« "From Mother to Sister: The Development in the Understanding of Mission in the Life and Writings of St. Therese of Lisieux and Its Contemporary Relevance," a thesis by Michelle Jones | Main | "Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway" opens a section in Spanish »

Relics of St. Therese of Lisieux: from the Archives of the Lisieux Carmel, eyewitness accounts of the exhumations of the relics and their return to Carmel

For October 19, 2010, the 13th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Therese of Lisieux as a Doctor of the Church and the second anniversary of the beatification of Louis and Zelie Martin at Lisieux, I am happy to present, by gracious permission of the Archives of the Lisieux Carmel, an English translation of accounts of the exhumations of the relics of St. Therese (1910 and 1917) and their solemn translation to the Carmel (March 26, 1923). Courtesy of the Carmel's archives, they are illustrated with photographs of the ceremonies in 1917 and 1923.

Eyewitness Accounts of the Exhumations
of the Relics of St. Therese of Lisieux

 
From the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux

 
Translated into English for www.thereseoflisieux.org

Edited by Maureen O’Riordan
 Copyright 2010 - Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux


 Introduction


      Sister Thérèse was buried in the cemetery of Lisieux on October 4, 1897. Below is a photo of her tomb in the Carmelite plot; this photo was taken before her body was exhumed in 1910.

 

The first tomb of Sister Therese of the Child Jesus, photographed before the 1910 exhumation of her body

     In 1910, the diocesan Process for her beatification was introduced.  According to the normal course of the process, it was interrupted on September 6, 1910 for the exhumation of her body, which had been deposited in the cemetery.  Her remains--that is, all the bones, since nothing else remained other than some debris of flesh and clothing—were then placed in a new casket in order to ensure a better state of preservation, and were interred near her original grave.

     During 1915, the Apostolic Process began, followed by a further exhumation on August 9 and 10, 1917.  An oak and lead coffin was put in the ground inside a simple brick vault.  Then, at the mortuary chapel of the Lisieux cemetery, the true recognition of the remains took place.  The bones were cleaned of the soil deposited on them between 1897 and 1910; they were carefully wrapped in fine linen to be transferred again into a small carved oak receptacle (1m 20X 0,40 X 0,30).  This new receptacle was placed in a new sealed rosewood casket, and everything was reburied in the brick vault in the same cemetery.  It was not until the Beatification was officially announced that the solemn and definitive translation of the body of Sister Thérèse to the Carmelite chapel took place on March 26, 1923.

     Now nothing of St. Thérèse’s body remains in the Lisieux cemetery.  The remains of her body, solemnly recognized according to a detailed and official verbal report, were destined to repose from then on in the Chapel of the Carmel of Lisieux, where changes had taken place to prepare for the Beatification, notably the construction of a small chapel built on one side, named the “Chapelle de la Chasse” (the chapel of the tomb).  This chapel contains a shrine containing a statue of St. Thérèse asleep in death.  The statue is called the Holy Body.  Inside this statue are sealed some of the bones of the saint.  The remaining bones are underneath the statue, inside the tomb, to which workers have access from the rear when it is necessary to remove the relics. The bones are enclosed in the “Brazilian reliquary,” a small gilded reliquary offered by the faithful of Brazil.

Given the popular devotion to St. Thérèse and her relics, certain bones were donated in 1923 (to the Holy Father, to the Bishop of Bayeux), and a relic was saved for the  basilica which was to be constructed.  The cornerstone of the Basilica was laid in 1929; the Basilica was consecrated in 1954.  The bones of St. Thérèse’s right forearm, which was considered the “human instrument” of Story of a Soul, are displayed and venerated in a suitable reliquary in the Basilica.

     Another component of this story: a public exposition of the relics which takes place every year during the celebrations in late September leading up to the feast of St. Thérèse on October 1.  The “Brazilian reliquary” is solemnly carried from the Carmel to the Basilica for a prayer vigil.  The next day, the last Sunday of September, a Pontifical Mass is celebrated in the presence of the relics.  During the afternoon, the small reliquary is carried from the Basilica to the Cathedral of St. Pierre in Lisieux; later it is returned to the Carmel.  The relics themselves are not visible; only the reliquary can be seen.

     St. Thérèse was proclaimed patroness of France in 1944.  To celebrate this occasion, the reliquary was venerated by the faithful in Paris in 1945.  In 1947 the relics traveled into many dioceses throughout France.

     For the year 1997, the centenary of the death of St. Thérèse, there was a new demand that the reliquary might travel: Paris, Lyon, Marseille, cities that Thérèse herself  had travelled through during her pilgrimage to Rome in 1887. These visits had a completely unexpected impact; the relics were sought out in many journeys crisscrossing France, Belgium . . .

