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St. Wilgefortis Statue in Prague

Creative Commons/ Hynek Moravec
The Church of Loreto is a distinctive sight in Prague and withholds many treasuries and chapels in its folds. However, one peculiar and fascinating chapel has a very interesting and weird tale behind it. This is the chapel of 'Our lady of sorrows' in Loreto. It houses the statue of St Wilgefortis, a bearded and crucified female saint.
There are many versions of the story behind this peculiar statue. It is said the Wilgefortis's father had promised her hand to a pagan king. However, Wilgefortis was pious and did not want to marry the heathen king. She took a vow of virginity and prayed for a miracle to happen that would save her from the marriage. A miracle did happen. Instead of something happening to the pagan king, Wilgefortis developed a beard instead! This led to the engagement being dissolved. Wilgefortis's father was so outraged by her freaky beard that he had her crucified. This lady has become a source of inspiration to the oppressed unhappily married women all across the globe.

However interesting the tale might seem, it is not the truth behind the existence of the statue. This mystery traces back its origin to the 11th century. There is a wooden carving  of the Santo of Lucca or the Holy face from this era, believed to be the work of Nicodemus. However, there was one difference in this carving. Jesus was portrayed in a tunic or a full length  dress instead of the customary loin cloth. This was common practice until the early Middle Ages, which was later abandoned in favour of the loin cloth.

When the images of Saint Lucca , came to be circulated in the later ages, they confused the westerners. The cross dressed statue of Jesus became a puzzle. So they came up with the story of Wilgefortis, to explain the mystery of the cross dressed Jesus. Wilgefortis became very popular, especially in the fifteenth and the sixteenth century, circulated all over Europe and came to be called the Liberator or the Strong Virgin. Visit Prague to view the St Wilgefortis statue at the Loreto Church.

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