Rediscovery of an image of Thérèse after 80 years in a cupboard...
In August 1896, Thérèse painted a picture for the Father Roulland, a missionary from the Foreign Missions of Paris that Marie de Gonzague confided to him, in secret. Thérèse met him in July, just after his ordination, before he embarked for China... The image is dated August 20, 1896, and it probably accompanied the letter 193 to Roulland.
"When the Reverend Father Roulland, of the Foreign Missions, was given to her as a spiritual brother by Mother Marie de Gonzague, she received the express prohibition to tell me. She was commissioned to paint an image on parchment, still without my knowledge, for this spiritual brother; but for that she needed my brushes, my colors, my burnisher. She pushed the delicacy of her obedience to the point of hiding in the library to paint this image; and, to keep the commanded secrecy, she forced herself to come in my absence to fetch and bring back the instruments she needed".PA folio 480
Father Roulland returned to France in June 1909 to direct the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères, always keeping the image with him. She will be returned to the Carmel of Lisieux after June 12, 1934, the date of her entry into Life. But as a sign of gratitude for the work of the missionaries, the Carmelites decided to offer it to the Foreign Missions of Paris, after having it framed - see the photo above.
Thérèse copied a Tabor painted by Mother Agnès whom she knew well because she had the opportunity to manipulate it as a sacristine, this object which serves as the base of the monstrance for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
Beneath the divine blood flowing on the earth, she inscribed "Eastern Su-Tchuen", as can be discerned in this zoom of the original image. Therese had pinned a map of Su-Tchuen to her job in the lingerie.
An image promised to an unusual story
A colleague of Roulland at the Foreign Missions of Paris, Mgr Louis-Gabriel-Xavier Jantzen, ordained in September 1909, had seen this image. It so happened that he was appointed vicar apostolic of Chungking in 1926, in the same mission of Su-Tchuen where Fr. Roulland was.
When Bishop Jantzen learned that the famous image was being offered to the MEPs in Paris, he said to himself that this precious manuscript should return to China... He dared to ask the Carmelites for the image for China, in 1934. The sisters accepted to give him the precious image.
But before, outside the world of color photography, they make a facsimile of the image on parchment (as was the original image) which can be admired opposite on the right. Is it the work of Céline, or more likely of Mother Agnès, an excellent illuminator?
It will be handed over to another MEP colleague, stationed like him in Chungking, Father J. Perriot-Comte, who picks it up at the Carmel and brings it back to China. Bishop Jantzen is overwhelmed with thanks in a letter dated March 9, 1935. Following the request of the Carmelites, he had a reliquary made and sealed in the entrance of his church at Kiang Pee, opposite the town of Chung-king. at Su-Tchuen. See a photo of the church here. The induction ceremony will take place on June 10, 1935, Whit Monday, presided over by Bishop Jantzen.
The reliquary (opposite) was made by the Carmelites of Chung-King. The image of Thérèse, fixed at the four corners by a red silk thread, rests on an old blue satin background. To the right and left, two strips of parchment embroidered with gold thread tell the story of the image in Chinese. Above the image, we notice the coat of arms of the Carmel, framed by an arabesque and set with gold thread. At the bottom embroidered roses surround the episcopal stamp. The embroidery was done by a Carmelite of Chinese origin, Sister Marie-Xavier. The frame carved in precious wood (45 cm.) was designed by her colleague Sister Élisabeth, originally from the Carmel of Nancy, thanks to whom we found this image. It was indeed the preparation of the German edition of his autobiography that triggered his search in our treasures.
But the church will be caught in the Chinese turmoil and probably destroyed....
Thérèse was inspired by an invocation of Marie de Saint-Pierre which reads as follows:
"O precious milk of Mary! O divine blood of Jesus!
water our land; sprout the elect."
Therese skipped the first part of the invocation, changed the "land" to the "mission", and she also changed the "of the" elect to a broader "the elect".
The quote is on p. 341 of Abbé Janvier's book: Life of Sister Saint-Pierre, Carmelite of Tours written by herself, put in order and completed with the help of her letters and the Annals of her Monastery by / M. l'abbé Janvier. Tours: Oratory of the Holy Face, Tours: Carmel Monastery, Paris: Libr. Larcher, 1881. XIX + 461 p.