     Then there was an influx of requests from abroad.  This was an opportunity to reflect on what had taken place, taking into account the inherent risks of such trips to the integrity of the relics: a whole year in Brazil; six months in Italy; four months in the United States; three months in the Philippines and Hong Kong, etc. It was no longer a question of sending all the relics.  With the permission of the Vatican and under its supervision, only a portion of the relics were transferred to a reliquary of precious wood, an exact replica of the “Brazilian reliquary” with the same dimensions, but not gilded.

     Of course, relics are constantly requested: for priests,  churches, altars, the faithful, who want to possess a tiny fragment of bone (given more and more rarely because one cannot break the large bones); hair, clothing etc. . . . The demand is just about continuous  from around the world. Relics, in a canonical sense, are the remains of the bodies of the saints. Souvenirs or other objects are not, strictly speaking, “relics.”  One must also exclude all the published “writings.”  The original manuscripts Thérèse wrote are scrupulously conserved in the Archives of the Lisieux Carmel; they never leave it.

First Exhumation

On September 6, 1910 at the Cemetery of Lisieux

Translated from:

 

Extract:

 Some of the graces and healings attributed to the intercession of the Servant of God Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Shower of Roses, 1911

 Appendix of the exhumations, pp. 103-109

 

      Many times during her last illness, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus had announced that, according to her desire,  after her death one would find only her bones.

“You have loved God so much, He will do wonders for you ; we will find your body incorrupt,”  a novice told her shortly before her death.  This idea seemed to pain her, and she answered somewhat sadly “Oh, no ; not that kind of wonder !  That would be a departure from my little way of humility ; little souls must find nothing to envy in me, so you can expect to find nothing but a skeleton. »[1]

     The exhumation of the remains of the Servant of God, done in order to assure their preservation, not to expose them for veneration by the faithful, took place on September 6, 1910.  We tried to keep the matter a secret, but it was nevertheless well enough known to allow a few hundred people to hasten to the cemetery.

     Monseigneur Lemonnier, the Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux; Monsignor de Teil, the vice-postulator of the Cause ; Canons Quirié and Dubosq, vicars general ; and many priests, including all the members of the Tribunal assigned to hear the beatification process, were present.

The work of exhumation presented many difficulties.  The coffin had been buried at a depth of 3m. 50 and was in a very poor condition  An expert in these kinds of maneuvers directed it.  The coffin threatened to collapse, so, to create an artificial support to sustain it, he slid planks under the coffin.  Then he wrapped it all in large canvases supported by strong straps.  With much time and anxiety, we succeeded in pulling up the coffin without incident. As it appeared before his eyes, the Bishop, in a trembling voice, sang the song of David praising the Lord who will “draw the humble from the dust to seat them with the princes of his people.” And while the priests chanted the Laudate pueri Dominum, one noticed, through the disjointed planks, the palm leaf, all green and fresh as it was on October 4, 1897, the day it was first placed on the virginal body of the Servant of God.[2]  Was this not the immortal symbol of the palm she had won by the martyrdom of her heart? This subject of martyrdom of which she wrote: “The palm of Agnes is needed for the lamb . . . and if this is not through blood, then it has to be through love. »[3]

     We then opened the coffin. Two workers, father and son, who stood nearby, sensed in that moment a sweet and strong scent of violets that no natural cause could explain. They were deeply moved by this. One of these workers was the carpenter who made the coffins.[4]

     The clothing appeared in order, it also seemed preserved, but this was only an appearance. The wimple and veils were gone; the large homespun scapular of the Carmelites had lost all consistency and tore easily without effort.  Finally, as the humble child had wished, we found nothing of her but her bones!

     One of the doctors present wanted to offer a parcel of the bones to Monseigneur Lemonnier, but His Grace opposed it and forbade that even the smallest portion be taken away.  He accepted only the small boxwood cross that had been placed in the hands of the Servant of God.

     The old coffin was then placed in a new coffin, which was placed in a lead coffin. Then the body was covered with a new habit that had been prepared for it, and the head covered with a veil crowned with roses, the last picked from the rose bushes of the Carmel which so often the angelic Thérèse had thrown at the feet of Calvary in the cloister garden.

     At this time, by the order of Monseigneur Lemonnier, to please the silent crowd that had gathered and was standing in the cemetery, we removed the canvases that concealed the little Carmelite enclosure, and the coffin was placed on trestles in front of the gated door.  For three quarters of an hour, the people never stopped processing in to pray, to touch pious objects to the body of Sister Thérèse. Monseigneur Lemonnier, the Bishop of Bayeux, was the first to touch the bones, with a piece of purple silk cloth he himself had brought for this purpose. Workers were seen bringing forth their wedding bands to touch them to the relics.  All those who worked for the exhumation seemed imbued with respect. We estimate that about five hundred people  venerated the remains after a three-hour wait.

