Tag Archives: St. Therese

Story of a Photo

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St Therese June 1897?

I have had this photo of St. Therese on my desk the last few months while I have worked from home.  It has become my favorite picture of her. There is something about the look, a certain resolve, expression of concern, etc. that I find compelling.  I usually take a break a few times a day just to stare at it a little while.  This is strange, because I have my doubts whether the photo is even authentic. Perhaps you can solve the mystery for me?

It is a close up of photo that I first saw in the book The Hidden Face: A Study of St. Therese of Lisieux, by Ida Friederike Gorres, which I purchased and read in March. It is hard to categorize the book. It is a study of the Saint’s time on earth, her spirituality, her canonization process, and the public reaction. It was originally published in 1959, and resissued in English by Ignatius Press in 2003. The book was a deliberate response to earlier biographies or portrayals of the Saint that the author believed were shallow or not a true representation of her life. I am not an expert on the Saint, so its possible that some of her findings have been eclipsed by more recent scholarship..

The author says the book was prompted in part, by a colleague sharing the above photo with her and a group of colleagues:

During a meeting at Burg Rothenfels, then the centre of the Catholic Youth Movement in Germany, a student showed me a small picture, like a passport photograph. “This is the true appearance of Little Thérèse”, he said. “Dom Willibrord Verkade, the monk-painter of Beuron, discovered and published it.

The Carmel at Lisieux, and a French bishop as well, protested vehemently against its publication.” A small group of young people gathered around him; the picture passed from hand to hand. In stunned silence we gazed at the familiar and yet so alien features, and someone said: “Almost like the face of a female Christ.” From that August morning on I was determined to pursue the riddle of her look and her smile—so different from the honeyed insipidity of the usual representations of her. Who was Thérèse of the Child Jesus in reality?

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We have photographs of St. Therese as a nun because her birth sister, Celine Martin, brought a camera with her when she joined the Lisieux convent.  As Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face (her name in religion), she took 40 + photos that included St. Therese.  These photos may all be viewed at the online Lisieux archive at this website.

This photo corresponds to none of the photos in the Archive. It is well documented that St. Therese sat for photo session on June 7, 1897, and the Archive includes three photos. But she is facing the other direction in all three.

I have not found any records of any other photographer being granted admission to the Carmel in June of 1897.  I checked two autobiographies by Dom Willbrord Verkade, but he makes no mention of the Saint or any visit to Lisieux. Nor can I find any other source of information on his publication of the photo, how he came to have it, and the alleged controversy it produced.

It is well documented that Therese’s blood sisters were careful custodians of her writings and images for many years after her death. They were very reluctant to release unedited correspondence and photographs of her.  I believe I read that Sister Genevieve was sometimes disappointed at her photos not capturing her true likeness, perhaps due to the Saint’s illness or fatigue.   She separately made a number of paintings that she felt were a more true representation of how she appeared to her, perhaps before she got sick.   She also retouched a number of the photos, which are also available at the Archive.  One theory of mine is that Sister Genevieve flipped on the horizontal one of the three photos from June 7, 1897, and then retouched it.  However, I do not even know if this was technically possible in 1897, and none of the other retouched photos shows that level of alteration.  The closest match would be the photo below, which I have flipped (please note that this photo was found on the internet, and not taken from the Archive website. Those versions are copyrighted). But the photo in the book shows St. Therese against a completely gray background, which appears almost artificial, as opposed to the foliage in the picture below.

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A horizontal flipped version of one of Sister Genevieve’s photos of Therese from June 7, 1897

 

Other possibilities:

  • This was a genuine photo taken by Sister Genevieve that was stolen from the Carmel, which might explain the alleged controversy and why it does not appear in the Archive.
  • Someone much later in time copied and altered one of Sister Genevieve’s photos, when it was technically possible to do so.
  • There was another, unknown (at least to me) photographer who was given access to the Carmel and took the photo that appears in The Hidden Face.

If  you know the answer, please share your comments. I may do another post about The Hidden Face in the near future, and how its discussion of Saint Therese might guide us in these difficult times.

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A Quiver Full of Glory

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St. Therese as Joan of Arc

Three sisters stand around a table.

It is quiet but for the the tap tap tapping

shoe of the little one.

Three glasses in a line across the table. A very large one in the middle.

A smaller one to the right, and a child’s one to the left.

The eldest pours water into each.

“You see, each is full of glory.”

The three little sisters grow up to be Sisters

who do not wear shoes.

In time the youngest becomes the greatest. She stayed little.

She says: “When I die, I will work even harder. I will rain down a shower of roses from heaven.”

And she dies. Everyone looks up.

 

It is now my time to die.

The old rose-bush is cut down by the gardener.

The withered branches, leaves and flowers go into the bonfire.

The thorns crackle as they burn.

One rose remains.

I am planted in the garden of Our Lady, one of many.

Red rose martyrs, innocent whites, mystics in blue.

A flower is small, quiet and still. Obedient.

A flower knows how to listen,

and accepts the light and water without complaint. It grows.

