About the Relics of saint Thérèse

by Mgr. Bernard Lagoutte, Rector of the Basilica of Lisieux

The source of the movement for the veneration of the relics of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face began in the cemetery of Lisieux shortly after her death on 30th September 1897.

Reliquaire de sainte ThérèseAt the Carmel, after the death of a sister, an obituary notice was written and sent to the Friends of the monastery. That of Thérèse of the Child Jesus was composed from the three autobiographical manuscripts that she had written out of obedience. Its success brought about the first edition of ’Story of a Soul’, published 30/09/1898, 2000 copies, followed by a second edition in May 1899 ; 6000 copies in 1900. Translations followed, first into English in 1901, and then, during the following four years, into eight languages.

Ancienne tombe de sainte ThérèseVery quickly readers of ’Story of a Soul’ came on pilgrimages to Thérèse’s grave in Lisieux. They wrote to the Carmel to ask for relics. The movement grew. A procession of pilgrims arrived each day, climbing from the station with a constant relay of carriages to the tomb on the heights of the city. Miracles happened there, including the cure on May 26th 1908, of a little blind girl, four years old, named Reine Touquet, from a modest background, whose mother had brought her to the grave the day before. This miracle was talked about far and wide.

And so there were more and more pilgrims to the grave. People prayed there, their arms raised, left letters, photographs, flowers were brought ex-votos were placed : crutches, canes, things of all sorts (see Guide for Pilgrims, Descouvemont, p.44), candles were lit….Big pilgrimages were organised.

The body of Thérèse was exhumed in the cemetery on 6th September 1910, in the presence of the Bishop and about a hundred others. The remains were placed in a lead coffin and transferred to another tomb. A second exhumation took place on 9th 10th of August 1917. On 26th March 1923, the solemn transfer of the coffin from the cemetry to the chapel of the Carmel took place. The Beatification of Thérèse was pronounced in Rome on 29th April 1923.

The Canonisation took place in Rome on 17th May 1925. On 30th September 1925, in Lisieux, the Papal legate, Cardinal Vico, came to kneel before the open reliquary where the body of Thérèse lay, to place a golden rose in the hand of the statue, made by the trappist monk Marie-Bernard, from the Abbey of Soligny.

But how do we explain the « storm of glory », which in a quarter of a century, made this young girl who died at only 24 years and 8 months, known to the entire world ?

It is a whole epic that ’A story of a Life’, (by Guy Gaucher), allows us to see. It is the itinerary of a woman who dared believe, with a daring audacity, in the Love of the Merciful Father, ’the most fundamental reality of the Gospel’ (John Paul II in Lisieux) (ref. cover of book).

Our aim here is not to present the message of Thérèse, nor the action throughout the world, that made this Doctor of the Church known. We would merely like to understand what is happening around the relics of Thérèse, as much in Lisieux as in the other countries where she has travelled.