     An extraordinary supernatural expression, a feeling that they were not masters, invaded the assistants.  The soul of Sister Thérèse, without a doubt, hovered near her mortal body, happy to offer to her Creator the annihilation of her physical being.  One felt that something grand was happening, something solemn. Despite the dismal and humiliating realities of the tomb, the souls present, instead of being bewildered, troubled, or cooled in their faith and their love, on the contrary felt their veneration grow in fervor and in tenderness.

When the procession had ended, an official report written on parchment paper, stamped with the arms of Bishop Lemonnier, was enclosed in a metal tube and placed in the lead coffin.  The coffin was then closed.  On its cover is welded a plate with the inscription:
                       

                  Sister Thérèse of the Child of Jesus and the Holy Face.

                        Marie-Francoise Thérèse Martin

                                                1873-1897

      The same text can be read on a copper plate attached to the oak coffin. Two fingerprints from each of the seals of  Monseigneur Lemonnier and Monseigneur de Teil were affixed on the four corners of the welded sections of the lead coffin.  It only remained to secure the oak cover.  A few steps from the first grave, a new grave was dug, only two meters deep,  where we had prepared a brick vault to the same dimensions of the coffin.  Bishop Lemonnier, upon his arrival, had blessed the new grave.  The precious remains were lowered. 

     In the evening, the planks removed from the coffin, some pieces of clothing, and the palm leaf, which the indiscreet devotion of the workers had torn into shreds, were brought back to the Carmel.  The Sister charged with collecting these items smelled the scent of roses twice.  The parcels of clothing and the casket gave out a scent of incense.

     Another plank, detached from the top of the casket, which could not be found that same day, was found eight days later and brought to the monastery. The portress who had found it, doubting its authenticity a little, begged Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus to manifest a visible sign. She was heard, for several sisters who had not been warned were embalmed with a marvelous scent of incense that came from that plank; one of them sensed it at a far distance.

     But the tender heart of St. Thérèse still wanted to comfort those who love her by giving them a striking picture of the fullness of life she is enjoying in heaven. One of the souls she has favored in the circumstance of her celestial communications, and who is highly esteemed by pious and enlightened priests, testified under oath to the truth of the following narrative.

     This person strongly desired to attend the exhumation and had planned on inquiring as to when it would take place. She believed it was not to be for some time yet.  On the night after the exhumation, the night between September 6 and 7th 1910, she had a vision.  In her vision, she saw a large crowd that she took at first to be a triumphal procession and a very solemn funeral. “Then,” she said, “I saw a young virgin radiating light. Her clothing of snow and gold sparkled everywhere. I could not distinguish her features, as they were imbued with light. From a reclining position, she raised herself up, seeming to come out of a shroud of light With a child’s candor and smile, she put her arms around me and gave me a kiss. At this heavenly touch I seemed to be in an ocean of purity, and I was drinking from the source of eternal joy. I do not have words to express the intensity of life that emanated from her whole being. Everything about her said without a word, by an inexpressible radiance of tenderness, how, in God, the home of infinite love, the blessed love in heaven.”

     Unaware of what was happening in Lisieux, the happy privileged one asked herself who this young virgin was.  Why did she appear to her out of a shroud while lying in bed?  Three days later, reading in La Croix the story of the exhumation, she was soon certain that it was Sister Thérèse who came to tell her of the event, and she went immediately to thank her at her tomb.

     But it was not enough for the Servant of God to give to hers this proof of affection, to have told her as the angel said to Mary Magdalene; “Why do you look among the dead for one who is living?  She still wanted to make promises for the future.

     On September 5th, the eve of the exhumation, she appeared to the Reverend Mother Prioress of a Carmelite convent abroad, and, announcing to her that one would find nothing but her bones, “just bones,” she had foretold the wonders that would happen next. The Reverend Mother summarizes it like this: “These blessed bones will make stunning  miracles and will be powerful weapons against evil.”

     A few weeks later, the result of the exhumation came to the awareness of a professor at the University of X, a man of great intellectual achievement, of an eminent piety and, moreover, very favored by the Servant of God through all kinds of graces during the more than ten years he had known her.  First of all, he was saddened that the body of the angelic virgin had decomposed like everyone else’s.  As he gave in to his melancholy thoughts, he heard an interior voice answer him: “It was the dress of my day’s work that I threw off. I await the robe of the eternal Sunday ; I do not care what happens to the other.”

     “And so,” he said, “I had a light that consoled me, I understood that this dissolution will spread atoms of her body everywhere, in such a way that not only her soul but also something of her body could be present and do good on earth.

It seems to me, indeed, all that really belonged to the body of a saint is a relic.  If this is so, not only her bones but also the invisible molecules of matter can carry in them the grace of relics.”Is it not the answer to this desire so poetically expressed :

Lord, on your altars more than one new rose
                        Likes to shine.
            It gives itself to you ….. but I dream of something else
                        To be unpetalled !... »[5]


________________________________________________________________________________

 

The second exhumation and recognition of the remains of the Servant of God, Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

 Translated from  Remembrance of the second exhumations and closure of the Apostolic Process of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, in the Diocese of Bayeux, not paginated.

