez de Lara y Mendoza brought the image to Bohemia upon her marriage to Czech nobleman Vratislav of Pernstyn. An old legend in the Lobkowicz family reports that María's mother, Doña Isabella, had been given the statue by Saint Teresa of Ávila herself. María received the family heirloom as a wedding present. It later became the property of her daughter, Polyxena, 1st Princess Lobkowicz (1566–1642). In 1628, Princess Polyxena von Lobkowicz donated the statue to the Discalced Carmelite friars (White Friars).
Upon presenting it, the pious Princess Polyxena of Lobkowicz is said to have uttered a prophetic statement to the religious:
Venerable Fathers, I bring you my dearest possession. Honour this image and you shall never want.
The statue was placed in the oratory of the monastery of Our Lady of Victory, Prague, where special devotions to Jesus were offered before it twice a day. The Carmelite novices professed their vow of poverty in the presence of the Divine Infant. Upon hearing of the Carmelites' devotions and needs, the Emperor Ferdinand II of the House of Habsburg sent along 2,000 florins and a monthly stipend for their support.
In 1630, the Carmelite novitiate was transferred to Munich. Disturbances in Bohemia due to the Thirty Years War brought an end to the special devotions, and on 15 November 1631 the army of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden took possession of Bohemia's capital city. The Carmelite friary was plundered and the image of the Infant of Prague was thrown into a pile of rubbish behind the altar. Here it lay forgotten for seven years, its hands broken off, until in 1637 it was found again by Father Cyrillus and placed in the church's oratory. One day, while praying before the statue, Father Cyrillus claimed to have 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.
Since then, the statue has remained in Prague and has drawn many devotees worldwide to honour the Holy Child. Claims of blessings, favours and miraculous healings have been made by many who petitioned before the Infant Jesus.
In 1739, the Carmelites of the Austrian Province formed a special devotion apart from their regular apostolate. In 1741, the statue was moved to the epistle side of the church of Our Lady of Victory in Prague.
Copies of the Infant Jesus of Prague statue have been distributed widely. A similar statue with an entirely different history, from Spain, known as the Santo Nino de Atocha (who was said to walk the hills and valleys of Spain in the 12th Century, bringing food and drink to prisoners of war in Muslim-Conquered Atocha, and to Spanish refugees and to Mexican Silver Miners trapped in a silver mine in Zacatecas, Mexico) arrived in the Philippines with Ferdinand Magellan and the Augustinian missionaries in 1521, during the first circumnavigation of the Earth. During the first years of the christianization of Archipelago, the sacred image helped convert the Filipino people to Catholicism and is locally called Santo Niño (literally, "holy child"). It is currently housed in a Spanish-style church built in 1739. A yearly nine-day celebration or novena was introduced in 1889 that includes a procession held in the statue's honour, attracting over a million pilgrims each January. The expressions, accessories and hand posture of Santo Niño de Cebú are similar to the Infant Jesus of Prague, and it is believed that both statues originated from the same European source, with the devotion to Santo Niño starting earlier of the two. Copies of the statue have been venerated by Spanish-speaking Catholic faithful in churches around the world.