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Note, writes Claude Langlois in an unpublished commentary, the importance of this document for the history of Teresian piety. We can see the place taken by this image considered as a relic. Similar to the way the Carmelites, even before the trial, presented to distinguished guests in Lisieux, among the relics of Thérèse, a version of the Act of Offering, also carefully framed. But this image above all sheds a greater light on Thérèse. Its production in secret, according to Mother Agnès, confirms the request of Marie de Gonzague that the sisters ignore this exchange of correspondence, Roulland being then, for the community, the missionary of the Prioress.
The production of this veritable “synthetic image” shows Thérèse's state of mind when Roulland embarked in Marseilles for China. The blood flowing from the heart crowned with thorns evokes the vision founding the apostolic vocation of Thérèse after her Christmas “conversion”. The illuminated lyrics are just as significant. Note in passing the casualness of Thérèse, borrowing an invocation that comes from a devotion to the lactation of Jesus, still widespread in Carmelite circles, a devotion that she dismisses to go to the essential. The formula used by Thérèse, rich in harmonics (for example the allusion to Tertullian, the blood of the martyrs is a seed of Christians), is understood above all by the way in which Thérèse understands the Apostolic Union which unites her to the future missionary. For her, this union is first of all part of her participation in the priesthood of Roulland, as she expresses it by the date that she assigns to the origin of this union, the day of Roulland's ordination, the 28 June (see here the summary of the main dates of his life). In the letter of July 30 which perhaps accompanies this image, Thérèse goes a step further by calling Roulland “my brother”, a mark of this apostolic fraternity which now unites them from all eternity (LT 193). And it is in this context that she dares to write "our mission", while recalling, in this same letter, the division of roles between the Carmelite, dedicated to prayer and suffering, and the missionary who works on the ground.
The dating conundrum
Why August 20, 1896.... Thérèse's datings are often symbolic, as C. Langlois reminds us, more precisely of the meaning she gives to events, they are not dates in the usual sense, like the dating of a letter.
This is the case for manuscript B, a few days later. Thérèse was able to note August 2, 1896 in anticipation of the day Roulland embarked for "our mission", as she had dated the beginning of her apostolic union from the day of her brother's ordination, June 28. A way of appropriating the important events of this brother. We can also think that the date has been modified, probably with the addition of a 0, but why, by whom? Perhaps Fr. Roulland touched the soil of China on August 20, but when he describes his arrival in China to Marie de Gonzague on September 24, 1896 or to Thérèse on September 25-26, he does not mention no date of entry into the country.
The mystery remains intact.
The fascinating story of the discovery of the image
In search of the lost document... for 80 years!
This is the truly epic story of an image painted especially by Thérèse for Father Roulland. A touching story, when in the year 1896, the missionary embarked for China, where he received shortly after his arrival a small treasure of illumination made in the greatest secrecy by the young Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Treasure that he will keep all his life.
If the reality of this image was never in doubt until the 1940s in the Carmel of Lisieux, its memory slowly faded. There were so many other things to do with the beginnings of the critical edition of the works of Saint Thérèse in the 1950s that the image seemed lost forever, swept away in the Maoist turmoil, its copy sleeping wisely on a shelf. of cabinet.
Eureka! After 80 very quiet years in an album buried in one of their 85 archive cabinets, the Carmelites of Lisieux have just got their hands on a facsimile passed between the meshes of the meticulous archiving of the 100 records of the database data from the Teresian archives. Everything is exciting at Thérèse's archives, but the probability of finding an original of Thérèse, without being zero, is extremely low.
An extraordinary find, a little treasure, which like all good stories is not close to a twist!
Act 1: The image exists
The story begins last November with the banal request of a publisher who wishes to illustrate the German translation of a work published in the 1990s by Mother Elisabeth, a Carmelite nun from Nancy who went to China, to the Carmel of Chung-King. A search for iconography as we deal with dozens a year.
In this book titled Go, an image made by Thérèse for Father Roulland and returned to China after the death of the missionary is described. The editor simply claims the photo of the image. Amazement at the archives: the image does not exist! absent from Thérèse's image bank, also absent from the Correspondence of the Saint, which includes all the images composed by Thérèse as letters. How could the image escape the critical edition's team of sleuths? And why didn't Thérèse's sisters, who were so skilful calligraphers themselves (think of the work of Mother Agnès), make a copy out of devotion before letting it slip away to China in the 1930s? They did indeed make a copy of the pale offered by Thérèse to Roulland, so why not the image? all that weird.