    View this article about the second exhumatkion of the body of St. Therese of Lisieux and the photos here.

 

_________________________________________________________________________________

Translation of the Relics from the cemetery to the monastery of Lisieux Carmel[6]

 On March 26, 1923

 Extracted from a brown leather edged, but very thin top, bound book stored in the Glorification cabinet. Title on the edge: St. Th her beatification EJ

 Across the City

      LISIEUX had never before known such excitement as existed within its walls on the morning of  March 26, 1923, Monday of Holy Week.  Since yesterday, travelers from every direction had been pouring relentlessly out of the train station: pilgrims from Paris, Lorraine, Switzerland,  England, Anjou, Belgium and even the New World.  They spread through the decorated town.

     There, on all sides, the decorations are nearing completion. It is truly a small picturesque town with its Norman gabled roofs, framed by rose garlands, waving flags and banners in the breeze, and banners bearing inscriptions which, here and there, swing across the avenues.  All the faces are happy. You feel enveloped in an atomosphere of faith and piety, and, before the free-flowering facades of the houses, one might take to helping to awaken a supernatural spring. But for whom is the feast being prepared?  Which sovereign is soon to be acclaimed here?  Whom do all the foreigners come to escort? 

     Ask the crowd which is climbing the path to the cemetery: who sleeps up there on the hillside?

     Ah! The pole of this inexplicable attraction, the mysterious magnet to which all eyes and hearts converge today, is the humble tomb up there, huddled under its white dress in a small enclosure.

     A simple cross marks it with this name: “Thérèse of the Child Jesus,” and, below, the promise: “I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth.”  That is all.  But the virgin--a child--who is free from these slabs has conquered the world, winning a prestigious empire.

     Little flower, once blossoming in the shadow of the altar, but soon withered by death, she has, by her mystical fragrance, embalmed the universe. The Church was moved. She studied the secret of her life, without being able to count her miracles, and, this evening, she comes to claim from the earth her treasure to enshrine it forever on her altars.

This is why, during these last days, the crowd presented itself constantly around this tomb; why, yesterday, the pilgrims crowded around it with a redoubled fervor, eager to take home any scrap of flowers, of the earth, or some other souvenir of this place consecrated by so many favors.

Of all ranks, of all ages, workers, women of the world, simple housewives, they had succeeded there on the bare ground, absorbed in their imploring invocations. Then, before leaving, many had kissed the ground, which for some moments still, retained “their dear little sister Thérèse”.

     That night, when the hour came to close the doors, not the smallest ornamentation remained on the site.  The hundreds of wreathes and the various ex-voto disappeared: all had become the prey of popular devotion.

     But today, from the first hour, the cemetery is closed to the public. Police officers guard the entrance; they permit only those holding cards of admission to enter.  The chapel of the Carmel is also closed, so the pious crowd, encouraged by a smiling sun, spreads throughout the town of Sister Thérèse.  The people go to Les Buissonets, the “gracious nest of her childhood;” to the churches she once frequented; to the Benedictine Abbey where she made her First Communion. But the crowd gathers mainly at the Carmel gate to contemplate in the courtyard, to the left of the facade, the white marble statue, so expressive in its monastic simplicity, which represents the holy Carmelite covering her crucifix with roses.  (This statue is the work of a monk from the Grande-Trappe de Montagne, the Reverend Father Marie Bernard): the flowers spread around the stone base, like a storm of love and trust. Finally, many groups pressing along the path up the slope that borders the cemetery are soon invaded.  They move into the surrounding fields with chairs and provisions, resolved to await for long hours, and often in prayer, the passage of the cortege.

At the Cemetery    

      Up there at the tomb, the grave diggers have been at work since dawn to clear the vault for the exhumation. 


 While they are digging during the morning, here comes a small invalid’s wheelchair. It is a young girl of twelve years old, suffering from Pott’s disease, whose parents, at the price of much fatigue, transported by express from Angers, for this unique day, in order to implore for her a cure. She entered the cemetery enclosure carried in the arms of her godmother. Instantly the workers stopped their work. So, with the faith of simple hearts who obtain miracles, this woman approaches the trench; she lays her dear burden where only 30 centimeters of soil still separates the child from the coffin. And she prays with a touching fervor . . . After a few minutes the poor little body, just folded back in on itself, relaxes, and the child, who for many months had been unable to walk, took her first steps near the beneficent Carmelite. Meanwhile, the work resumed.

     Around 11:00 a.m. the slabs appear, but no order was given to remove them before the clergy and the magistrates arrive.  Nevertheless, the workers unsealed five large stones.  The stroke of a chisel created a crack.   A gravedigger straightens himself up and asks, “Is any one of you wearing perfume?” And, with a negative response from those around, he continues his work. Soon, the sweet smell grows stronger; the workers, the police officers and the constables, affirm: the intermittent scent was undeniable; it was a very characteristic smell of fresh roses. Dr. Lesigne, the mayor of Lisieux, who wanted to manage the laborers:. “Mr. Mayor, do you not sense a smell of roses?”

