Christ Child

This article is about the historical and religious figure. For the Christmas gift-bringer he inspired, see Christkind.

The Christ Child, also known as Divine Infant, Baby Jesus, Infant Jesus, Child Jesus, the Holy Child, and Santo Niño, refers to Jesus Christ from his nativity to age 12. Upon reaching 13 years-old he was considered to be an adult in accordance with the Jewish custom of his time. The canonical Gospels lack any narration of the years between Jesus' infancy and the Finding in the Temple when he was twelve.

Liturgical feast days

Liturgical feasts relating to Christ's infancy and the Christ Child include:

Depictions in art

Saint Anthony of Padua adoring the Christ Child. Oil on canvas, 1622 by Antonio de Pereda.

From about the third or fourth century onwards, the child Jesus is frequently shown in paintings, and sculpture. Commonly these are nativity scenes showing the birth of Jesus, with his mother, Mary, and his foster father Joseph.

Depictions as a baby with the Virgin Mary, known as Madonna and Child, are iconographical types in Eastern and Western traditions. Other scenes from his time as a baby, of his circumcision, presentation at the temple, the adoration of the Magi, and the flight into Egypt, are common.[1] Scenes showing his developing years are more rare but not unknown.

Saint Joseph, Anthony of Padua, and Saint Christopher are often depicted holding the Christ Child. The Christian mystics Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Therese of Lisieux, along with the devotees of Divino Niño such as Mother Angelica and Father Giovanni Rizzo claim to have had apparitions of Jesus as a toddler.

During the Middle Ages

The Christ Child was a popular subject in European wood sculpture beginning in the 1300s.[2]

The popularity of the Christ child was well known in Spain under the title Montanesino after the santero sculptor Juan Martínez Montañés who began the trend. These icons of the Christ Child was often posed in the contrapposto style in which the positioning of the knees reflected in the opposite direction,[3] similar to ancient depictions of the Roman Emperor.

The growth of images being made were quite popular among nobility, while some images were also used to colonize kingdoms such of Spain and Portugal. Colonial images of the Christ child also began to wear vestments, a pious practice developed by the santero culture in later colonial years, carrying the depiction of holding the globus cruciger, a bird symbolizing a soul or the Holy Spirit or various paraphernalia related to its locality or region.

Jesus (on the right with aureole) animating the clay bird toys of his playmates. Klosterneuburger Evangelienwerk, Germania, 14th century.

The symbolism of the Child Jesus in art reached its apex during the Renaissance: the Holy Family was a central theme in the works of Leonardo da Vinci and many other masters.[4]

Tàladh Chrìosda

Tàladh Chrìosda (Christ Child Lullaby) is a Scottish carol from Moidart, Scotland. The Catholic priest Father Ranald Rankin, wrote the lyrics for Midnight Mass around the year 1855. He originally wrote 29 verses in Scottish Gaelic, but the popular English translation is limited to five. The melody, Cumha Mhic Arois (lament for Mac Àrois), is from the Hebrides and was a sung as a protective charm for the fisherman away at sea. The rhythm mirrors the rhythm of the surf. It is sung in the Hebrides at Midnight Mass of Christmas Eve.

In the apocryphal texts

A number of apocryphal texts, the Infancy Gospels grew up with legendary accounts of the intervening period, and these are sometimes depicted. These stories were intended to show Jesus as having extraordinary gifts of power and knowledge, even from the youngest age. One common pious tale has the young Jesus animating sparrows out of clay belonging to his playmates. When admonished for doing so on the Sabbath, he causes the birds to fly away.[5]

As pious image of veneration

Several historically significant images of Jesus Christ as a child have received Canonical Coronations from the Pope, namely the Infant Jesus of Prague, the Santo Niño de Cebú in the Philippines, and the Santo Bambino of Aracoeli in Rome.

In the seventeenth century veneration of the Christ Child under the title the "Little King of Beaune" was promoted by French Carmelites.[6] In the late nineteenth century devotion to the Holy Child of Remedy developed in Madrid.[7]

See also


  1. Ferguson, George. Signs & symbols in Christian art, 1966, Oxford University Press US, p.76
  2. "Christ Child", The J.Paul Getty Museum
  3. "Contrapposto".
  4. "Holy Family", Encyclopedia Britannica Online
  5. Roten, J. and Janssen, T., "Jesus as a Child"
  6. Descouvemont, Pierre., Therese and Lisieux, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996 ISBN 9780802838360
  7. "Brief History of the Holy Child of Remedy", Friends of Anne of St. Bartolomew
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