It is a place of rest.

In the cool of the day the Child Jesus plays in the garden.

Sometimes he plucks me with some others, and makes a crown for his Mother.

On some days a bouquet. When they are done playing he puts me back in the soil.

A flower does not protest.

One day the Child Jesus brings a friend to the garden, a young lady in armor.

“Gather your arrows” he says,

And presents her with a bow and quiver.

“Am I to be your Cupid?” she asks.

“No, my Eros.”

For the Greeks were nearer to his Heart than the Romans.

(He had longed to sail for Greece.

“Come over here and help us,” said the man in the dream.

Another would make the journey.)

And so the Little One gathers the roses into her quiver.

We are a little Communion of Saints. We are sharp,

though we have lost our thorns.

He points, and she draws me from the quiver.

She listens with the ear of her heart for the prayer. Loose!

A rainbow parabola,

The arc of history bends from Heaven to Earth.

That flutter in your heart is me striking home.

And when you pray, or hope, or love, you send me

winging skyward.

For the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence.

 

For the Little Therese, and with apologies to 

Charles Peguy.

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Dante and Little Therese at the Eunoe

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Illustration by Gustave Dore, Public Domain

Dante Alighieri is best known for writing the Divine Comedy, in which he tells a story of his soul’s journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. It is one of the greatest works of literature, and here I will be so reckless as to suggest he left something out.

At the end of the second part of the poem, Purgatory, Dante drinks from two rivers, the Lethe and then the Eunoe. The Lethe is a river from Greek mythology, one of five that flowed through Hades, the underworld. Drinking it washed away all the memories of your mortal life.  Dante uses the Lethe in this work, but alters its powers. Instead, bathing in the Lethe cleanses the memory of mortal sin from your mind. For Dante, the memory of sin tainted the joy of Heaven.

Dante wrote one final river into the path of the soul before it entered Heaven: the Eunoe. The Eunoe was his own creation, and not derived from Greek mythology. It roughly translates as “good memory.” The Eunoe restored or strengthened memories of good deeds performed in life, but that had been forgotten to some degree. Drinking from it prepared one for Heaven:

If, Reader, I possessed a longer space

For writing it, I yet would sing in part

Of the sweet draught that ne’er would satiate me;

But inasmuch as full are all the leaves

Made ready for this second canticle,

The curb of art no father lets me go

From the most holy water I returned

Regenerate, in the manner of new trees

That are renewed with a new foliage

Pure and disposed to mount unto the stars

Purgatorio, Canto XXXIII, Lines 136-145, Longfellow translation.

I was thinking about the Eunoe recently, and it helped me to resolve, in my own mind, some of St. Therese of Lisieux’s commentary on Purgatory, which I had always had trouble understanding.

Therese, a Doctor of the Church, offered views in various correspondence and conversations on the afterlife somewhat at odds with the settled expectation of most. Her view was that we all too willingly assumed that most people would experience a long Purgatory before entering Heaven. She viewed this as a lack of trust in the Lord, and that we should hope to enter Heaven without going through Purgatory if we adopted a childlike trust in God’s mercy.

She separately offered that it was those people who had led very meritorious lives who might have a surprisingly difficult time avoiding Purgatory. Why? Their temptation to self-justification, or spiritual pride. The following is from a conversation she had with one of her fellow nuns:

I had an immense dread of the judgments of God, and no argument of Soeur Therese could remove it. One day I put to her the following objection: “It is often said to us that in God’s sight the angels themselves are not pure. How, therefore, can you expect me to be otherwise than filled with fear?”

She replied: “There is but one means of compelling God not to judge us, and it is – to appear before Him empty-handed.” “And how can that be done?” “It is quite simple: lay nothing by, spend your treasures as you gain them. Were I to live to be eighty, I should always be poor, because I cannot economize. All my earnings are immediately spent on the ransom of souls.

“Were I to await the hour of death to offer my trifling coins for valuation, Our Lord would not fail to discover in them some base metal, and they would certainly have to be refined in Purgatory. Is it not recorded of certain great Saints that, on appearing before the Tribunal of God, their hands laden with merit, they have yet been sent to that place of expiation, because in God’s Eyes all our justice is unclean?”

(emphasis added)

So,  I think Dante missed an opportunity by not adding a third river at the beginning of his Purgatory.  One that lets us forget our good deeds (if we have any), at least for a while. For if you did good, was it not God’s grace that allowed you to do it? Your work was merely to cooperate with it.   Drinking from this river at the beginning of the Purgatory, and the Eunoe at the end, would have been a nice symmetry.

Perhaps Dante could have called it the Aletheia, which is the opposite of Lethe. Its apparent literal meaning in Greek is “the state of not being hidden”, or “disclosure” or “truth” in shorter form.

Oh Lord, let the Aletheia run through my soul so that I may drink from it daily, and die with empty hands. Do not let me hide behind any merits that I think I may have earned. For if I do, I know that this illusion must be burned away by the fire of your mercy. Amen.

 

 

 

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