     At this moment, a more penetrating fragrance came from the tomb. The magistrate could not deny the evidence attested to by many other witnesses.  “It is true,” he responds; “we certainly placed flowers in the vault.[7]” 

     Yes, it was placed there, a flower in the vault, but not at all as intended by the municipal representative; it was Thérèse, the fragrant rose, who delivered some fragrances of paradise to the land. This mysterious phenomenon continued for about three-quarters of an hour, then, this evening, during the procession, it will be happen again for a few privileged ones.

     Around noon, the clergy began to fill the cemetery: they alone, for the moment, were admitted, together with the civil authorities and the representatives of the press, these former personifying the nuances of the  most diverse public opinions, because it is one of the characteristics of the sanctity of Sister Thérèse to be sympathetic to all parties/sides. At twelve-thirty, Monseigneur Lemonnier, Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, arrived, wearing the pastoral stole of cloth of gold and the large purple cape, followed by the representative of the Holy See, the Reverend Father Rodrigo of Saint Francis of Paola, Discalced Carmelite, Postulator of the Cause; the Rev. Father Constantin of the Immaculate Conception, Provincial of the Carmelite friars in France; and the Rev. Fajella, General Postulator of the Cause of the Society of Jesus. The Bishop takes his seat on the chair besides the trench, from where he can follow the last work of the exhumation. 

 


 By his side stand the vicars general, Labutte, Dean of the Chapter and Archdeacon of Bayeux; Quirié, Archdeacon of Lisieux and Vice-President of the Tribunal constituted in 1910 for the “Process informatif” of the Cause: Theophile Duboscq, Superior of the Major Seminary and Promoter of the Faith, responsible for ensuring the strict observance of the canonical rules; Briere, Chancellor of the Bishop. This last is seated at a small table, for drafting the acts of the verbal report of the acts that would be accomplished. 

     Standing near Monsigneur, one could also see the representative of the civil authority, M. Louis Lebihan, Police Commissioner of the city of Lisieux, assisted by an agent. A little bit behind were a few favoured ones: the extern sisters of the Carmel, for example; Canon Treche, Director of the Diocesan Works, which took a leading part in the organization of the day; M. Anquetil, Deputy of the Lower Seine River, etc. . . .

     The Ecclesiastical Tribunal was in session; the formalities required by the apostolic Constitution were to be fulfilled.  The Church has the scruples of the truth, and there is hardly any human institution that could rival Her for factual guarantees.

     After reading the verbal report of the last exhumation of August 9 and 10, 1917, we heard the testimony of witnesses.

     M. Pierre Derrien, the sacristan of Carmel, who takes care,  in this capacity, of the maintenance of the graves of the Community, and M. Duhamel, caretaker of the Cemetery, in which he worked for many years, recognized, under oath, the identity of the tomb of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. The gravediggers and marble workers make the same testimony, they also undertake to faithfully execute the orders which they will be given. They all then register their signatures on the face of these declarations, immediately written.  We could then proceed to open the vault.

     But before that, Monseigneur rises and, in a serious and solemn voice, pronounces major excommunication, specially reserved to the Sovereign Pontiff, against whomever removes or adds anything to the remains of the Venerable Servant of God who is about to be exhumed. The five stone slabs are then easily removed; they allow us to discover beneath a layer of coal dust, the thick iron beams which blocked the full cement, formed above the fragile deposit of an impregnable fortress.

     While we work to release them, the doors of the cemetery had been opened, and the pilgrims, in great numbers, overflow ito all parts of the land that the iron dams allow them to occupy. It is a forest of heads that now emerge above the fence. Everyone rushes in order not to avoid missing the decisive moment of seeing the coffin appear. 

     Ropes are slipped to the bottom of the vault.  Six gentlemen of the city seize them. Then, taking every precaution and with infinite respect, they bring to the surface the rosewood box with silver handles which contains the venerated bones of the holy Carmelite.


     The moment was impressive. The silence was more complete: seized by an intense emotion, each person meditates and prays. On a copper plaque appears the inscription:

HIC

OSSA DEI ANCILLAE

A TERESIAE PUERO JESU

DEPOSITE SUNTER

DIE DECIMA AUCUSTI

MCMXVII

 

HERE

THE BONES OF THE SERVANT OF GOD

THÉRÈSE OF THE CHILD JESUS

WERE DEPOSITED

AUGUST 10

1917

      The precious bier, very heavy with its inner lining of lead, is not damaged.  When the  ribbons around it are spread out, the wax seals affixed six years ago are intact. With very white linens, we apply ourselves to rid it of the dust that covers it.  Immediately, hands are held out to reclaim the cloths used in this procedure, and offer in exchange other linens that, in their turn, become priceless souvenirs that we share eagerly.

