The making of Infant Jesus in wax, an artistic tradition also present among the SNJM sisters

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As part of the artifact inventory at Central Archive Department, which began in April 2023, the museum technician in charge of this project recently documented many Infant Jesus’ made of wax.

Infant Jesus in wax, made by Sr. Marie-Clémence

Although we have few traces of this practice in the congregation’s archives, these artifacts that have been preserved bear witness of the devotion of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary to the Infant Jesus. 

In our collections, we currently have eleven Infant Jesus’ in wax and a mold that was once used to make them. The question is, did the sisters make these figurines themselves? The answer was found in the obituary of Sister Marie-Clémence, whose name was associated with three of these Infant Jesus’ in wax.

Sr. Marie-Clémence, SNJM (Philomène Hamel)

In 1896, Sister Marie-Clémence injured her spine and after that, couldn’t do heavy domestic duties. In 1907, Sister Marie-Clémence was appointed to Hochelaga, where she was noticed for her artistic skills in decorating the cakes she baked. In 1913, she received, from the superiors, an obedience created for her and renewed every year thereafter: the molding of plaster statues and the Infant Jesus in wax.

Infant Jesus in wax, made by Sr. Marie-Clémence

From what we can understand, the making of Infant Jesus in wax was not yet established in the community, although it had been introduced in New France by the communities of nuns of the Augustinians and Ursulines[1]. Sister Marie-Clémence received few lessons and perfected her skills on her own, with the help of the painting and drawing teacher she consulted regularly. Over the years, she shared her knowledge and skills with a number of sisters from other countries as well as other sisters from the SNJM Community who were sent to help her. She even hoped to find a sister who would continue her work, which she saw as an apostolate. The eyes used for the wax figures were ordered from Europe, and the blond hair was donated by some of the sisters in the community.

Currently, we have no idea how many Infant Jesus Sister Marie-Clémence produced during her lifetime. However, her 1945 obituary mentions that it would be impossible to “number the churches and chapels now exposing in their Christmas crib an Infant Jesus made by Sister Marie-Clémence”.

Infant Jesus in wax, made by Sr. Marie-Clémence

Certain questions remain: was this obedience passed on following the death of
Sister Marie-Clémence, as she had wished? Was there a studio in the Motherhouse set aside for the making of the Infant Jesus in wax? And many more questions to ask!

The treatment of this lot and its linking with the congregation’s archives will have allowed us to learn a little bit more about the presence of this practice among the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and the importance of these objects in our collections.


[1] Monastère des Augustines. (2018, December 3). The Wax Jesus.