In the book, there is even the text of the image: “O divine blood of Jesus! water our mission, sprout the chosen ones. » Quickly, we rake the hard disks, and oh surprise, the text – identical – is in the presentation made of Fr. Roulland testifying at the Process of Beatification of Thérèse. A presentation of each witness was composed by the editors of this 1st volume of the Trials (1972). To introduce Roulland, they describe the image, stating that Roulland “carried it with him”. Where did the publishers find this?
Act 2: Here is the picture
We have the idea of checking if there is in the archives of the correspondence of the Carmel of Chung-King. Oh yes ! and in a letter of 1935, the Chinese Carmelites describe the creation of a sumptuous reliquary to insert the image of Thérèse back in China, and add that they send the photo of the masterpiece to Lisieux!.. The archivists reflect and say to themselves that such an object photography was certainly published in the Annales de Lisieux (the ancestor of the journal Thérèse de Lisieux). We peel the years 1934 and 1935 and here is that on November 13, victory! we come across the photo of the Chinese reliquary.
Alas! in the center of the reliquary, the image is frankly blurred. Thérèse's signature and the date of August 20, 1896 are barely legible, despite a descreening scan and contour enhancements in Photoshop. It is barely possible to read the Chinese ideograms that surround the image, telling its story and translating Thérèse's text. And nothing can be seen of the beauty of the reliquary described by the Chinese Carmelites: “the red silk threads, the old blue satin background, the Carmel crest set with gold threads... » The sepia photo betrays nothing of the jewel it conceals.
But in the article in the Annales, there is talk of a certain Bishop Jantzen, an MEP from Su-Tchuen (like Roulland) who insistently demanded the image in Lisieux, and of his young colleague Perriot-Comte, who would have come look for her at Carmel. Do we have their correspondence? Yes ! We read with delight Bishop Jantzen describing his emotion at the reception of the image, and the insertion of the Chinese reliquary sealed at the entrance of his church in Kiang Pee.
Act 3: Better yet: here is its color facsimile
Case closed. We sent the photo of the reliquary to the editor and then amen. And now, on December 2, a few new requests from all over the world come in every day, each leading to new searches. One of them asks for the statutes of "L'Union sacerdotale". Rather than searching our database and locating a box of archives with a call number, one of the archivists had the idea of leafing through the album containing the list of priests who are members of the US, telling herself that the statutes of this association of piety were perhaps inserted there. And now the flyleaf bore a splendid illuminated image: it was a facsimile of Thérèse's image, on parchment paper, with colors and gilding! We jumped for joy.
No doubt, the archivists have in hand the reproduction of the famous image painted by Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and offered to Father Roulland. A brilliantly colored facsimile, no doubt the work of Mother Agnès, who was an excellent illuminator and miniaturist. Since her entrance, she painted miniatures on parchment, in particular images of first communion, which somewhat improved the budget of the community. But how could this gem have escaped any consolidation?
When the editorial team of the critical editions classifies the documents for the edition of the Correspondence of Thérèse, we are in 1970. The image no longer exists in the thought of the Carmelites of the time. The other images of Thérèse have all been archived and listed, because the team had the originals, but as the original of this one did not exist in the archives but in China, it was the equivalent of a disappearance.
Who could still remember in 1970 this image and the copy that had been made of it? Mother Agnès, who recounts in the Apostolic Process, folio 480, (see opposite) how Thérèse thwarted her supervision to produce this illumination, died in 1951. After 1959, the year of Céline's death, there was no longer of Thérèse's sisters to remember especially this image among the thousand pages of manuscripts left by Thérèse. The image was lost.
It now exists under the sweet name of LT-193bis, with its insertion in the Correspondence of Thérèse...
Act 4: Does the original still exist?
Image lost, then found, At least its facsimile. And the original? Unless, during the Maoist turmoil, "the church and its reliquary were not destroyed as one thinks, but that a parishioner of Kiang-Pee for example, seeing the dangers coming and wanting to save what there was more precious, had not taken with him the beautiful Chinese reliquary and that it is always sheltered somewhere in China, protecting the precise image...
We asked the archives of the Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) if the church of Kiang Pee still existed there, facing the town of Chung-King in Su-Tchuen. The suspense continues.