     During this time, Monseigneur gives the necessary instructions to his clergy. He invites them to come immediately to take, in the main avenue and before the carriage, the places reserved for them.  He then orders the two choirs, when the procession departs, to chant the Psalms of the Common of Virgins. The transfer, according to the ecclesiastical laws, may not today include any singing, any songs, or any bells ringing, because the Church has not officially authorized the cult of the Blessed. 

In the end, the coffin, clean and bright once more, receives again the legal seal of the Commissioner of Police; then pious laymen, who claimed this honor, lift and carry the coffin. 

 

Preceded by the Bishop, envoys from Rome, and senior dignitaries of the diocese, it left the small piece of land that had served as an asylum for twenty-five years. It descends the steps of the small brick entrance and ascends into the avenue to the roundabout where the carriage is waiting to conduct it to Carmel.

     Then it seemed that nature wanted to give the virginal body a brilliant and supreme “adieu.”  A fiery sun blazes on the horizon, lighting up the beautiful valley of the Orbiquet River that encircles, with all its charm, the cemetery of Lisieux. All is bright and sweet in this springtime setting, and, above the glorified bones of the holy saint the purest rays create a halo. Finally, the carriage moves, the little Queen departs forever, performing her last trip in splendor.


     The carriage which is to bring her back through the city and to her resting place is completely covered in white.  It is a hearse, but everything is new, like the tomb of the resurrection. The whiteness of its canopy and its plumes, the rich embroidery of its hangings, the smiling portraits of the lovely Carmelite, which appear instead of the usual crests, give it the appearance of a triumphal chariot.  It is drawn by four white horses, outfitted in the same color and guided by soldiers bedecked in uniform.  The coffin is veiled by a magnificent cloth of gold, lined with red silk that the sun likes to make sparkle.  Preceded by the clergy and followed immediately by the family, the carriage advances to the cemetery gate. It is there that the procession is organized in its definitive form.

The Procession

      In the front, behind the police officers and those in charge of ensuring free access to the path, are the ceremonial guards of  Saint-Jacques Parish with the cross-bearer and acolytes.  After them come the boys from the Christian schools of the city, the members of Patronages, with trumpets and flags, and the gymnastic societies of Lisieux. Then the students from the various boarding schools for girls.

     Nothing as graceful as the white appearance of the little orphans who follow them, dressed in Roman tunics with a golden halo in their hair, the boys holding palms and the little irls lilies.  “They resemble,” said a witness, “the children who, on the canvases of the masters, accompany the final journey of St. Cecilia to the Catacombs.”

     Behind them, here now are the Congregations of the Blessed Virgin with their banners, blue ribbons and white veils; the young Catholic women, etc.  Then, the choir boys, more than one hundred and twenty grouped in two rows on each side of the road, the young ones in red cassocks and capes, the older ones in long robes with cinctures of cloth of gold.  And finally, the clergy: almost three hundred priests of the diocese, in choir dress; the canons of Evreux and Seez; many priests of Paris; members of almost all the dioceses of France, belonging to different levels of the Ecclesiastical hierarchy.  The American continent, itself, appears in the person of several of its priests.  Following them, religious in all habits, members of all the religious families: Franciscans, Dominicans, Fathers of the Assumption, Praemonstreans, Trappists, Jesuits, Discalced Carmelites . . .  In the middle of the path are the distinguished prelates in violet dapes: the Bishop Crispin, Superior of the Chaplains of Montmartre; Bishop Moses Cagnac, Canon of the Metropolis of Bourges, surrounding His Excellency Mgr. Chauvin, Bishop of Evreux, who was also accompanied by his Chancellor and the Canon Archpriest of his Cathedral. 

     Behind, we recognize the Reverend Father Postulator, the Provincial of the Carmelites of France, and his Secretary.  Finally, presiding over the imposing procession appears between his two archdeacons and immediately before the carriage, Bishop Lemonnier, draped in the majestic breadth of his great cape. The carriage, ah! the heavenly vision! It’s really her, in her snow-white, who attracts all gazes and all thoughts, who makes all hearts beat with the most religious emotion. 

     Upon her passing, silence reigned, solemn and pregnant.  Heads are bent, eyelids moisten, many a knee bends, and we pray with a contained fervor that is even more striking. In the dense crowd, coming from the four corners of the world and from all levels of the social ladder, the same supernatural breath envelops all souls Many graces are obtained, unforgettable impressions felt. “When I was on the road to the cemetery,” said a woman of the world, a Parisienne, “I saw my little Thérèse appear.  I fell to my knees and begged her to grant me the conversion of my husband. The dear saint answered me. I had the joy for Easter of taking him to the holy table, he who had not approached the Sacraments for more than thirty years.  “The little Sister was there among us,” attested a few. “We prayed, we felt dourselves etached from the earth,” confessed others. “It was a foretaste of heaven...”says an old veteran.

     In the middle of the twelve nuns, who,  on either side of the carriage, served as assistants, Thérèse advanced, to the delight of all. It is an episode of the Apocalypse, a scene of the procession of the victorious Lamb.

     Framing the virginal troop, this other flower of the historic crown of the Church, the Knighthood, is also honored.  Accompanying the nuns and protecting them against possible turmoil in the crowd, the parade contained in their place the warrior officers who rushed up to the borders of Lorraine to form a glorious hedge around their “ gentle protector of the Battlefields.”  Behind the carriage came the family of the Blessed, with Madame LaNeele, her maternal cousin, in the place of honor.  After the family pressed members of all the  religious communities in the city: the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Hospitalers, the Sisters of Providence, of Mercy, of the Refuge, etc. . . . Then, with martial footsteps, proudly dressed in their khaki uniforms, here are the American soldiers.  Flags in front sported by Captain Huffer, Vice-Commander of the American Legion of Paris, rifle on his shoulder, they are there on behalf of their great country to bear witness to the “Little Flower of Jesus” of the devotion that attaches to her memory, down there, in the New World, And yet, some of them are of the Protestant religion. . . .

      We recognize another twenty delegations of all kinds and from all sources . . .  the Catholic railwaymen, for example, with their many-colored banners;  the students of the College of St. Francis de Sales, of Evreux; the members of the French Remembrance, of the Catholic Association of French youth. All these phalanxes of young people and men recite the rosary, as they do from the first row to the people back on the edge of the sidewalk.  And to complete it, following a large crowd which presses in wide rows. The parade stretches for more than two kilometers.

     It progresses to the sound of the Hail Mary, in a profound recollection; it is a unique show.  For this almost improvised ceremony (because until the last days serious difficulties came to hamper it), organized in haste, in which one hears no music, no singing, no bells, or anything that excites popular enthusiasm; for this ceremony where one hears the murmur of prayers, fifty thousand people flocked. They are there, gathered in the same piety surrounding the remains of this child whom soon, at the signal of the Church, all voices will call Blessed, but that the heart alone can acclaim today. It is the triumph of faith. Renan said in his Studies of Religious History: “Holiness is a kind of poetry finished like so many others. There will still be saints canonized in Rome, but there will be no more canonized by the people.” Could one imagine a more vivid denial than the demonstration f that day?  . . . But, as though to give more weight to the rebuttal, for, as usual, nobody is a prophet in his country, that people admired, it is here, with the faithful of the whole world, even the people of Lisieux, those who saw Thérèse grow up and die.


     Throughout the course, a considerable crowd gathered; the grassy slopes that border outside the city, the road to the cemetery road, disappearing under the clusters of faithful, where ever a man could grab on, he did. There, on a slope to the side, stands a pilgrim from the area. After an operation, he completely lost the ability to move his right arm. So he came to find the “little saint” in the hope of being cured. Here is the carriage. He throws his silent prayer toward it and the “little Queen” answers him . . . when he goes down the hill, he can again move the aching limb, and, the next day, he is fit to resume his work, which he had abandoned for long weeks.  Still others will prevail tonight, the secret of their cure. Such as this one badly wounded solider from the war, who for the last fifteen months, after successive operations, could no longer walk, suddenly recovered the use of his legs in Lisieux.  And this lady who came from Paris with a serious stomach affliction which no longer allowed her to absorb food without pain, was restored and able to eat normally.  Such as, finally, this young blind girl whose eyes reopened at the light in front of the Carmel, at the same hour when the Holy Relics returned there.

    

Meanwhile, the procession goes on through the city. It passes in front of Saint-Jacques Church, the parish of the future Blessed, where the porch is hidden by a crowd of spectators.  By way of the Grande-Rue it gains the Place Thiers; here is  the axis of the beautiful Gothic cathedral, that of Saint-Pierre, all surprised by the unexpected spectacle that is unfolding before her courts. 


In the streets of Lisieux, where, dead, she is attracting a countless multitude, the little Thérèse Martin often, in her childhood, walked with her father and her sisters.  Many of those who are following her triumphal chariot today could have met her then, a graceful young girl who “had Heaven in her gaze,” but who lost herself, very gentle and unnoticed, in the number of walkers. And all those who met her with quiet indifference were very far from supposing that one day they would raise this unknown to the altars.  

     After a short downpour, which did not disturb the festivities, the sky became serene once more. The streets of Bouteiller, of Rempart, Gustave-David, led the procession to the Benedictine Abbey, in the parish of St. Desir. Here is the door that Thérèse, less than forty years ago, crossed every morning, wearing her school uniform, the chapel which welcomed her at the dawn of May 8, 1884, in her heavenly whiteness as a first communicant.  Today, the old walls are adorned with a youthful ornament to see her pass, again all in white, but against a background of apotheosis. There, behind the grille of their large parlor, the Benedictine nuns smiled at the glorious child who stops for a moment before their monastery, while the eldest invoke in a whisper, in advance, the Blessed whom they had taught in class.

     Finally, by the Grand-Rue, the Rue Pont Mortain, the rue d’Alencon, the Place Fournet, we reached the rue de Livarot.[8]  All the windows, adorned with flowers and banners, are dotted with heads. In some places, the national colors mix very happily with those of the Holy See.  The Rue Pont Mortain Street, all its length, has a marvelous effect with its garlands and banners overhead; it resembles a huge and very iridescent porch.

At Carmel

     At four o’clock the beginning of the procession arrived in front of the Carmel. The somber and modest hearse which upon leaving in the morning of October 4, 1897, led by the Superior of the Monastery and followed only by a few relatives and friends of the one who called herself Thérèse of the Child-Jesus, had plenty of room to move at ease.  But today, it is an enormous crowd that the stewards must control to allow the hearse, now become triumphant, to reach the entrance gate. At this gate, we cling eagerly to see to the very end the glorious convoy.


     The chapel, all radiant with a thousand lights, is open only to the clergy. On the porch, six gentlemen of the Lexovienne Society are waiting. With a strong effort, while the prayers and invocations rise in fervor, they lift out the heavy casket, and preceded by Monseigneur Lemmonier, Monseigneur Chuavin and some prelates, they bring it in to the sanctuary.  “Come, you Holy One of God.  The faithful people follow happily in your steps.”[i]  And “you, Christians, with a united heart, these spoils cherished, acclaim them with your happy canticles.[9]” 

     The brand new organ, which vibrates for the first time, welcomes the entrance of the little saint with a triumphal march, immediately followed by the hymn  Jesu Corona Virginum, the first prelude, it seems, to the very next Beatification.  The relics, covered with a gold cloth, are deposited on a pedestal draped in white, at the top of the nave at the entrance to the choir. It was there that often the days of her childhood, Thérèse had come to kneel, casting a glance of envy toward the austere grille of the Carmelites...

     The bishop gives, in closing, his solemn blessing. He announced for the next day the Recognition of the Remains, to be strictly private, and then calm descends on the little chapel where the Blessed of tomorrow, surrounded by flowers, will spend the night as in a vigil of arms around the Tabernacle.

     Outside, the thoughtful crowd overflows . . . Earlier, at the very moment when the body of the kind Virgin had touched the threshold of the chapel, the sky, darkened by the storm, had cleared up marvelously, and each one could see gentle omens for the future.

     Then, in the evening, seven extra trains dispersed some of the pilgrims throughout France, but indelible memories of the day were impressed on all hearts. In front of the Carmel, many lingered in prayer, and, well into the night, you could still see the shadows of those kneeling on the pavement before the tightly closed doors, to murmur there at length, fervent supplications.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] This novice was Thérèse’s sister Céline, Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face; these lines are excerpted from her testimony at the diocesan Process in 1910.  St. Thérèse of Lisieux by those who knew her, tr. Christopher O’Mahony.  Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1973, p. 157.

[2] It is true that the palm was sterilized; but similar palms, in very thin sheets, which were in the sacristy of the Carmel in 1897, had to be preserved very carefully and wiped dry in humidity and in wet weather; otherwise they turned yellow and developed mold, and finally one had to burn them.

[3] Letters of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume I, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D. (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1982), LT 54, p. 440.

[4]  In recognition of the favor they had received, they brought to the Carmel, September 30, to be disposed in the cell of the Servant of God, a very beautiful crown of artificial white violets.

 

[5] From “An Unpetalled Rose” in The Poetry of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, tr. Donald Kinney, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1996, p. 203.

[6] This story is inspired, in many places, by the account given by M. l'Abbé Bernard, curé of Port-en-Bessin, in the Semaine Religieuse de Bayeux et Lisieux.

[7] Story by M. Roger Yves in the Croix de la Manche.

[8] The rue de Livarot, on which the Carmelite monastery is situated, is today called “Rue du Carmel.”

[9] Hymn for Vespers of the Feast of Holy Relics.

 


[i] Pontifical for the consecration of churches.   Antiphon for the processional entry of the holy relics that are to be sealed in the Main Altar. 

 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (1)

I 'discovered' this article yesterday, and I was deeply touched by reading it and seeing the photographs! How good the Carmelites of Lisieux are to give permission to have these published! I visited Lisieux myself in 1991, and I haven't been able to get back since. I have loved St. Therese since I was a kid; my late mother had an old Carmelite prayer book from the 'Little Flower Society' in Chicago, IL, and I used to 'dip' into it on Sundays after Mass. I have a ton of books on St. Therese, as well the photos I took on my trip and the items I bought while there (I visited her birthplace in Alencon as well). Thank you, Maureen (and everyone else who contributed), for this site! The articles and photos bring back many sweet memories for me!

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarb Finnegan

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>